Saarbruecken, Saarland, Germany · January 13, 1935

On this date in 1935 Germans held a plebiscite in the only part of Ger­many that remained under for­eign occu­pa­tion following their country’s defeat in World War I—the Saar region, or Saar­land in German. The wealth of its coal de­pos­its and their large-scale in­dus­trial exploi­ta­tion, coupled with its loca­tion on the border between France and Ger­many (see map), made for Saar­land’s unique his­tory. The first shots of the Fran­co-Prus­sian War of 1870–71 were fired here. During the course of that war, Saar­land became part of the Ger­man Empire. In 1920 Saar­land was occu­pied by Great Britain and France, first under the pro­vi­sions of the 1919 Treaty of Ver­sailles, then under the terms of a 15‑year‑long League of Nations man­date. The auto­no­mous terri­tory was offi­cially known as “The Terri­tory of the Saar Basin” (Le Terri­toire du Bassin de la Sarre). The terri­tory’s coal­fields were ceded to France.

For two years, ever since his rise to power as chan­cellor of Ger­many in January 1933, Adolf Hitler had cam­paigned to bring Saar­land’s 800,000 resi­dents back into the Reich’s fold just as the original 15‑year League mandate neared expiration. A con­si­derable num­ber of poli­tical oppo­nents of Hitler’s Nation­al Social­ism had found asylum in Saar­land, and as a result anti-Nazi groups, including the Com­mu­nists, agi­tated against re­uni­fi­cation. How­ever, most Saar­landers were eth­nically Ger­man with anti-French sen­ti­ments, so the League man­date was widely un­pop­u­lar.

With a 98 per­cent voter turn­out, the result was that the over­whelming majority who cast their ballots—almost 91 per­cent—voted to rejoin Germany. Fewer than nine per­cent voted to retain the status quo, while a third option of joining France received less than one percent of the vote. Four days later, on Janu­ary 17, 1935, the territory’s re­union was approved by the League Council. Their asylum ended, many Saar­land refugees began heading for Eng­land.

Following the pleb­i­scite Hitler an­nounced that Ger­many “had no further terri­torial demands to make of France”—a far­ci­cal state­ment as history proved five years later. On March 1, 1935, Ger­many re-inte­grated the region into the Ger­man Reich. Hitler’s for­eign policy was rewarded with France and Great Britain acknowledging a de facto revision of the Versailles Treaty.

Saarland’s Reintegration into the German Reich, 1935

Location of the Saarland (dark green) in modern Germany

Above: Location of the Saarland (dark green) in modern Germany. Prior to its crea­tion as the Terri­tory of the Saar Basin by the League of Nations after World War I, the Saarland (or simply “the Saar,” as it is frequently referred to) did not exist as a unified entity. Until then, some parts of the Saar had belonged to the Prus­sian Rhine Pro­vince while other parts belonged to the Bava­rian Pala­tinate. During the Nazi period it became known as Saar-Pala­tinate (Saar­pfalz) and in 1942 as West­mark (meaning Western Boundary of the Reich; Austria was renamed Ost­mark following the 1938 Anschluss, or union with Germany). After World War II, Saar­land was made a United Nations pro­tec­tor­ate under French occu­pa­tion and admin­is­tra­tion. France returned control of the region to the West German government in 1957.

Nazi Party campaign piece, Saarland, 1934–35 German 6 Pfennig stamp, 1935

Left: Nazi Party campaign piece from 1934–35 agitated for the return of the Saarland to the Fatherland. The inscription reads: “Help free the German Saar.”

Right: First-day issue (January 16, 1934) days after the first anniversary of the Saar plebiscite. The inscription along the top reads, “The Saar comes home!”

Saarland voters at polls, January 13, 1935Counting ballots, Saarland plebiscite, January 13, 1935

Left: Voters line up at a polling place in Saar­land to cast their vote in the Janu­ary 13, 1935, pleb­i­scite. Twenty-two months earlier, in the Novem­ber 13, 1932, elec­tions to the 51‑seat Consul­ta­tive Council in the Terri­tory of the Saar Basin, the Catho­lic Cen­ter Party held the largest num­ber of seats, at 17, followed by the Com­munist Party, with 12 seats. The Socialists and the Nazi Party trailed, each with eight seats. On July 5, 1933, as a condi­tion of the con­clusion of a Con­cordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany, the Center Party dissolved itself.

Right: Neutral observers from many countries were employed in counting ballots, which the Saar’s inhabitants cast in the 1935 plebiscite that decided the territory was to rejoin the German Reich. The photo shows the counters at work as the ballots began arriving from various communities.

Saarland postcard celebrates Saarland’s March 1, 1935, reintegrationSaarland postcard

Above: German postcard on the left celebrates the March 1, 1935, rein­te­gra­tion of the Saar region into the German Reich. The image on the post­card is that of the city hall in Saar­bruecken, the capital city of Saarland. The text of the post­card on the right reads (in English): “Saarland’s devoted­ness shows the world how the German people stick together.”

Germans Celebrating Return of Saarland to Germany, January 1935