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For some reason I cannot find reliable source about that. Germany's population were in majority German, but there was also Frenchs in the west, Danes in the north, Lithuanians, and Poles in the east, among other minorities that would cause no problem for Germany.

The problem of Frenchs fighting against France, and Lithuanians or Poles fighting against Russia where other Lithuanians and Poles also lived was an obvious problem. I am pretty sure Germany solved this by sending Poles and Lithuanians to the west front to fight France, and sent people from the west of the country toward the east to fight Russia, however I cannot find a source on this right now.

Nevertheless my question is, were those people (Poles and Lithuanians on the western front, Frenchs on the eastern front) treated differently than German people (such as making them more often on the front line, and by giving them more risky missions) ? I have heard this was the case, but then again, cannot find any sources.

If so, how could the German army know which soldiers were concerned, since ethnicity was not recorded in Germany, and all citizens of the German Empire were considered "German" by the government ?

  • There were also, of course, a large number of Jews who served in the German army. Even the fact of their having been awarded significant military decoration, did not prevent many from going to the gas chambers under Hitler. – WS2 Sep 2 '15 at 14:06
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    What "great war" do you mean? – Anixx Sep 2 '15 at 14:55
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    The Great War (capitalised) is a pretty standard name for WW1, which is also tagged. – Semaphore Sep 2 '15 at 14:59
  • @WS2 Sure, but at that points jews had no reasons not to fight for Germany. Frenchs, Poles and Lithuanians however... – Bregalad Sep 2 '15 at 19:00
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    @Bregalad There was a large population of French-speaking people in Alsace and Lorraine, which had been part of Germany since the close of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1. It should not be a difficult matter to research this but I feel fairly sure that the French population were conscripted into the German army. – WS2 Sep 2 '15 at 19:37
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At least at first, the German Army in WWI was organized by districts in the country - so a unit would be full of Hessians, Westphalians, or Prussians. This extended to the extent that nearly all of one of the armies attacking France (the 6th) was made up of Bavarian troops and was led by the Crown Prince of Bavaria. Later in the war they might have homogenized units by drafting replacements from all over rather than keeping up the purity of the unit.

This would limit the ability of a unit commander to use less favored ethnic groups for risky missions, since there wouldn't be any such troops to speak of from a district far removed from such persons.

I don't know that Germany did the kind of unit shuffling that more diverse nations like Russia and Austria Hungary did - AH sent Slavic units to fight Italy which they did with gusto rather than versus Serbs or Russians where they were less willing. I haven't heard that they did, but their ethnic issues were far less severe than the other two nations mentioned.

A unit from a district with dubious reliability might well get lesser jobs than a more reliable one, but this would likely be digging ditches in the rear rather than leading risky attacks. A bad unit on a risky mission is more trouble than it is worth - you might as well shoot the fellows than give them a chance to rout and lead to a major defeat in the field.

So to sum up, I have heard of these exact problems in the context of most other nations in WWI rather than Imperial Germany, so I doubt the issue was severe in their case.

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