After World War I, some territories were removed from Germany, most of them had either a majority or a significant minority of non-german-speaking populations.

The exception that comes to mind to me is Saarland, to my knowledge, I do not think there was any significant minority or any population other than Germans in this region. Yet, France decided to create a small independent country that would be under France's influence there, before they would choose whether they would remain independent or rejoin Germany. France tried to influence the country as much as they could but they failed. A referendum to rejoin Germany was extremely successful by gaining 90% of the votes (where the nazis were already in power, making this event their 1st annexation).

After the Second World War, another independent Saarland country was created (I think it had the same territory as the first, but I might be wrong), and, once again, it had eventually joined Western Germany after yet another successful referendum. (This is surprisingly similar to what already happened, but without the nazi thing, fortunately.)

As far I know, both short-lived Saarland independent countries had French as an official language, and they tried (but failed) to create a French influence on the country as much as possible. The French Franc currency was used for money.

My question is: Where does the idea of an independent country there comes from? Was there any French-speaking population there in the first place? If the French would just want to exploit the coal mines, why not just occupy the area but leave it politically to Germany?

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    Because occupation is viewed as illigitimate. Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 13:36
  • 3
    The saar was annexed after a treaty. That annexation is lighter than mere occupation. Even though Germany won't like it either way, should Frances allies turn on her, making Saarland by treaty (ratified by former allies) is better the occupying without treaty. Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 20:16
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    There are two slightly distinct questions: Why France tried to keep control of the Saar area and why it failed. Basically, taking control of the Duchy of Lorraine (which was kind of in-between France and the Holy Roman Empire) and then other territories on the left bank of the Rhine was a long-standing French policy from the 16th Century onwards. The proportion of French speakers wasn't a big factor then or later. Beside territorial expansion, the objective was to create a buffer or glacis west of the bassin parisien. There are still fortress from this time (e.g. Saarlouis).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 20:42
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    Another reason to try a little harder to keep Saarland in the 20th Century are the mineral resources. The Saar valley is an industrial region with a (now mostly defunct) huge steel industry. The iron is quite similar to the (low grade) iron found in neighbouring areas in France and Luxembourg (minette). Controlling it is therefore useful both to support the French industry and deny it to Germany (as in 1919 one of the main goals of the UK and France was to punish and weaken Germany and get compensated for the damages of the war).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 20:46
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    Finally, we are only talking about 6-7 years of uncertainy (during which several options were explored). Before 1949, the fate of Germany is not decided, Saarland has a somewhat peculiar status but is not an independent country next to a unified Germany, just one of several autonomously administered territories.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 21:01

2 Answers 2


The formation of the Saarland was in a way imposed on Germany, but it also fitted into ongoing trends in national German politics which predate the .

Reorganizing the "Flickenteppich"

  • The slow disintegration of the HRE had left Germany with hundreds of theoretically sovereign statelets. Some of them were large enough to function effectively in the 19th century, like Bavaria and Prussia, others were not.
  • Feudal dynastic marriages created a patchwork of non-contiguous states, more about that later.
  • Nationalists and democrats during the Liberation Wars and the attempted 1848 revolution were fighting both for a free and unified German nation and against the petty feudal overlords who created that mess.

If you look at maps running from the 15th century to the 20th century, there was a clear trend to unify the smallest statelets into bigger ones and to detach non-contiguous territories (many had been gained through dynastic marriage) from their rulers. Some of that has been imposed from outside, e.g. by Napoleon or by the Allies after WWII, but getting rid of the petty principalities was a desire of German nationalists, too.

Defining Germany

  • Prussia is a good example for another German problem. The extend of Germany was unclear. Prussia and Austria fought it out in in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Prussia won, kicked Austria out, and created a Kleindeutsche Lösung (German wiki link, "Smaller German Solution") to form the second German Empire.
  • The Holy Roman Empire of was one of two major successors of the Carolingian Empire. At its height, it reached as far south as Italy.

Defining just what Germany was, and who is is and who is out, had been an ongoing process within living memory of the formation of the Saarland. In addition to this German process, France had been trying to gain territory and influence on their eastern border.

  • In the 17th century the French kings had tried to "regain" parts of the HRE which had some historical connection to French territories. This was called réunion but legality took second place to power politics.
  • France wanted to have defensible borders, the Pré Carré, if necessary at the expense of the surrounding nations.
  • After the Franco-Prussian War, Germany had set the precedent of grabbing Alsace-Lorraine.

Now to the specific case

The territory which became the Saarland in 1920 belonged to Prussia and Bavaria at the time. A century before, parts had belonged to the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg and to the Duchy Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (you will have to scroll down in the Wikipedia entry, the Principality of Lichtenberg isn't on the main map).

I believe that the idea of an unified Saarland was entirely in line with German political trends of the 19th century.

The Saarland had been French from 1680 to 1697 and from 1797 to 1814.

I believe that the idea of an independent Saarland detached from Germany was a long-running French ambition that was not supported by the population of the area.

  • This doesn't answer my question, and using hitler's numering for "reiches" makes no sense whatsoever.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 18:24
  • @Bregalad, I think it provides an answer. You simply cannot explain 1920 without going back to 1871 and the Congress of Vienna. Parts of the Saarland belonged to Oldenburg, others to Bayern. Unifying them with the Prussian parts of the Saarland was cleaning up the historical "Flickenteppich" of the HRE.
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 5:24
  • (-1) This does not answer the question at all but is also rambling and completely unclear.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 20:07
  • @Relaxed, I'll try a rewrite to make clear what I mean ...
    – o.m.
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 4:49

The answer is very simple

  • the French wanted the coal

Saarland was economicly a part of France and independent in name only.

The Saargebiet (after WW1) was a mandate that was restricted to 15 years during which everything produced was ceded to France, afterwhich a determination would be made to which country it would belong to.

After WW2, there was no restriction and it was Frances intension to make this a permanent solution. 1954 an agreement was made to allow a referendum to take place which led to reintegration to Germany (1957 politicaly, 1959 economicly).

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    "If the French would just want to exploit the coal mines, why not just occupy the area but leave it politically to Germany?"
    – Annatar
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 6:43
  • They wanted a simple solution. For them it would be easier to administer when it is a part of france as it economicly was. The currency was peeged to the franc. For the Saargebiet (WW1) they had 15 years where they would recieve everything directly without any 3rd party interfering. Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 7:45

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