Saar Valley

GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES Spanish Simplified Chinese French German Russian Hindi Arabic Portuguese

"S' 'AAR VALLEY. - The Armistice of Nov. 1918, in restoring Alsace-Lorraine to France, again brought the French frontier close to Saarbruck and the Valley of the Saar. This region, thanks to its large coal output, had ever since 1871 been in close relations with the coal-mines of Metz and Thionville. The big metallurgical establishments of Lorraine were largely dependent upon coal from the Valley of the Saar, from which the new French frontier would have cut them off, to the detriment of the economic development of both countries. On the other hand, France had been deprived of a large portion of her output by the destruction of her northern coalfields, a situation which had as far as possible to be remedied by Germany. The geographical situation of the coal-mines in the neighbourhood of Saarbruck clearly pointed to their utilization for this purpose. Nevertheless, and although Saarbruck had belonged to France from 1794 to 1815, the French annexation of this country was difficult without running a risk of violating the inhabitants' right of self-determination. These were the elements of the problem which the authors of the Treaty of Versailles had to consider.

Table of contents

Treaty Stipulations

Section IV. of Part III. of the Treaty deals with the Saar Valley. Articles 45 to 50 lay down the frontiers of the Saar territory, and state the general principles adopted. The regime agreed upon is laid out in an annexe which follows Article 50. It is clear from the text that the authors of the Treaty intended to cede to France complete ownership of all coal deposits in the valley. This could not have been effected had the district remained under the authority of the German Government. Disturbances were to be feared between the French State, sole proprietor of the mines, and the German Government, which would have remained the only public authority. In order to get over this difficulty, and to ensure to France the free disposal of Saar coal, the territory of the Saar was completely detached from the German State, both from a political as well as from an administrative point of view.


The territory (see Europe, inset on map) as created by the Treaty stretches W., N. and E. of the town of Saarbruck (60 km. E.N.E. of Metz, and 90 km. N.W. of Strassburg). On the S. and the W. there is the French frontier, from Hornbach, S. of Deuxponts, to Ritzing, W. of Merzich (Merzig). Leaving Ritzing, the frontier includes Mettlach and its suburbs, passes near Neuenkirchen, and, going E. reaches the southern frontier of the Birkenfeld district, which it follows. From Namborn the line goes S.E., taking in Homburg, and, after bending so as to exclude Deuxponts, rejoins the French frontier near Hornbach. The territory thus formed is considerably larger than the district where coal-mines are actually being worked. The peace negotiators intended, in fact, to include in it the whole coal deposit, and net only the fields being exploited. France has become sole owner of all the fields and of all mining concessions. Indemnification of the former owners was made the concern of Germany. Transfer to France of the mines being worked was made comparatively easy by the fact that nearly all the concessions belonged to the State of Prussia or to Bavaria. The rights of France in the district were still further guaranteed by the inclusion of the district in the French Customs system. This provision had extremely important economic and political effects. However, in order to avoid a brutal cessation of the close economic relations which existed between the Saar and the rest of Germany, trade with Germany was to remain free of any Customs dues until Jan. 10 1925. France was empowered to build any railways or canals which she might deem necessary in order to link up the fields with France. All the rights and duties of the former proprietors towards their employees and workmen were assumed by France, who was also free to use French currency in all its transactions within the zone. The value of the mines thus ceded was to be credited to Germany in the Reparations Accounts.

Political Regime. - Steps had to be taken to provide the dis trict with administration and government, France, apart from the mines, being concerned only with Customs. The Peace Treaty entrusted the League of Nations with this task, as from Jan. 10 1920. The country is governed by a commission of five, which sits at Saarbruck, and consists bf one French member, one member chosen among the local population, and three who may be neither French nor German. This commission is appointed yearly by the League of Nations, which may renew expiring mandates. It is presided over by one of its number, appointed by the League of Nations. This president acts as executive agent. All powers previously enjoyed by the German Empire, Prussia and Bavaria have been transferred to the commission. The commission maintains in force the laws and regulations passed previous to the Armistice, with the exception of special war measures. It has the power to modify them if necessary; collects taxes; administers justice; directs the administration of the country, and can create new administrative organs. It is responsible for public order; the safety of the inhabitants of the district, and their representation abroad; it manages the railways and looks after all public property. These powers, for the use of which the commission is responsible to the League of Nations, are subject to several restrictions. First of all, they cannot affect the rights of the French State in its capacity as owner of the mines, and no restriction can be placed upon the circulation of French money. On the other hand, the country maintains its local assemblies, its religious freedom and its tongue. No fresh taxation (Customs excepted) can be levied without consultation with elected representatives of the inhabitants. Men and women over 20 years of age have the right to vote for the local assemblies.

The Treaty in no way affects the existing nationality of the inhabitants. It stipulates that the governing commission shall be the last judge of any dispute arising from the interpretation of the Treaty itself. The regime thus formed does not establish a state of the Saar, similar to that of Luxemburg, since no new nationality is formed, and since the League of Nations is only acting as trustee. It is none the less true that the Saar territory constitutes a political and economic entity entirely independent and entirely separated from Germany and France. The Peace Treaty did not intend to prolong this state of affairs indefinitely without giving the inhabitants of the Saar an opportunity of expressing and obtaining the fulfilment of their wishes in the matter. Therefore, 15 years after the coming into force of the Treaty, that is to say, in the course of the year 1935, the future regime of the Saar was to be settled by a plebiscite.

The Plebiscite

The details of this plebiscite were to be settled by the League of Nations. All persons over 20 years of age who were resident in the territory on June 28 1919 were to have the right to vote. Three alternatives were to be submitted to the population. First, the permanent maintenance of the system of government provided for in the Treaty - that is to say, autonomous government under the agis of the League of Nations; second, reunion with France; third, reunion with Germany. Voting was to be taken by commune or by district, and it would therefore be possible to take into account the various votes of different portions of the territory. The League of Nations was to fix the new frontiers, if any, in accordance with the results of the plebiscite. The fate of the mines ceded to France would be decided by the plebiscite also. If the Peace Treaty regime were continued, or if the voting went for reunion with France, there would be no further difficulty; but if all or part of the coal-fields returned to Germany, Germany would have to buy out the interests of the French State in the fields which Germany would then reoccupy. The price was to be fixed by experts and to be payable in gold.

Physical Features

The river Saar comes into contact with the territory at Sarrequemines, and forms the French frontier to a point j ust above Saarbruck. It then flows through the territory to a point just downstream from Mettlach. The valley, which, between Saarbruck and Merzich, is fairly wide, runs through picturesque hills covered for the larger part with forests, the working of which is a.

valuable industry. Agriculture plays but a very secondary part, and it is upon industry that the population is mainly dependent. The pop. amounts to 703,000, which, on an area of 1,900 sq. km., shows a density of 370 persons per sq. km. The population is very unevenly distributed. It is very dense in the industrial regions, in the valley around mineheads, and wherever factories have been built. It is sparse in the farm and forest lands. The chief towns are Saarbruck (i 10,00o), Voeltlingen (19,000), Sarrelouis (16,000), Dillingen (8,000), Merzich (9,000), which are all in the valley itself. Then there are the mining towns elsewhere: Dudweiler (21,000), Sulzbach (23,000), Friedrichsthal (14,000), and the industrial town of Neuenkirchen (35,000). The chief towns in the Bavarian portion of the territory are St. Ingbert (19,00o), Homburg and Blieskastel. The chief industry, and the only one mentioned in the Peace Treaty, is the extraction of coal. The mines being worked in 1921 are situated in a district bounded on the one side by the Saar Valley from Burbach to Fraulautern, and by two lines drawn from Waldmohr (N.E. of Neuenkirchen) to Burbach and Fraulautern. Mines are most closely clustered in the little valleys between Saarbruck and Neuenkirchen, and before the war all of them, with the exception of those at Hostenbach and Frankenholz, belonged to Prussia or Bavaria. The total production of the basin averaged 12,000,000 tons a year. It exceeded 13,000,000 tons in 1913, and, in the opinion of experts, a very considerable increase in output ought to b obtained without much difficulty. All the mines are worked for France, with the exception of that of Frankenholz, which was left in the hands of the company which previously owned it. Output fell off during the war, as the result of fewer working hours and less productive labour. In 1920 about 9,500,000 tons were produced, and in 1921 the output would have been bigger had it not been for the general economic crisis. The mines employ over 70,000 persons, and, taking into account their dependents, it may be safely said that about a third of the total population of the country relies upon the mines for its living. The output is consumed, to the extent of about 50%, locally. The rest is exported to AlsaceLorraine, France and Southern Germany. The export market varies in accordance with the general economic situation. The coal is not very satisfactory for the purposes of steel manufacture, and has to be mixed with coal from the Ruhr before it produces good coke. On the other hand, it is very suitable for heating and the manufacture of lighting gas, and therefore finds a ready sale to railways and municipal authorities. Metallurgical industry is highly developed, and there are no less than 31 blast-furnaces and many steel plants. The factories, which are run by powerful companies, are situated at Burbach, Brebach, Voeltlingen, Dillingen, Neuenkirchen and St. Ingbert. The steel output in 1912 was over 2,000,000 tons. Since the Armistice French capital has been largely invested in the metal industries of the Saar and metal workers and miners receive their wages in francs. There are a number of works producing machines and machine tools, so that after coal the iron and steel trades rank as second in importance. Glass and ceramic industries, the former at Sulzbach and St. Ingbert, and the latter at Mettlach and Merzich, are the next important employers of labour. There are over 120,000 persons, counting 70,000 miners, industrially employed. The majority of the workmen are natives of the country, and labour therefore has a stability not often to be found.


A good system of communications provides an outlet for these industrial products. Saarbruck is at the junction of the Metz-Mayence and Strassburg-Treves-Cologne line, and is also on a direct line towards Ludwigshafen and the Rhine, as well as in connexion with a number of minor or local railways. There is also a canal through the Saar, which has been canalized upstream from Sarrelouis in order to meet the mine canal and the Marne-Rhine canal in Lorraine. There is no waterway towards the Moselle.

General Considerations

It will be seen that the population is almost entirely industrial. In the towns there are wholesale and retail dealers, and the works and factories are owned by big limited companies. There is therefore but a small middle class and a backward intellectual and artistic development. From a religious point of view Catholics are in a considerable majority, although there is a fairly strong group of Protestants at Saarbruck. Since the German revolution the Socialists and Catholic Centre have been practically numerically equal; and trades unions are either Christian or Red. It is economic questions, output and wages which chiefly concern people. In 1921 there were a number of problems to which no definite solution had been found. There were the change of the Customs frontier, the coexistence in the Saar of the French franc (with its higher and more stable rate of exchange) and the German mark, and the natural increase of economic relations with France. The great resources of the country, however, enabled one to hope that the Saar would be able to adapt itself to these new conditions. The stipulations of the Treaty of Peace, in placing the territory under the authority of a government independent both of France and of Germany, were peculiarly calculated to assist the economic development of the region. They gave to the Saar the means of protecting its own interests, and at the same time spared it the burdens and worries which are the common fate of all great states. (P. DE T.)

- Please bookmark this page (add it to your favorites).
- If you wish to link to this page, you can do so by referring to the URL address below this line.


Copyright © 1995-2011 ITA all rights reserved.

Encyclopedia Alphabetically
A * B * C * D * E * F * G *H * I * J * K * L * M * N * O * P * Q * R * S * T * U * V * W * X * Y * Z