Saar status referendum, 1935

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A map of the Territory of the Saar Basin (colored in purple).

A referendum on territorial status was held in the Territory of the Saar Basin on 13 January 1935. Over 90% voters opted for reunification with Germany, with 9% voting for the status quo as a League of Nations mandate territory and less than 0.5% opting for unification with France.


After the end of World War I, the Saar territory was separated from Germany and administered by the League of Nations.[1] During this time, France was given control of the Saar's coal mines.[2] After 15 years of League of Nations administration, a referendum was scheduled to take place in the territory.[1]

Towards the end of 1934, the League of Nations Council determined that peacekeeping force would be necessary during the plebiscite period. The German and French governments agreed to allow an international force to enter the Saar, although Germany massed troops at the border. On 8 December 1934, the council unanimously approved a resolution calling for such a force. Britain (1500 troops), Italy (1300), Sweden (260) and the Netherlands (250) agreed to provide troops for the 3300-strong "International Force in the Saar".[3][4] All expenses above and beyond those normally incurred for the same troops, were charged to the League fund set aside for the plebiscite.[5] This may be "the first true example of an international peace observation force".[6] The League appointed a commander, General John Brind, with operational control of the entire force. Troops patrolled, but did not police, the Saar. They were not respond except to emergencies and at the request of local authorities. There was little or no violence during the plebiscite and the peacekeeping effort was regarded as a success.[6]


While all important political groups in the Saar supported the Saar's return to Germany before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, opponents of Nazism in the Saar began having doubts and misgivings about a return of the Saar to Germany after Hitler's rise to power.[7] Due to Hitler's oppression of their German counterparts, Communists and socialists in the Saar supported a continuation of the League of Nations administration and a delay in the plebiscite until after the Nazis were no longer in power in Germany.[7] Meanwhile, Roman Catholics in the Saar were divided in regards to returning to German rule.[7] In order to achieve victory in this referendum, the Nazis resorted to "a mixture of cajolery and brutal pressure".[8] In 1933, Sarah Wambaugh, one of the members of the Plebiscite Commission, stated that complaints of a Nazi "reign of terror" were made by non-Nazi Saarlanders and by the foreign press.[9] These complaints included allegations that the Nazis engaged in intimidation, "espionage, secret denunciations, kidnappings ..., ... interception of letters and telegrams, [and] listening-in to telephone conversations", among other things.[9] In response to all of this, the Saar Governing Commission had to "promugulat[e] several restrictive decrees for the maintenance of public order".[10] In November 1934, fearing armed intervention by France, the Nazi German government reduced its belligerency and changed its tactics.[11] As a part of this, Joseph Burckel, Hitler's commissioner for the Saar, banned the wearing of uniforms within a 25-mile zone along the Saar frontier between 10 January 1935 and 10 February 1935.[11] In addition, Burckel also banned meetings, parades, and processions in this area.[11] Likewise, Jakob Pirro, the Nazi leader in the Saar, told his followers to obey the strictest discipline and implemented harsh penalties for any infractions.[11]


In the referendum, voters were asked whether the Saar should remain under League of Nations administration, return to Germany or become part of France.[1] To the surprise of neutral observers as well as (to some extent) the Nazis themselves, over 90% voted in favour of reuniting with Germany.[12] Every voting district saw at least 83% of voters support returning the Saar to German rule.[12] Meanwhile, despite Georges Clemenceau's previous claim that there were 150,000 Frenchmen in the Saar, less than 1% of voters supported the annexation of the Saar by France.[12][13]

Choice Votes %
Unification with Germany 477,089 90.73
Status quo 46,613 8.87
Unification with France 2,124 0.40
Invalid/blank votes 2,161
Total 527,987 100
Registered voters/turnout 539,542 97.99
Source: Direct Democracy

A detachment of 200 Dutch marines were sent to Saarland to monitor the referendum in December 1934; they left in January 1935.


Following the referendum, the Council of the League of Nations decided that the Saar should return to Germany.[12] The Saar once again became part of Germany on 1 March 1935,[12] with Josef Bürckel as Reichskommissar. In 1936 it was incorporated into the Gau of Pfalz (Palatinate) to form the Gau Pfalz-Saar (renamed Saarpfalz in 1937 and Westmark in 1940).

The report of General Brind on the Saar force recommended that in the future all such peacekeeping forces be assembled from countries with no direct interest in the matter at hand. He noted that only a small force was necessary, since it was the moral authority of its presence that mattered. Both observations are central to modern peacekeeping as opposed to collective security.[6]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 M G Callagher. "The Saar Plebiscite, 1935". Retrieved 2 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Saar plebiscite". History Today. 13 January 1935. Retrieved 2 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Norrie MacQueen (ed.), The United Nations, Peace Operations and the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2011), doc. 1.
  4. Alfred F. Kugel, Allied Plebiscite Activity in the Saar Territory, 1935 Military Postal History Society.
  5. Mohammed Bedjaoui, The New World Order and the Security Council: Testing the Legality of Its Acts (Martinus Nijhoff, 1994), p. 240.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Paul F. Diehl, Peace Operations (Polity Press, 2008), pp. 34–36.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 88.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 91.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 89.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 90.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 96.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 104.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "LESSONS OF THE SAAR » 25 Jan 1935 » The Spectator Archive". 25 January 1935. Retrieved 2 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>