The Zabern AffairThis is a featured page

Background Information
A brief history of Alsace-Lorraine

The City of ZabernThe Zabern Affair occurred in 1913 when two battalions of Prussian Infantry were garrisoned to Zabern in Alsace because a second lieutenant insulted the population of Alsace. One of the main reasons that the Affair escalated to such heights was because the Austro-Hungarians were trying to downplay the event so much and that infuriated the people of Alsace. That fact, along with the threat of use of weapons on the people of Alsace who did get angry at what the Austria/Hungarians were doing by insulting the people of Alsace, was a big factor in the start of the war. These acts led to a debate in the German Reichstag over the German society’s militaristic structures. The Zabern affair put an extremely severe strain on the relationship between Alsace and the rest of the German empire






Alsace-Lorraine was very important to the French, and that is one of the reasons that it became a crucial battle ground in the Great War. The French even developed Plan Seventeen in order to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. The Germans gained possession of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 after the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian war which proved to be a humiliating defeat to the French. The French were also forced into signing a humiliating treaty in Paris, which forced them to forfeit Alsace-Lorraine. This forfeit of the French territory to the Germans helped build up tension between the German and French which also helped develop a rivalry between the two countries over the Alsace-Lorraine territory. The rivalry between the two countries over the much sought-after territory even boiled over into the Second World War. The following video is a video of the battle of Alsace-Lorraine between the German and French armies during World War Two*.


*This video does not directly relate to the Zabern affair, however, due to the lack of footage available in 1913, we though that the Battle of Alsace-Lorraine from World War 2 would do well to illustrate the tension between Alsace-Lorraine and Germany that had existed since the Franco-Prussian war in 1871.






28 November 1913
Propoganda against the German TroopsThe Zabern Affair was such a controversial occurrderagatoryence in history that it was one of the short term factors that contributed to the start of the Great War. There had been growing tension between the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine and the German inhabitants when the incident occurred. It is quoted that Second Lieutenant Günter Freiherr von Forstner insulted the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine during a troop induction by calling the citizens all a bunch of "Wackes." (Wackes is considered a negative and derogatory term that is considered a great insult to the Alsatians.) He reportedly also told the troops that if they happened to stab a "wackes" in the process of defending themselves in an attack, then they would get ten marks from him. The Zabern affair occurred on 28 November 1913. A huge group of Alsatians had assembled around the German barracks in protest. They were ordered to disperse several times by Second Lieutenant Schadt. After the third time of ordering the crowd to disperse, Schadt and the sentry he was in command of drove the Alsatians across the boundaries of the barracks and onto the street under the threat of an armed assault. Once the crowd was driven back off of the grounds, the series of arrests began. The soldiers arrested countless people with no just reason. One of the people arrested was actually the President of Alsace-Lorraine. 26 of the Alsatians arrested were actually detained and held in a coal cellar overnight. The aftermath of this incident hung in the streets of Alsace-Lorraine because the German soldiers saw fit to display machine guns in the street to threaten the citizens and hopefully discourage the citizens from another uprising. 2 December 1914, Second Lieutenant von Forstner was attending a military practice dressed in his uniform, which many of the onlookers laughed at. When he heard the onlookers laughing at his attire, he lost control of himself and struck a man on the head with his saber and gave him severel severe head injuries. After this incident, he was sentenced to 43 days in military jail, however it was appealed and the entire verdict was overturned. Second Lieutenant von Forstner was the aggressor that was essentially the cause of the Zabern Affair.






3 December 1913
Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-HollwegThe first formal acknowledgement from the German government came on 3 December 1913 when the Chancellor addressed the Reichstag. Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg formally addressed the Reichstag by first giving a fairly short overview of what happened on 28 November when he told the Reichstag about what Second Lieutenant Günter Freiherr von Forstner insulted the Alsatians, and also gave a rough translation of the word "Wackes." (His translation for the word wackes was screwball). Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg then goes on to criticize the actions of Second Lieutenant Forstner and continues on to instruct the men to refrain from using the word wackes in order to minimize the possibility of again insulting the citizens of Alsace-Lorraine. Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg closes out his address to the Reichstag by telling them "Even though these events have been so unhappy, I believe that we should not cling to the past, but instead look to the future. Above all it is essential that the situation at Zabern, where the excitement originally arose, be brought back to normal. We must see to it that incidents of this kind do not recur..."





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