Alsatians are the German-speaking people of the French region of Alsace, located between the Vosges Mountains and the German border in the departments of Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. There are perhaps 1.5 million speakers of German dialects in this region. There is no single Alsatian dialectal variant, although High German is used as the written standard. Today, most Alsatians are bilingual, French as the official language having grown rapidly in the region since the 1940s.

The region was historically and culturally long part of the Rhineland—throughout the Roman era and that of the Holy Roman Empire. In the ninth and tenth centuries it was part of Lotharingia, and later of the duchy of Swabia. In the mid-1600s it was ceded to France at the end of the Thirty Years' War. In 1791 the whole region became part of France, only to be ceded once again to Germany eighty years later at the end of the Franco-German War. Although it changed political hands often between France and Germany, its cultural affiliation never wavered from a Germanic focus, there being little effort on the part of the French government to disrupt traditional and linguistic practice in the region (except in religious matters) until the late 1700s. This situation changed dramatically with the French Revolution, during which a decree was issued that all citizens unable to speak French were to be shot or deported to the interior. Still, supporters of the retention of an Alsatian identity, including a linguistic identity, remained—among them the Catholic church. It was not until the 1850s that French became the official language of primary instruction, and German never ceased being the Language of the people at home, for worship, and in day-to-day affairs. Severe upheavals began in the mid-to late 1800s, as Alsace became the focus of territorial dispute between France and Germany, and the region changed political hands four times more. However much Alsatians resisted cultural and linguistic assimilation into France, they equally resisted Germanization during their periods under Teutonic control. The "Alsatian predicament" was a difficult one by this period. While political and territorial disputes raged over their heads, the people maintained that their traditional loyalty belonged to the region, rather than the region's rulers. In this century, the tensions between the two elements of Alsatian culture heightened, and Alsatian society was torn—as a war memorial in Strasbourg, depicting a woman grieving for her two fallen brothers, profoundly expresses. The male figures of the statue are represented as having fought, and died, on opposing sides. After World War I, when control of the region reverted to the French, a period of repression of Germanic culture ensued, giving rise to strong regionalist movements that coalesced in the formation of political parties seeking Regional autonomy, even separation and self-rule. Through the late 1920s and early 1930s, these movements reached their height, but with the rise of Hitler's Nazi party, attention again turned to the region's vulnerability to invasion and conquest. Alsace was one of Germany's earliest French conquests during World War II, and it has been said that the imposition of Nazi rule did more to further French loyalty than any French administrative or political action could ever have done. Although some local leaders collaborated with the occupiers, the region's general population participated heavily in the Resistance. In 1945, in reaction to the brutality of the German occupation, the people of Alsace turned away from autonomist movements for a time. Even the teaching of German in the schools was legally suspended for nearly a decade, so that while the language remained current in spoken form, literacy in German fell to about 20 percent. In the 1970s, a new movement toward reviving the Germanic aspects of Alsatian tradition arose, as did a nascent autonomist movement—the latter inspired largely as reaction against the centralism of the French state.

Although its lands are fertile, and the region's iron and coal mines have long constituted a source of wealth, Alsace's long history of political insecurity and the devastation wrought by the two world wars have impoverished the region. Its heavy industry, which is based on iron and textiles, consists primarily of small enterprises that are not fully competitive with their more highly developed counterparts in Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. The new autonomist movements seek to turn this situation around by gaining greater control over economic and social development policy.

Paralleling this desire to increase the regional voice in economic decision making has been a resurgence of interest in promoting the region's linguistic heritage and establishing a recognized body charged with the preservation and development of Alsatian culture. Although the issues of separatism that arose in the prewar years do not form a part of the new movement, the French government has been less than supportive to date, holding that the "unitary state" of France depends upon assimilation.


Boehler, Jean-Michel, Dominique Lerch, and Jean Vogt (1983). Histoire de l'Alsace rurale. Strasbourg: ISTRA.

Bonnet, Jocelyn (1988). La terre des femmes et ses magies. Paris: R. Laffont.

Stevens, Meic (1976). Linguistic Minorities in Western Europe. Llandysul, Dyfed, Wales: Gomer Press.

Wolf, Lothar, and Paul Fischer (1983). Le français régional d'Alsace: Etude critique des alsacianismes. Bibliothèque Française et Romane, Série A, Manuels d'Etudes Linguistiques, 45. Paris.

Zind, Pierre (1977). Brève histoire de l'Alsace. Paris: Éditions Albatros.


User Contributions:

Louis A. Young
It was very interesting reading. My great grand mother was born in Alsace Lorain, her name was
Anna Von Kurtz. She was a school teacher who met her husband (from Heidelberg) in the late 1800's
They emigrated in 1890 to the U.S. . I heard many interesting stories and have many Beutiful pictures of the area.
Thank you,
L.A. Young
German dialects are rare now in Alsace. The main language is far and away French and the population is fiercely loyal to France and French citizenship rather than their past German occupiers.
My ancestors Michael and Elizabeth Vetsch were born in Alsace, France. I was always confused because I was told my family was German yet they were from France. So this makes sense. However in 1793 Germany managed to occupy it again and when the French drove them out some fled with the German armies back to Germany the rest were mostly executed by the French. Around this time Russia had proposed a plan to settle the vast planes area (The Steppe) next to the Black Sea. They invited the farmers left in Alsace with the promise of free land, transportation, no taxes, religious freedom, exemption from military service and many other incentives. Thousands of Alsations migrated within a few years. This was another point on which I was confused. I was told my family was from France yet were German then most moved to Russia. I thought I was simply French, German and Russian a typical American mutt. My family prospered in Russia under the rule of the Zars. My ancestor was in fact the mayor of Selz. Then a land shortage came about and the younger Vetches emigrated to America for new opportunities. Sadly the rest of my ancestors who stayed were devastated by World War One and then Bolshevic revolution. The women were shipped off to Siberia as slaves and the men were lined up and machine gunned down. Four of my ancestors died in the 87 men slaughter, Rochus, Anton, Ferdinand, and Eugenius Vetsche. If not for the younger generation emigrating to America I may have never existed. It saddens me that my people had such a bloody history and continually used as pawns but I am happy some of us survived and we prosper.
The article regarding the Alsace region is very interesting. My distant relatives Johannes (Jean) Georgius Fuchs b abt 1662 in Sankt Blesein and his wife Catherina Fuchs (born Magelin or Meglin) had several children born in Soultz-Haut-Rhin, Alsace. We have never been able to trace the father/mother or earlier relatives of Johannes (Jean) Georgius Fuchs or Catherina. If anyone has information on this branch of the Fuchs family I would very much appreciate hearing from you.
Thank you,
German dialects are not rare today. Big cities are mainly French, but most children in the country speak Alsatian which is an Alemannic language similar to that spoken in Switzerland.
The French like to think everyone loves them and are 'fiercely loyal' to them, but it's true only in their own minds.
My great-grandfather was born in Alsace and came to America in 1880 with his family. My grand-pere's name was Masson, while the maiden name of my great-grandmother was Meyer. I think this bolsters the idea of mixed nationalities coexisting in the region. Our family history relates that my grandfather left Alsace because he refused to serve in the German army.
Most of my ancestors were Alsations having originally arrived in Louisiana on the four "Pest ships" in the 1720s. They were the first European settlers of Louisiana arriving even before the Acadiennes of whom I am also share my heritage. Both are a fiercely independent cultures who combined to contribute immensely to the American revolution.
Very Interesting but I am haveing such a problem trying to find out where my Grandmother was born ,she said Alsace ,France but I don;t know the name of the village she came from have been searching now since 1998 am ready to give up can;t even find her parents Joseph Meyer and Marie Yagwer.Please help me .Thank you .
Eighty families, including my ancestors, moved from Alsace to NE Hungary near Eger in 1754. They were Catholic, and I have read that the Austrian monarchy, the Hapsburgs, wanted to resettle land that had been largely abandoned during the Ottoman occupation with Catholic farmers. Count Antal Grassalkovich was instrumental in this plan. The article above suggests that the French, who controlled Alsace during the mid-18th century, only interfered in "religious matters." I am wondering if this had anything to do with their leaving Alsace, or if they just left for the land and better opportunity.
I was surprised to learn my 3rd great grandparents, German farmers, were born in Alsace region. They emigrated to a village in the Odessa region of Russia around 1805. My grandfather came to N. Dakota in late 1800s and then to California. Though he passed before my birth, I grew up on the family farm property. It is interesting learning about his heritage.
My Grandma's family the Karl's came from somewhere around Strasbourg sometime around 1850 and settled in Buffalo NY. Wish I knew more about them. Her husband was Peter Karl.
I have a ancestor , a direct great great etc grandfather name Rhinehart / Repolgle from Soults sou Ferrets , his son migrated to Pennsylvania in late 1600's . Thie records say elder Rhinehart death and birth records are in a luthern church in Strasbourg France . Also the (Mormon ;) the original keepers of souls :) documents, my uncle researched years ago ,and google both say he was 87 at death and only sick 3 days! Strong German Genes lol mom always thought we. We're Dutch aka Pennsylvania Dutch !
Michael A Gwinn
Mom born (Oct 1940) Bas-Rhin, eight months after the Nazi's invaded taking over the area. Paulette's (Paula) words, "If questioned your name (in 1943-44) and your response was in French, they'd (Nazi's) would cut your throat." her mother told her as she grew up. In 59, she married an American USAF serviceman, coming to the states in 62. Strange that the repression continues even today with France taking 'Alsace & Lorraine' away all for the good of 'Grand Est'. Political independence, neutrality, and freedom from both France & Germany is what they truly want.
Ellen C
Both my grandmother and grandfather on my mother's side have Alsatian ancestry. On my grandmother's side the Alsatians went to Prussia, then Lithuania, some back and forth between Lithuania and Prussia, then to the US. My grandfather's grandmother immigrated in the 1800s and married an Irishman who probably came over during the Potato famine. Lawrence Welk and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana have Alsatian ancestry.
Trudy Hunt
i am also of Alsatian ancestry on my fathers side. The Hausauers originated in Cleebourg Alsace. They also went to Russia so they would not have to serve in all the wars fought in that region. They went to Russia to a village called Glucksthal.They were promised that they could keep their language and culture but that changed and there was resentment of these prosperous and hardworking Germans. They then went on to South Dakota in 1897 and when they heard about free land in Canada they came up to Alberta. The area where I live is Medicine Hat. There are many many Germans from Russia as they are called here. There are several named Elssaser which means someone from Alsace.
My surname is Siffringer and live in the US. While I'm well aware of my Alsatian heritage, I know little about the towns in which they lived and would love to learn more.
My fathers family came from somewhere in Alsace, but I do not know know what city. Am trying to research some family history for my grandson. My father was born in Minnesota in 1894 so I know the family was here in mid 1800’s. The family surname is Gaudian. Is there a French connection here. Anything you can tell me is helpful.
My father's family also comes from the Alsace region. The surname is Miesch. I found out that my surname is very common in Alsace and in Switzerland and some other parts in Germany. His family emigrated to the US around 1900. There was a struggle in my father's side about whether being French or German, and even though some of them have French first names, my grandfather stated and told my father that we were Germans. What I don't know, is that where in Alsace are they from, and why they decided to leave. Any information given would be very appreciated.
I wish I could get in touch with the commenter above named Sabrina. Her family story sounds similar to mine and I am also descended from people named Vetsch. They were from Niederlauterbach in Alsace. Sabrina, email me if by some chance you should ever read this!
Alsace truly has the best of both cultures (Germanic & French), where its citizens have French first names but German surnames. Overall, Alsatians prefer to be recognized as Alsatians first, followed by French. There are too many bad, tragic and sad stories of how the Germans treated Alsatians following the Franco-Prussian War and through the 20th century world wars. If you research the famous Alsatian illustrator/artist, Hansi, you will see in his illustrations this reality depicted. There are also several memoirs written by Alsatians depicting what life was like under German and Nazi occupation. Much of it revealing how cruel and dysfunctional those times were, especially under nazi occupation. Most Alsatians nowadays are bilingual, as there is much commercial and tourism exchange taking place. Time will continue to heal those wounds...

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