By Albert Brandt.
Though the ' Saar Plebiscite' is now a thing of the past, the following article will be of interest to the readers to study the situation of the Saar from its political, economic and religious viewpoints. Besides elucidating many points at issue with regard to the Saarland, the writer ably portrays the position of the 'Vatican' in this matter without giving it any undue colour which journals with party political prejudices have done.—(Ed. M.C.L.)
The diplomats of Europe almost frenziedly seek to render harmless the
powder barrel of the Saar territory. France extracts from Germany the
promise to abstain from any religious or racial discrimination for a
period of one year after Germany's almost certain victory in the
plebiscite January 13th. But it is the Saar Catholics, comprising more
than seventy-five per cent of the population, who will be the chief
winners or losers in this game of diplomacy. For it is the Saar
Catholics who will determine just how large the anti-German vote will
be, and it is the Saar Catholics who, if one is to judge by
the.-history of recent events in both the ."Basin and Germany, would
suffer from any persecution.
Already there is talk that if only thirty per cent of the voters signify their desire to remain under the sovereignty of the League of Nations the League commission would resist any immediate return of the territory to Germany. Furthermore, if some districts show a majority for the status quo the League could, under the Versailles Treaty, break up the Saar and determine its fate by sections accordingly. These considerations obviously have a vital bearing notonly on tfee fate of the Saar but on world peace itself. Little wonder that the matter of policing the territory is an international problem. England volunteered to send troops, but later the League defied to instal a neutral army recruited from various countries under one commander-in-chief to maintain order in the Basin. The history of the Saar Catholics and of anti-Fascist, ppposition since the inception of Hitlerism in Germany must be examined if we are to understand just why there is now a possibility of a sizable protest vote against the Nazis. In this history lies the fate of world peace. In the at present largely inscrutable decision of the Saar Catholics, torn between resentment of Hitler and their traditional love for the Fatherland, is the shadow of destiny itself.
Until recently it would have been considered fantastic to doubt for a moment that; the populace of the Saar Basin would have voted everwhelmingly to return to Germany in the plebiscite taken in January 13th. However, when the blood of Roehm von Schleicher, Ernest Klausener and Dollfuss flowed into the stream of history, there arose the possibility of a considerable minority vote. The importance of the factors leading up to this possibility, in relation t o the fate of the Hitler regime and of world peace, cannot be overestimated. Even a substantial vote against the Nazis would be a damaging blow to the prestige of the Third Reich. A vote of any proportion for League government would aggravate one of the vexing problems which were the heritage of the last War and may be the cause of the next.
There were, of course, always a number of Saar Germans opposed t o the Nazis for political reasons. These, however, were in the minority. There were naturally also some people whose economic interest gradually became associated with France. In time these groups-were strengthened by anti- Nazi elements—Marxists, Catholic, liberal and monarchist. But the situation changed radically when the executions of Dr. Klausener, head, of the German Catholic Action Society, and of Dr. Dollftigs, the Catholic Chancellor of Austria, crave the Catholics of the Saar Hitlerism and the Saar Catholics.
dramatic confirmation of their fears that Hitlerism meant persecution for them.
There is still a possibility that the Pope and the Nazis may come to an understanding, which would mean that the tide of revolt among the Saar German Catholics would be checked, and nationalism would win the day for the Hitler regime with a landslide. Berlin and the Vatican are still attempting to find some common ground for resurrecting the concordat in a more satisfactory form. In these negotiations the Pope's trump card is the fate of the Saar territory. The Nazis have shown a sudden love for the Church of Rome, their protestations have taken on a new earnestness, since they realize how precarious is their hold on the loyalty of the Saar Catholics. The effect of the purgings and the Austrian revolt on world opinion in general, and on Teutons outside Germany in particular, has led Hitler to issue strict orders that persecutions, violent propaganda and terrorism of all kinds is to cease, especially in Austria and the Saar. In a desperate attempt to stem the tide of defection, the Nazis have been forced to promise safety to the Saar Catholics and, to some extent, to modify their anti-Catholic policy at home. Secret commands to this effect have been issued to Storm Troop commanders and other Nazi functionaries to relent in their fight against the Church which such Nazi zealots as Adotoh Rosenberg have called "the Black International of Rome." Whereas many Nazi radicals have regarded the Vatican with as much hostility as they did Moscow, the party leaders seem suddenly to have developed almost an affection for the Church. No better confirmation for this sudden if hypocritical change of mind can be found, than the abrupt dismisal of the formerly all-important governor of Silesia, Brueckner, for "conduct injurious to the party." That which formerly had been a programme point and in reality still is, has suddenly become "injurious," namely, the crusade against the Catholic Church. Priests have been released from concentration camps. Three Catholic cle^pymen from the Trier diocese, which includes the Saar, were recently let go, although they still had long sentences to serve. The word was passed around among the Saar priests that the Pope was seeking t o effect an agreement with Berlin, and many protest meetings against the Nazis' anti-Catholicism were called off.
However, as has often happened in the past, the Nazi leaders discovered that it was one thing to order fanaticism to cease, and another to control fanatics. That is why some observers discount Hitler's recent pledge of non-discrimination. The seeds of hatred and cruelty have been too deeply ^planted in the Underlings. At this moment the deaths of Klausener and Dollfuss have virtually destroyed the effect of the Nazis' belated attempt at diplomacy and reconciliation. Von Hindenburg, a possible force for tolerance, is dead, and any assurances which he may have given Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich at their last conference have gone over history's dam. It is known that the fighting Cardinal stressed the danger of the loss of the Saar for Germany and asked the President to use his influence to halt the persecutions. Now even that hope is gone.
How sincere is the new love of the Nazi leaders for the Catholics can be gleaned from the Deutsche Feuhrerbriefe, official Nazi organ of the Ministry of Propaganda. This newspaper informs us that it is necessary for the Nazis to come to an understanding with the Catholics and especially their clergy, " a t least until the plebiscite is over." Was ever hypocrisy more naive.
The Versailles Treaty took the territory away from Germany, placed it under the League of Nations, and gave control of its coal mines to France as a reparations measure. It was provided that after fifteen years the populace could vote to retain the status quo, to return to Germany or to unite with France. The discussions which led up to the setting of a date for the plebiscite revolved mainly around the terrorism which Nazis had practised in seeking to gain votes, and it was only after considerable wrangling that Germany was induced to enter into a mutual pact with France guaranteeing non-interference with the freedom of the vote, no discrimination or retaliation against those who voted for the other nation, and active measures to prevent any interference or retaliation by individual citizens or groups. It was stipulated that the League commission could extend this protection to the entire populace, rather than only to voters, and that the date of the referendum could be postponed if it were evident that a free vote were impossible. In addition special referendum courts and police were provided to handle possible violations, with the League itself as a court of appeals.
Why were these elaborate precautions neeessary? To understand that is to understand also the whole history of the conflicts within the territory, and of the factors entering into the referendum.
The Saar Basin packs a population of 830,000 into a territory of only 1,200 square miles. If one travelled from Berlin to Saarbrucken, the capital of the territory, one would never imagine that a foreign country had been reached. On the contrary, the language, and the sympathies of virtually all the populace are unmistakably German. Yet the contention a few months ago of the Deutsche-Front, the pro-Nazi Saar organization, that it had the allegiance of 93% of the voters, is sheer nonsense. Of 362,000 vo'tes in the last state council election, 84,000 were communist, 36.ti00 social democrat and 156,000 Catholic Cefitre leaving less than 100,000 Nazi votes. A combination of the three other parties would give them a clear anti-Nazi majority. The crux of the question, then, is, whether any considerable number of Catholic voters, hitherto undividedly pro-German, have been alienated by recent events. It is at least certain that a vital conflict has arisen between national loyalty and religious loyalty.
Before reverting to the religious aspects of the problem, it would be well to consider briefly the economic phases. The Saar is a highly industrialized country, only about 6% of the population being engaged in farming. Most of the inhabitants work in coal mines and in steel and iron plants. Much of this industry has been taken over by French interests. For instance, the great Neuenkirchener Eisenwerke, belonging to the old German von Stumm family has t o the extent of 60% passed into the hands of the Societe des Forges et Acieres du Nord et de Lorraine. Under League control the territory to-day has no debts, a position unique in Europe. By the membership it acquired in the French customs union the Saar radically changed the export market. Whereas in 1913 only about 15% of its coal exports went to France and more than 80% went to Germany, to-day France takes at least 65% and Germany only 15%. A similar situation has grown up with respect to iron.
On the other hand, the thrifty Saar burgher is confronted by the sight of a Germany virtually bankrupt, its gold coverage at the vanishing point, its very food supply threatened by a shortage, its debts virtually repudiated, its whole economic existence suspended in the near-vacuum of world isolation. The Saar investor who has sunk his savings in German^ marks looks with apprehension at the imminence of devaluation.
Nevertheless, until Hitler's ascent the average Saar inhabitant never gave any thought to whether the status quo, or French or German affiliation, would be better for him, economically or politically. He simply wanted to be a German, whether a monarchist or a republican German was of secondary importance. And he would have felt the same way about a Nazi Germany—until a series of developments climaxed by the executions of the 30th of June jolted him into a more objective examination of the problem, of its economicreligious aspects as well as its nationalistic implications.
The increasing fervour of Nazi promises and threats in recent months has demonstrated that the Hitlerites themselves are aware that their prestige in the Saar is waning rapidly. On May 8th, Propaganda Minister Goebbels went from Berlin to Zweibrucken, on the Saar border, to make a sneech in which he nromised the Saar a paradise if they voted to return to Germany, and threatened revenge on those who might vote the other way. The German government and the Nazis generally have on many occasions indicated that they know only two kinds of Saar citizens, good Germans and separatist traitors. The French press, recalling how ruthlessly the German regime dealt *vith separatists in -Bavaria and the Bhineland expressed apprehension following GoebbePs speech that similar measures mfeht be taken against Saar separatists if the territory is returned to Germany.
(The Catholic World).
(To be continued)
Malaya Catholic Leader, Saturday, March 16th, 1935 (pdf pp 103)