From Alsace to Périgord: the evacuation

1st September 1939: general mobilisation, evacuation order for the Alsatian civilian population.

13th September 1939: arrival of the first Alsatian refugees at Mussidan station.

June 1940: defeat of France.

25 July 1940: annexation of Alsace and Moselle by the Third Reich.

August – October 1940: Alsatian refugees return home.

On the 1st September, the French general staff activates a plan to evacuate the Alsatian and Moselle populations, as well as the administration, towards the interior of the country. Prepared a long time ago, this plan aimed to spare the population while facilitating the movement of troops.

The operation concerned 600,000 inhabitants in the Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle regions, with the South-West of France as the destination.

The train journey lasted a dozen days. It was a trying time: lack of comfort and hygiene, insufficient food.

The Dordogne department was chosen as a place of refuge for some of the inhabitants of the Bas-Rhin, including the people of Strasbourg, but it was not prepared to receive the Alsatians. The Périgueux railway station became a transit centre and received up to 10,000 refugees per day. In a few days, the canton of Mussidan (8,017 inhabitants) had 3,023 refugees at the beginning of 1940. In September 1939, Périgueux took in fifteen to twenty thousand Alsatians. While waiting to be allocated a room in one of the dwellings requisitioned by the authorities, many refugees slept in the cinema in Mussidan or in Noëla Malard’s ballroom in Beaupouyet. The eight barracks built to accommodate 200 people were not enough. Housed in isolated hamlets in the heart of the Double forest, the new arrivals, often people from the city, had to adapt to rural conditions of which they knew nothing. But very quickly, an Alsatian school was created in Mussidan. An annexed town hall from Strasbourg was also created.

The most important barrier remained that of language. Many Alsatians (about 44%) only spoke the dialect, which was close to German. Others do not dare to express themselves in French, a language that is not their mother tongue. This creates misunderstanding and even mistrust. It also allows discoveries to be made. Paulette, Raymond Malard’s wife, remembers the Christmas tree, then unknown in the Dordogne, installed in a house in Saint-Laurent-des-Hommes to celebrate Christmas in 1939.

After the annexation of Alsace and Moselle by the Third Reich, most refugees decided to return home. Others chose to stay: citizens of the Jewish faith, but also those who did not accept either the defeat of France or the annexation of Alsace. This is the case of Charles Mangold (Vernois) and Victor Nessmann (Noiret). These figures of the Resistance in the Dordogne were victims of Nazi repression in 1943 and 1944. Others joined the group formed by Antoine Diener (Ancel), the future Strasbourg battalion of the Alsace-Lorraine Independent Brigade that André Malraux had the honour of commanding.

The ten months of Alsatian presence in the Dordogne left a lasting impression on people’s minds, as evidenced by the numerous twinning arrangements between Alsatian and Dordogne communes.