Monday, September 20, 2004

An Episode from the Ruhr Crisis

Archival work is fast and thoughtless. One simply writes without pause until there is enough of a document to makes sense of it. Looking over my notes, I realized that I recorded things that I will not need.

The Ruhr Crisis was just getting under way in January 1923. The coal magnates of the Ruhr Valley refused reforms of the tax code that would allow Germany to make war reparations, so Germany had no choice but not pay. In retaliation, France and Belgium occupied the Ruhr Valley. Poincaré hoped to take what was owed to France directly from the German factories. Instead, the workers refused to work–a onetime synthesis of nationalist politics and labor unions.

In the midst of these affairs, several French travelers tried to return home from France on January 31. French train engineer André Lafont and his wife escorted two seniors, Isabelle Bucher and Madeleine Leseur, back from Speyer in the Moselle Valley. At 7 pm the train pulled into the small community of Rheinzabern in the Pfalz. According to Lafont’s report to French officials in Wissembourg, “several [perhaps as many as six] provocative young men” entered their train car. Hearing the group speak French, the young men took Lafont’s cane and beat him with it. They yelled at the women, preventing them from standing with force. They also broke the windows and robbed the travelers. Three hundred people who were standing on the platform approved of the attack–some of them sang “Deutschland über alles”. Leseur was able to leave the train and find station officials. However, they refused to intervene even as the assailants vandalized the train car. Eventually, the young men descended the train, and the travelers were left on the train as it drove away.

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