1935 Saar status referendum

A referendum on territorial status was held in the Territory of the Saar Basin on 13 January 1935. Over 90% of voters opted for reunification with Germany, with 9% voting for the status quo as a League of Nations mandate territory and less than 0.5% opting for unification with France.


At the end of World War I, the Saar was separated from Germany and administered by the League of Nations.[1] France was given control of the Saar's coal mines.[2] After fifteen years of League of Nations administration, a referendum was scheduled to take place in the territory.[1]

Towards the end of 1934, the League of Nations Council determined that peacekeeping force would be necessary in the plebiscite period. The German and French governments agreed to allow an international force to enter the Saar. On 8 December 1934, the council unanimously approved a resolution calling for such a force. Britain (1,500 troops), Italy (1,300), Sweden (260) and the Netherlands (250) agreed to provide troops for the 3,300-strong International Force in the Saar.[3][4] All expenses above and beyond those normally incurred for the same troops were charged to the League fund set aside for the plebiscite.[5][6] The League appointed a commander, General John Brind, with operational control of the force. Troops patrolled, but did not police, the Saar. They were not to respond except to emergencies and at the request of local authorities. There was little or no violence during the plebiscite and the peacekeeping effort was regarded as a success.[6]


While most political groups in the Saar supported its return to Germany before Adolf Hitler came to power, opponents of Nazism in the Saar began having doubts and misgivings after it.[7] Due to Hitler's oppression of their German counterparts, communists and socialists supported a continuation of the League of Nations administration and a delay in the plebiscite until after the Nazis were no longer in power in Germany.[7] Roman Catholics were divided in regards to returning to German rule.[7] In order to achieve victory in this referendum, the Nazis resorted to "a mixture of cajolery and brutal pressure".[8] In 1933, Sarah Wambaugh, one of the members of the Plebiscite Commission, stated that complaints of a Nazi "reign of terror" were made by non-Nazi Saarlanders and by the foreign press.[9] These complaints included allegations that the Nazis engaged in intimidation, "espionage, secret denunciations, kidnappings ..., ... interception of letters and telegrams, [and] listening-in to telephone conversations", among other things.[9] In response, the Saar Governing Commission had to "promulgate several restrictive decrees for the maintenance of public order".[10] In November 1934, fearing armed intervention by France, the Nazi German government reduced its belligerency and changed its tactics.[11] Joseph Burckel, Hitler's commissioner for the Saar, banned the wearing of uniforms within a 25-mile zone along the Saar frontier between 10 January 1935 and 10 February 1935.[11] Burckel also banned meetings, parades, and processions in this area.[11] Jakob Pirro, the Nazi leader in the Saar, told his followers to obey the strictest discipline and implemented harsh penalties for any infractions.[11]


In the referendum, voters were asked whether the Saar should remain under League of Nations administration, return to Germany or become part of France.[1] To the surprise of neutral observers as well as the Nazis themselves, over 90% voted in favour of reuniting with Germany.[12] Every voting district saw at least 83% of voters support returning the Saar to German rule,[12] and despite Georges Clemenceau's claim that there were 150,000 Frenchmen in the Saar, less than 1% of voters supported the annexation of the Saar by France.[12][13]

Choice Votes %
Unification with Germany477,08990.73
Status quo46,6138.87
Unification with France2,1240.40
Invalid/blank votes2,161
Registered voters/turnout539,54297.99
Source: Direct Democracy


Following the referendum, the Council of the League of Nations decided that the Saar should return to Germany.[12] The Saar once again became part of Germany on 1 March 1935,[12] with Josef Bürckel as Reichskommissar. In 1936, it was incorporated into the Gau of Pfalz (Palatinate) to form the Gau Pfalz-Saar (renamed Saarpfalz in 1937 and Westmark in 1940).

The report of General Brind on the Saar force recommended that in the future all such peacekeeping forces be assembled from countries with no direct interest in the matter at hand. He noted that only a small force was necessary, since it was the moral authority of its presence that mattered. Both observations are central to modern peacekeeping as opposed to collective security.[6]

The Nansen International Office for Refugees was responsible for the successful settlement of the Saar refugees in Paraguay after 1935.[14]


  1. M G Callagher. "The Saar Plebiscite, 1935". Moodle.kkc.school.nz. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  2. "The Saar plebiscite". History Today. 13 January 1935. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  3. Norrie MacQueen (ed.), The United Nations, Peace Operations and the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2011), doc. 1.
  4. Alfred F. Kugel, Allied Plebiscite Activity in the Saar Territory, 1935 Military Postal History Society.
  5. Mohammed Bedjaoui, The New World Order and the Security Council: Testing the Legality of Its Acts (Martinus Nijhoff, 1994), p. 240.
  6. Paul F. Diehl, Peace Operations (Polity Press, 2008), pp. 34–36.
  7. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 88.
  8. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 91.
  9. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 89.
  10. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 90.
  11. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 96.
  12. Russell, Frank (1951). The Saar Battleground And Pawn (1 ed.). Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 104.
  13. "LESSONS OF THE SAAR » 25 Jan 1935 » The Spectator Archive". Archive.spectator.co.uk. 25 January 1935. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  14. Nansen International Office for Refugees - History Nobel Prize
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