Repatriate civilians

From August 1914 to November 1918, the German army occupied 10 départements in the North and East of France, partially or totally, as was the case in the Ardennes. Supplying with food the 2.2 million civilians living on these territories became difficult during the winter of 1915 due to lack of labour for agriculture, destructions and the naval blockade imposed on Germany.

To solve the problem, the German authorities decided to “repatriate” the destitute and the volunteers towards the unoccupied part of France from March 1915 onwards.

The displacement was first considered as a punishment, the returnees being designated in an authoritarian way. From 1916 onwards, as the supply shortages were more keenly felt, the requests for repatriation exceeded the available places.
A total of about 500,000 people were affected by this between March 1915 and the end of the war.

The returnees took long train rides, being sometimes quarantined in Belgium. They next went through Germany, arrived in Switzerland and were transferred to Annemasse until 1917, then to Evian.

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  • Warnod André (1885-1960), The repatriate, first quarter of the 20th century, crayon on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne © Y. Medmoun

  • Passage of French evacuees. Geneva 1915, 1915, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    An old man, surrounded by civilians and soldiers, is taken to Geneva on a stretcher. The journey of the repatriated populations from the occupied zones of northern France in fact led them to Switzerland. From there they were sent to Annemasse, and Evian, after which they left for their final destination, usually in the southwest or the region around Paris.

the repatriatepassage of French evacuees. Geneva 1915