On the German side the controls were even stricter, except in Belgium, which had been placed under civilian control. However, this was only possible with the help of the municipal authorities which were controlled by the Germans for the duration of the war. On the German side of the front, civilians were not allowed to leave their municipality. The municipality’s boundaries were strictly defined, sometimes with poles on which signs were appended in French and German. A pass was required to leave this zone. However, such passes were rarely issued. They had to be paid for and were issued in each city according to a quota. In some villages only the priests, the mayors and the suppliers were given such passes, by the German military commander. They also served as messengers, bringing news from the neighbouring municipalities.

In the areas that were under German control the only civilian displacement on a larger scale was organized by the occupying forces.
The German army thus moved civilians to other occupied areas or even to Germany during the war. Their aim was to get labour to areas where they lacked it. Originally, the German military authorities tried the option of voluntary work with a compensation. However, the population refused to partake in any agreement with the enemy, and very few men signed up. Therefore, they started requisitioning labour. Groups of men, wearing a red armband, which identified them as forced labourers, were displaced for work purposes.

Other civilians were taken to Germany as hostages. Germans had been interned in French camps since the outbreak of the war. The two countries negotiated their release. In order to exert pressure on the French, the Germans started to deport hostages to Germany. In November 1916, 200 men, women and children were deported from the Nord to Holzminden (Lower Saxony). Given that the negotiations did not progress as expected the Germans deported again 1,000 hostages in early 1918.

Men and women who were guilty of acts of resistance against the occupying forces were also sent to Germany.

Finally, the repatriation of “useless eaters” was another reason for civilian displacement, which was organized by the Germans. Old people, women and children were evacuated from the occupied areas to France via Switzerland.

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  • Gehlsen Max (1881-1960), Sallaumines, street, 17 December 1915, watercolour on paper, Departmental Archives of Pas-de-Calais – mark 47 Fi 29/1

    Civilians and soldiers lived alongside one another in the occupied villages.

  • A German soldier at a guard post between Flanders and Germany, first quarter of the 20th century, gelatin silver print on paper, coll. Historial de la Grande Guerre, Péronne

    On the sign, we can read the following: "Wer den Zaun unerschreitet wird ohne Anruf erschossen": "Anyone going beyond these limits will be shot".

  • Notice of the Kommandantur granting a traveller the possibility to travel by train from Laon, with safe-conducts, 17 June 1915, paper, Departmental Archives of the Aisne – mark FRAD002 Laon 4H164

Sallaumines, DorfstrasseGerman soldier at a guard post between Flanders and Germanynotice of the Kommandantur