740.00119 Control (Germany)/2–1846

Memorandum by the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews) to the Secretary of State


Mr. Secretary: The French Ambassador37 called on me on February 18 and left with me an aide-mémoire38 in which is presented the desire of his Government to have the Saar territory turned over to permanent French administration without prejudice to the French claims on the Rhineland and the Ruhr.

The introductory argument of the aide-mémoire asks for an immediate decision on the grounds that it is extremely difficult to fix the level of German industry without knowing the disposition to be made of the Saar and that it is necessary to determine immediately whether the industrial establishments of that area are to be subject to reparation deliveries.

By this proposal the Saar, vaguely defined as a region larger than that described in the Treaty of Versailles,39 would be completely separated from Germany and incorporated into the French customs and monetary systems. The mines would again, as following the Treaty of Versailles, become the property of the French state. France would assume immediately permanent control of the administration and take over the protection of Saar interests abroad. The status of the local populace would be left for subsequent determination.

Should this proposal be accepted, the aide-mémoire continues, the Control Council in Berlin would be able to make a number of decisions of an economic nature which are now pending because of absence of agreement on the Saar. The French Government, consequently, [Page 508] asks that its views be examined as a matter of urgency and that they be discussed as soon as possible by the four Foreign Ministers or their delegates.

The Saar, you will recall, was placed under a League of Nations commission in 1919 and was administered by that body until 1935 when the inhabitants voted overwhelmingly for return to Germany. During that interval the area was included in the French customs and monetary region and the French state owned the coal mines, the economic arrangement which it is desired to restore. The Saar is an economic complement to the iron ore of Lorraine and the industry of Northern France and if it were now placed under French occupation it would contribute an increase of approximately 30 percent to France’s production of coal, iron, and steel and would mean virtually a comparable loss to Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line. The present population is in excess of 800,000 Germans.

Contingent upon a proper delimitation of the area and an acceptable definition of the status of the inhabitants, and contingent likewise upon the French being willing to treat this question as a part of the whole settlement of French policy toward Germany, it seem advisable that this Government should agree to permanent French occupation of the Saar.

This second qualification I consider a matter of paramount importance. A recent telegram from Ambassador Murphy, a copy of which I attach for your convenience,40 adds to the economic arguments for making progress with the central German administrative agencies a compelling political reason for overcoming French obstruction, viz., that the Soviet Government and the German Communist Party are making effective capital out of the present impasse by becoming the champions of German unity. I must agree with the Ambassador that, both because of the economic and political situation in Germany and because of the broader European implications, it is essential that French opposition be overcome as quickly as possible. To that end, therefore, I suggest that we make it plain to the French Government that we cannot enter upon a discussion of the disposition of the Saar, until we see some prospect of cooperation in setting up the central German agencies.

The Secretary of War has addressed a letter to you which bears the same testimony as to the political developments in Germany.41

I attach a draft reply to the French aide-mémoire for your consideration.42

H. Freeman Matthews
  1. Henri Bonnet.
  2. Not printed. The text of the aide-mémoire is substantially the same as that of a note presented by the French Foreign Minister on February 12 to the American, British, and Soviet Ambassadors in Paris and printed in Documents Français Relatifs à L’Allemagne (Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1947), p. 17.
  3. Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, pp. 57, 165166.
  4. Telegram 602, February 24, supra.
  5. For a summary of this letter, dated February 25, see telegram 645, March 12, to Berlin, p. 524.
  6. Draft not attached to file copy of this document.