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German Plebiscite Territories

Following World War I, the League of Nations used the plebiscite as a tool to resolve yet undetermined international borders in Europe. The word is a Latin expression, meaning "referendum". A vote was held for the citizens of a disputed area, asking them to determine whether they wanted to become part of one nation or another. Often, contemporary postage stamps were overprinted or new postage stamps were issued to publicize these referendums.

The disputed German territories that fell under League of Nations administration after the end of World War I were Allenstein, Danzig, Marienwerder, Memel, Saar, Schleswig, and Upper Silesia.

An overprinted contemporary German stamp for Allenstein is shown above, and samples of the new postage stamps issued for Upper Silesia, Marienwerder, and Schleswig are shown below.

The majority of these referendums were easily resolved, and the territories reverted to the chosen nations, as determined by the popular vote. There were two exceptions though, where League of Nations administration of the former German Imperial territories lasted for many years.

The population of the Saar was overwhelmingly German, but the French wanted the territory for its natural resources. As the French controlled the League of Nations, the Saar was given over to them, to be administered as an occupation territory, under the premise that they would hold a referendum in 15 years. A referendum WAS HELD in 1935, and the people of the Saar chose to join the German Third Reich.  At the end of World War II, the Saar again came under French control.  Then, under the terms of a treaty in 1956, Saar was re-incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

As decreed by the League of Nations in the Treaty of Versailles, the geographic region around the Baltic Sea port of Danzig, formerly part of East Prussia within the German Empire, was to remain separated from Weimar Germany and from the new nation of Poland.  No plebiscite was actually ever conducted in Danzig.

At the beginning of 1921, the Free City of Danzig was created, in order to give Poland sufficient access to its seaport, while recognizing that the population was overwhelmingly ethnic German.  To achieve this end, the new Free City / State of Danzig entered into a binding customs union with Poland, allowing the two parties equal access to the seaport.

After World War II, Danzig was awarded to the reconstituted Republic of Poland.  Today, as Gdansk, Danzig is one of the major Baltic Sea ports of the Republic of Poland.

The history and postage stamp issues of these territories, with the exceptions of Saar and Danzig, will be presented in articles in the Page Links section located at the upper right.

The pages for Saar and Danzig will be found in their own categories of this website, and the pages for the Lithuanian occupation of Memel (Klaipeda) will be found in the Lithuania category of this website.

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German Plebiscite Territories