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Eupen Malmedy border changes between 1920 and 1945
Eupen-Malmedy area and other German territories lost in both World Wars are shown in black, present-day Germany is marked dark grey on this 1914 map.

Eupen-Malmedy or Eupen-Malmédy, also known as the East Cantons (German: Ostkantone; French: Cantons de l'Est; Dutch: Oostkantons) within Belgium, is a geographical area and group of cantons in eastern Belgium. It is composed of the former Prussian districts (Kreise in German) of Malmedy and Eupen, together with the Neutral Moresnet. These territories were annexed to Belgium in 1920 by the Versailles Treaty.


  • Current administration 1
  • Languages spoken in the area 2
  • History 3
    • Before 1815 3.1
    • Prussian administration, 1815-1919 3.2
    • Provisional Belgian administration, 1919-1925 3.3
    • Integration into Belgium, 1925-1940 3.4
    • Annexed to Germany, 1940-1944 3.5
    • Return to Belgium, 1945 3.6
  • Timeline 4
  • Sources 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Current administration

At the beginning of the 1920s, the municipalities composing these territories were regrouped into three districts: Eupen, Malmedy, and Sankt Vith. After Belgian municipality mergers in 1976-1977, the 11 municipalities sharing the territory of the East Cantons were regrouped to their current status as follows:

District of Eupen:

District of Sankt Vith:

District of Malmedy :

Languages spoken in the area

The linguistic situation of the wider area is complex since it lies on the border between the Romance and Germanic languages and on an isogloss dividing several German dialects. In general, over the past decades, the local dialects have lost ground to German and French.

Historically, in Aubel, Baelen, Plombières, Welkenraedt (neighbouring Belgian municipalities), Eupen, Kelmis and Lontzen, the local languages have been classed as Limburgish, or better as Low Dietsch, the inhabitants of Raeren Ripuarian and those of the district of Sankt Vith Moselle Franconian (Luxembourgish), all of which are more related to German. On the other hand, most of the people living in Malmedy and Waimes speak Walloon or French, with a minority of German speakers. Some of the folklore and carnival traditions there are still in the Walloon language. That is also the case for the children:

"The New Year’s wishes have hardly been uttered when the children start going round from house to house in order to celebrate the three kings. The individual groups sing a song at the doors and demand a “lôtire” for their efforts, in other words a small sweetmeat. They sing in Walloon and say that the kings have sent them."[1]

The East Cantons as a whole should therefore not be confused with the German language region created in 1963 or with the German-speaking Community of Belgium, which does not include the (smaller) Malmedy and Waimes areas.


Before 1815

Historically, those territories have little in common. The Northern part around Eupen was originally part of the Duchy of Limburg, a dependency of the Duchy of Brabant, and was latterly owned by the Austrian Habsburgs, as part of the Austrian Netherlands. The Southern part (i.e. more or less what is now the district of Sankt Vith) belonged to the Duchy of Luxembourg. The small village of Manderfeld-Schönberg belonged to the Archbishopric of Trier. Malmedy and Waimes, except the village of Faymonville, were part of the abbatial principality of Stavelot-Malmedy which was — like Luxembourg and Trier — an Imperial Estate of the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1795, as the French Revolutionary Army entered the Austrian Netherlands, the area was also taken over and eventually incorporated in its entirety into the French department of the Ourthe.

Prussian administration, 1815-1919

Map of Belgium in 1843: Eupen and the East Cantons are in Prussia.

At the Congress of Vienna, the whole area was awarded to Rhenish Prussia. In the North West of the area, Moresnet, coveted by both the Netherlands and Prussia for its calamine, was declared a neutral territory. After 1830, the 50% guardianship of the Netherlands was taken over by newly independent Belgium, and this remained so even after 1839, when Belgium relinquished its claims to neighbouring Dutch Limburg.

This change did not significantly affect the inhabitants of this region. Even in the mainly French or Walloon speaking Malmedy, changes went smoothly since the municipality was allowed to continue to use French for its administration.

For instance, during a visit to the city in 1856, the King Frederick William IV is believed to have said "I am proud to have in my kingdom a little country where people speak French". For the people of Malmedy, this would eventually change when German was implemented as the only official administrative language. This was no problem in Eupen and St.Vith but more so in Malmedy-Waimes. There was some resistance to the change: for instance, Roman Catholic priests who were forbidden to preach in French started to preach in Walloon in order to avoid having to preach in German.

Most of the territory had spoken German or German dialects for centuries, with Walloon being spoken by about two-thirds of the population in the district of Malmedy at the time it was newly created in 1816.[2] The overwhelmingly German-speaking district of Sankt Vith further south was, in 1821, united with the district of Malmedy to form a new, much larger district of Malmedy that then had a majority of German-speakers. According to the 1 December 1900 population census this new district of Malmedy had only a minority of 28.7% Walloon-speaking inhabitants. The smaller but more populous district of Eupen was almost entirely German-speaking, with Walloon and French speaking minorities making up less than 5%.[3] At the beginning of World War I, most of the inhabitants of the Eupen and Malmedy districts considered themselves German and fought for the German Empire during the war.

Provisional Belgian administration, 1919-1925

In 1918, as World War I was drawing to a close, the French government was determined to increase the size of Belgian territory at the expense of Germany. The French attempted to annex the Saarland and to persuade the neutral Netherlands to exchange territory claimed by Belgium in 1830 but relinquished in 1839 (Dutch Limburg and Zeeuws Vlaanderen) with German territory that had once been Dutch (Bentheim, Emden and the Land of Cleve).

Frustrated in these attempts, the French sided with Belgium's claim to the "lost" cantons of Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt Vith. In 1920, the Treaty of Versailles awarded all the communities on a provisional basis to Belgium. A five-year transition period under the command of the Royal High Commissioner, General Herman Baltia, ensued. Under pressure from the United States, whose war aims had included popular sovereignty, a plebiscite was planned, and between 26 January and 23 July 1920, it was held on Baltia's orders under Article 34 of the Treaty. However it was not a secret ballot – inhabitants of the cantons who objected to the annexation had to register (by name) at the village hall. This procedure led to mass intimidation; people were led to believe that anyone objecting to annexation by Belgium would not receive Belgian nationality, but be deported to Germany or at least have their food ration cards taken away, and as a result few registered.

Hence it was no actual plebiscite, and in the event, only 271 people out of 33,726 voted for the communes to remain in Germany.

Integration into Belgium, 1925-1940

In 1925, the area around Eupen, Malmedy, and Sankt Vith, together with the former Neutral Moresnet (Kelmis) was finally included in the Belgian state. However, in 1926 Belgium and the Weimar Republic conducted secret negotiations which would have led to the return of the East Cantons to Germany in return for 200 million gold marks - but the fury of the French Government on hearing about the plan led to the break-up of the talks.

After the inhabitants of the East Cantons finally received full Belgian nationality and the vote, parties who favoured a return of the East Cantons to the German Reich got between 44% and 57% of the vote in the East Cantons, achieving high scores even in predominantly French-speaking Malmedy. After the accession to power of Adolf Hitler, the socialist party of the East Cantons stopped agitating for a return to Germany. This caused a drop in the irredentist vote but also meant that the pro-Germany vote was now dominated by the openly Nazi "Heimattreue Front".

Annexed to Germany, 1940-1944

German soldiers welcomed into Malmedy in May 1940 with Swastika decorations and Nazi salutes

During World War II the East Cantons (and some other small villages that had been Belgian but German-speaking in 1914) were annexed by Nazi Germany, with the clear consent of most of the inhabitants.[4] Support for the German takeover eroded sharply after the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the subsequent conscription of most of the male population into the German army (out of 8,700 drafted new Germans, 3,200 perished in the East). In December 1944 Allied bombing first destroyed Malmedy, then Sankt Vith almost completely. Many communities were similarly affected by the Ardennes Offensive ("Battle of the Bulge") of 1944-45. The southern part of the East Cantons was the theatre ofheavy fighting at St. Vith, Rocherath-Krinkelt, Bütgenbach and many others.

Return to Belgium, 1945

After the war, the Belgian state reasserted sovereignty over the area, which caused the male inhabitants of the area who had served in the German army to lose their civil rights as "traitors to the Belgian state". After the war, the Belgian authorities opened more than 15,000 inquiries procedures against citizens of Eupen-Malmedy, which represents 25% of the population. In comparison, for the whole of Belgium, these inquiries concerned less than 5% of the population. Even though the ratio of the effective trials and convictions in comparison to the number of files opened was lower than the Belgian national average, it is clear that the collaboration and inquiry into it left scars that needed time to disappear.[5]

The bad blood caused by the reluctance of the Belgian government to remedy the legal situation concerning the annexation (only remedied by an amnesty law in 1989), would lead to the emergence of a German Belgian national party, the PDB, or Party of German-speaking Belgians. The PDB (which at the European level co-operates with both the Scottish National Party and the Greens) has never agitated for a return to Germany, but advocated increased rights for the German minority in Belgium, including full equality with the Flemish and Walloon linguistic groups.

The nine German-speaking communities of the East Cantons now comprise the German-speaking Community of Belgium, while Malmedy and Waimes are part of the French Community of Belgium. There are protected rights for the minority language in both areas.


  • 6 March 1815 : Malmedy part of Prussia (from 1871 Germany).
  • 1918 - 1920 : Under Allied occupation (British to Aug 1919, then Belgian).
  • 28 June 1919 : Ceded to Belgium by Germany under Treaty of Versailles.
  • 20 September 1920 : Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt-Vith annexed (fully re-incorporated 1925).
  • 1926 The Belgian government wants to "sell" the East Cantons to the Weimar Republic. France objects furiously.
  • 29 July 1940 - Feb 1945 : Eupen, Malmedy and Sankt-Vith are annexed to Germany, together with the Luxembourg village of Bého (renamed Bocholz) and former Neutral Moresnet (they were part of the Prussia's Rheinprovinz and within this province part of Aachen Regierungsbezirk).
  • 1956 Belgo-German peace treaty. The Federal Republic of Germany recognizes the illegality of the 1940 annexation.
  • 1960-1964 The Belgian language border is fixed and finally divides the East Cantons. Eupen, Sankt Vith and others become German-speaking with special privileges for French speakers, Malmedy and Waimes join Aubel, Welkenraedt, Bleiberg and Baelen as French-speaking with (potential) special privileges for German speakers.
  • 18 July 1966 Belgian law on the language use by local and national government. The "region of the German language" is mentioned. Federal Government services to answer German queries from a member of the general public in German.
  • 1973 The Rat der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft is set up.
  • 1989 New amnesty law, undoing the legal effects of the annexation and its voiding.
  • 1993 The Executive of the Rat der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft is recognized as one of the Belgian regional governments in the new federal constitution. The German-speaking area remains a part of the Walloon economic area.
  • 2005 The authority of the Rat is increased by granting it the right of tutelage over religious institutions and over its nine communities.


  • Versailles Peace Treaty. (Note the mysterious reference in article 31 to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which as a neutral was not involved in the Treaty of Versailles. France had wanted to compensate the Netherlands with German territory in exchange for the return to Belgium of territory relinquished by it to the Netherlands in 1839)
  • History of the German community in Belgium, from the Rat's website
  • (French) Legalities and other German minorities in Belgium.

See also


  1. ^ 'The Feast of Epiphany
  2. ^ Hahn, Hans-Henning and Kunze, Peter: Nationale Minderheiten und staatliche Minderheitenpolitik in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert. Akademie Verlag GmbH, Berlin, 1999 (German)
  3. ^ 'Foreign-language minorities in the German Reich according to the population census of 1 December 1900 (German)
  4. ^ World War Tours (German)
  5. ^ Alfred Minke, La Communauté germanophone: l'évolution d'une terre d'entre-deux, 1995 - [2]

External links

  • Daily life in the East Cantons from 1918-1935. (How a small businessman was ruined by the scarcity of Belgian money and hyperinflation in Germany.) (German)
  • How German Belgians see themselves (German)
  • Website of the German-speaking parliament.
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