The ordeal of the Second World War (1940-1945)

Twenty-two years after the First World War, on 10 May 1940, Luxembourg was once again occupied by the Germans. The Grand Duchy was about to experience one of the greatest ordeals of its existence.

Having learnt their lesson from the past, Grand Duchess Charlotte and the government went into exile and established themselves in London and Canada. This proved to be a fortunate move, since its commitment to the camp of the Allies ensured that Luxembourg was awarded full international recognition immediately following the war.

German occupation meant the end of Luxembourg independence. In July-August 1940, Luxembourg was placed under direct German administration. Gustav Simon, gauleiter of the Koblenz-Trier Gau, was appointed head of the civil administration. From the outset, his initiatives were aimed at a de facto annexation of Luxembourg to the Reich and the Germanisation of its population. All the structures of the Luxembourg state were disposed of. The use of French was forbidden. An intense propaganda campaign attempted to promote the adherence of the Luxembourg people to the Nazi regime. The efforts of the occupier, however, were met with increasing hostility.

In a 1941 population census, a majority responded with 'Luxembourgish' to the three crucial questions of national, ethnic and linguistic affiliation. This result reflected the resistance of the population to the occupier’s assimilation attempts.

On 30 August 1942, the occupier went even further, by introducing compulsory military service in Luxembourg, at the same time as in Alsace and Lorraine. This step triggered strikes throughout more or less the entire country. The German authorities responded by declaring martial law and summarily executing 21 strikers. In total, 10,211 Luxembourgers were forcibly conscripted into the Wehrmacht. More than a third refused to wear the German uniform and went into hiding. The occupier responded to this opposition by spreading terror: deportations to the east, imprisonment in concentration camps (among which Hinzert camp), executions. The Jewish community in particular suffered under the Nazi regime. Out of the 3,700 Jews residing in the Grand Duchy before the war, 1,200 perished during the Holocaust.

While collaboration was not unheard of during the occupation, the majority of the population nevertheless bore witness to a remarkable national cohesion. As in other occupied territories, there were resistance organisations and one of their main activities consisted in hiding those who refused conscription. At the end of the war, the different resistance movements joined forces as the Unio’n.

On 10 September 1944, Luxembourg was liberated by the American army. Nevertheless, the Germans succeeded in stabilising the front along the Moselle and launched a counter-attack in December 1944. The Battle of the Bulge wreaked havoc in the north and east of the country.

The liberation of Vianden on 22 February, the return from exile of Grand Duchess Charlotte on 14 April and finally the unconditional surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 marked the end of the war.

The final toll was high: as a result of the armed conflict and the Nazi terror, Luxembourg suffered 5,700 deaths, accounting for approximately 2% of the total population. The immediate post-war period was characterised by reconstruction. Thanks to the American aid received as part of the Marshall Plan, significant progress was achieved in terms of modernisation and infrastructure.

(Source: About... History of Luxembourg)

  • Updated 30-07-2018