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Auguste Spinner

1864-1939
Portrait of Auguste Spinner posing in uniform - 1915. Source: Free of copyright

(Wissembourg, 14th June 1864 - Strasbourg, 1st April 1939) Although today he is almost forgotten, in the first half of the 20th century Auguste Spinner was one of the greatest figures of the Alsace, as a French painter, decorator, architect, spy, journalist, soldier and then civil servant. Born in Wissembourg in 1864, Auguste Spinner was deeply affected by the Battle of the 4th August 1870 that touched the town where he was born and was thus to grow up with an abiding memory of France, the Alsace at the time being annexed to Wilhelm's Reich. After studying at the Fine Arts College in Karlsruhe, in the 1890's he took over the family painting and decorating business. He is most notably responsible for the frescoes that adorn the inside of the historic museum in Hagenau. With a passion for history, in 1905 he was involved in founding the Verein zur Erhaltung der Altertümer in Weissenburg und Umgegend or Society for the preservation of the antiques of Wissembourg and the surrounding areas, of which he became treasurer. Auguste Spinner was also recognised at the time as one of the major collectors of weapons and uniforms of the Alsace and one of the best historians on the war of 1870 in the North of the Alsace.

In addition, in 1908 he published one of the first detailed studies of the adventures of Count von Zeppelin during the Schirlenhofe affair, which was responsible for the first two casualties of the Franco-German war. From 1906 onwards, he started a project in Wissembourg to build a commemorative monument to the French soldiers who had fallen on the field of honour under the command of Marshal de Villars (1705-1706), Marshal Coigny (1744), General Hoche (1793) and General Abel Douay (1870). Assisted shortly afterwards by Paul Bourson, and then by all the Francophile Alsatian leaders of the time, his project came to fruition in 1909, after bitter negotiations with the imperial German government. The inauguration of the monument, which took place on the 17th October 1909, turned into a fantastic pro-French demonstration, during which more than 50,000 citizens from the Alsace and Lorraine gave a stunning performance of the Marseillaise to the accompaniment of the municipal Reichshoffen band, in front of the dumbfounded German authorities. Appointed general representative of the Souvenir Français association in the Alsace, Spinner continued his work to promote France by encouraging the creation of new sections of the Souvenir association and federating French ex-servicemen's associations for veterans of the Crimea, Italy, Mexico and the 1870 war. In 1910, he even intervened, alongside the chairman of the French ex-servicemen's association, Joseph Sansboeuf, and Maurice Barrès, in order to make the French National Assembly create a medal commemorating the war of 1870-1871.
Far removed from all fanaticism and jingoism, on the 24th July 1910 he organised one of the first ceremonies of Franco-German reconciliation in history to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Schirlenhofe skirmish. He brought together a party of former key players in the battle over the graves of the first two victims of the conflict of 1870. However, faced with increasing political lawsuits and arrests within Francophile circles affecting those close to him, notably the Abbot Wetterlé, Hansi and Zislin etc. Auguste Spinner began to feel threatened and in September 1912 chose to go into exile in Nancy, whilst still remaining very active in the annexed Alsace-Lorraine. In 1912 he was involved in founding the Westercamp Museum in Wissembourg to whom he bequeathed his collections and became vice president of the Alsace and Lorraine Souvenir association, which was dissolved by the Imperial authorities in 1913. Hansi later implicitly dedicated to him his album entitled Mon village - Ceux qui n'oublient pas, (My village - Those who will not forget) published at Christmas in 1913, in which Auguste Spinner's father, Laurent, who remained in Wissembourg, appears in the character of the night watchman.
During this period, Spinner became a special agent of Lieutenant Colonel Albert Carré who, in 1913, was given the task by the French High Command of organising a rallying centre in Besançon for Alsatian deserters from the German army in the event of war. Enlisting as a volunteer in the French army on the 28th July 1914, Spinner was called to the army as an interpreter officer before hostilities had even begun. Following an open letter from Maurice Barrès to the war Minister on the 22nd August 1914, he was given the task of selecting men from the Alsace and Lorraine from amongst the German prisoners of war. Awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1915, he was posted from 1916 to the Information Service at army headquarters. Appointed Deputy Trustee of the town of Wissembourg, he was the first French soldier to enter the town which had become French again on the 24th November 1918. Demobilised in 1920, he then became the Director of the warehouse for tobacco manufactured in Strasbourg and held important positions in the Bas Rhin Souvenir Français association, the Federation of Volunteers in Action and various other patriotic associations. He ended his military career in 1935 with the rank of Interpreter Commander and the officer's rosette of the Légion d'Honneur. An occasional contributor to the Alsace Française review, in 1934-1935 he organised an important ceremony to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Wissembourg monument. This was held on the 28th July 1935, presided over by General Gamelin and brought together more than 75 generals of Alsatian origin and several thousand spectators, including his friend Hansi.
The victim of an attack at the end of March 1939, Auguste Spinner died on the 1st April 1939. A grand funeral was arranged and, in accordance with his last wishes, his coffin was wrapped in a tricolour flag that had been flown during the 1909 inauguration ceremony. A year later "his" monument was blown up using dynamite by the Nazi authorities and his family was forced into exile. After the liberation, his son Georges, who had become an architect for listed buildings in France, recovered a few blocks of sandstone from the destroyed monument in order to create a stele for his father's grave in Wissembourg. A new monument was later built and inaugurated in le Geisberg on the 13th November 1960.

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