Mon 23 December 2022

The borders of Minett

Iron and steel across borders

The iron ore deposits composing the Minett extend over France, Luxembourg and Belgium, traversing national borders underground. How did the iron and steel industry develop in light of the border changes of 1871 and 1919? In what ways were borders affected by iron and steel companies? Living and working in the border town of Rumelange in the early 1920s, Luxembourgish customs officers speak to us about iron and steel across borders in the early decades of the 20th century.

Iron and steel across borders” tells the story of a customs patrol working in the town of Rumelange in the early 1920s. These years were particularly interesting as iron and steel companies had to adapt to drastic changes following the Treaty of Versailles: Luxembourg left the German Customs Union and Lorraine was returned to France after being under German rule for nearly 50 years. The customs chef de poste Marco and his men, all fictional characters, offer a window through which one can look at the history of borders, cross-border mining and industrial movements, and the everyday life of customs officers in the first decades of the 20th century. This article is based on multiple data sets, from customs reports and manuals to correspondence between steel groups and public administrations, and has been inspired by discussions held with retired customs officers.


When Italian communists inhabited the Minett

Supported by the Soviet Union, communist groups flourished across the European continent in the 1920s, including the mining and industrial Minett region. This political ideology brought hope to working classes, as it promised to overthrow a capitalist economy and liberal democracies and create a society governed by workers themselves. This graphic novel tells the story of Luigi, an Italian miner who gets involved in the clandestine communist network of Esch and the surrounding area in the late 1920s.

Some of the many Italians arriving in the Minett in the interwar years belonged to politically active networks. Communist groups were by far the most outspoken and numerous, pursuing their political agenda through clandestine press and meetings. The short graphic novel tells the story of Luigi, who becomes a fervent militant and the smuggler of the red newspaper Il Riscatto across the border between Esch-sur-Alzette and Audun-le-Tiche. With subtle yet vivid brushwork, German artist Valentin von Uslar-Gleichen conveys the life experiences of Italians who operated underground and faced strict surveillance from state authorities. Although Luigi is a fictional character, all the historical details composing this graphic novel are based on a plethora of archival sources. The most relevant data sets are (1) police reports by officers who kept a close eye on Italian communists and (2) the newspaper Il Riscatto, which had a section called Il Corriere del Lussemburgo detailing the concerns and goals of the Italian community and their living conditions in the Minett mining region. The graphic novel is accompanied by an article outlining the main themes and subjects of the story: the publication and distribution of Il Riscatto, the rise of communism in Europe and in the Minett, the underground networks created and maintained by Italian migrant workers, and the immigration policies and practices promoted by Western European governments.