Part 1: Preface
wice in this century, within a span of only 24 years, the rulers of America felt called upon to combat an alleged threat to democracy and world peace by waging a "holy war" in Europe, against the will of their people. Twice they repudiated their own founding ideals and drew on their inexhaustible resources to stand by the side of powers who had divided the world amongst themselves in brutal colonial wars - joining forces against a nation that had no possessions beyond its own borders after the First World War, and from which they had only gained benefits in the past.
In costly battles Germans had once contributed to winning young America's independence from the British Crown. The nation's subsequent development from primitive beginnings to a position of world leadership in industry and trade is unthinkable without the hard work, efficiency and high moral virtues of the German immigrants.
But the Germans, as numerically the largest ethnic group in the United States, were not only the driving force in America's material development. Germans set the tone in education and research, and insofar as one can speak of American culture and American intellectual life, it was the enrichment brought by the Germans, with their naturally cheerful way of life and particularly their unparalleled patronage of music, that helped overcome the sterile Puritanism of Anglo-Saxon life, to the benefit of the entire nation.
The following accounts, which are based on the reports of well-known emigrants, shall give an idea of the scope of German achievements in America - and also of the betrayal committed by a power-hungry financial and political clique against the most honest, loyal and decent among their citizens, and against their native land.
But in any case the Germans had no part in the discovery of America - or did they? Aside from the fact that North Germanic people landed their longships in Greenland long before the time of Columbus, settled there, sailed on to Newfoundland and were thus the first Europeans to set food in the New World, the famous Portuguese would never have succeeded in his risky adventure across the Atlantic if he had not had the benefit of the maps and charts and most of all the navigational instruments and good advice of a German from Nuremberg.
The first Germans arrive in the New World at about the same time as the English - but not like them as colonizers! They contribute independently to the exploration and opening of the new land. In 1614 Hendrik Christiansen from Cleve explored the Hudson River, and Germans from the Central and South German region can be found in the Dutch town of New Amsterdam. In 1626, making one of the most remarkable investments in history, Peter Menuit from Wesel traded the Indians 60 Dutch guilders for the area surrounded by the Hudson and East Rivers - Manhattan, which would later become the gigantic metropolis New York.
Germans as well as Dutch, who after all were also part of the German Empire once, are jointly called "Dutch" by Anglo-Saxon immigrants. In 1629 one Captain John Smith of Jamestown in Virginia, the oldest of the English colonies in North America, directed a request to London to send him some more "damn Dutch", since they made excellent colonists, as a group of glass workers from Bohemia had shown him. Just like the illegal immigration recruits today, who make their money from the flow of refugees and migrants, convincing dissatisfied citizens to emigrate to the "Promised Land of America" was a lucrative and often underhanded business in Europe even in those early days.
In 1653 wine-growers from the region around Heidelberg settled in New Netherlands. In 1669 Johann Lederer from Hamburg advances into the southern part of the Alleghenies. Swiss Baptists follow him. In 1676 Nikolaus de Meyer, also from Hamburg, becomes Mayor of New York. In 1684 a Calvinist- Protochristian sect of labadists led by the theologian Peter Schlüter from Wesel founds a settlement on the Bohemia River in Maryland, drawing further German immigrants.
If one inquires into what prompted the German emigrants to leave their homeland in search of a seemingly promising, but no less dangerous and uncertain future, one finds many different reasons. It was rarely a longing for adventure. Most often, the motivating factors were religious intolerance, bureaucratic harassment, high interest and tax burdens, and sometimes also bitter poverty and despair. Mandatory military service or contributions also at times prompted the decision to emigrate, and while this choice did net the jackpot for some few lucky souls, it led many more out of the frying pan and into the fire and cost them their health and often their life.
German emigration to America is heightened further by a "Handbook" for people willing to emigrate, published in 1702 by Professor Daniel Falckner, which condemned Germany in multifarious ways and which, together with similar writings, triggered a veritable Exodus across the Atlantic. The authors did not hesitate to make the wildest promises to eager America candidates: "Wild pigeons fly so low here that one can knock them out of the sky with sticks. Wild turkeys are big and fat, some as much as 46 pounds. The Indians often bring gifts of six or seven deer at a time..." Small wonder that in the face of such images people who knew only hunger and hardship were readily ensnared by man-hunting agents.
The German Southwest experienced the greatest degree of depopulation by emigration to the Promised Land of America, whereas Prussia and Austria had wisely passed a ban on emigration at that time. The emigrants were primarily Protestant peasants, who crowded into William Penn's "holy experiment, the model of religious and personal freedom" with little more than their faith in God and their willingness to work.
The British saw their vested interest in increased German immigration to their new colonies not only in the counterweight to French Canada, for which they even promised "free" passage, but also in the marshaling of new German arrivals as "border guards" against the Indians. And so 30,000 Germans from the Palatinate appear in England to set out on the transport overseas - people so poverty-stricken that the English mock and ridicule them for it.
In light of the long, six- to eight-week trips on the slow and unreliable sailing ships of the time, conditions on the migrant ships were often even worse than in the emigration camps. "More than 17,000 Germans from the Palatinate who wanted to emigrate had died (by 1710) in England or at sea," the German-Canadian Bernd G. Längin reports in his highly informative booklet Germans become Americans. The teacher Gottlieb Mittelberger, who traveled to the colonies in 1750, writes: "During the trip a dreadful misery comes about in the ships, stench, dampness, horror, vomiting, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, tumors, scurvy, cancer..." Not to forget a poor, barely edible diet, and added to it all, maltreatment by the crew of the overcrowded ships! Regarding the "freight" that finally arrived at America's shores, Friedrich Kapp writes: "If there were crosses and grave markers at sea, the routes taken by the migrant ships would have begun to look like overcrowded graveyards long ago."
It is a mistaken assumption that the distress that awaited so man emigrants was restricted to the first few waves of migrants. Even in the late 19th century many migrants suffered the fate of the "white slaves". According to Joachim Fernau, "children usually end up in the weaving mills, after having been brutally separated from their parents... We have disturbing photographs showing the 10-year-olds in the machine halls. There were two million children who had to work in industry." Poor immigrants who could not pay for their passage themselves are bound by a sort of indentured servitude. On their arrival in Philadelphia the poor immigrants are not allowed to disembark until a buyer has purchased their freedom. "Many parents are forced to barter their children themselves, and to sell them like livestock."
As of 1710 German and Swiss Mennonites as well as Huguenots from the Palatinate settle in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, followed later by the Amish, the descendants of a division of Swiss and South-West German Baptists. This religious sect, whose black-robed members with their horses and buggies are acknowledged as honest and efficient farmers despite their rejection of all modern tools and machinery, has made Lancaster County one of America's special tourist attractions to this day. In cultural and linguistic terms as well, these "Pennsylvania Dutch" have persisted as one of the oldest enclaves of Germanness in the midst of the American melting pot all around them.
In 1734, along with Silesians and Saxons, Protestants from Salzburg arrive who had been driven out of their home for being "heretics and rebels". These Salzburgers head for the American South, into Georgia, into the "pure wilderness" along the Savannah. As before in Germantown, west of modern-day Washington, this settlement becomes a bastion of sharp protest against slavery, here under the leadership of Father Boltzius. So it was first and foremost Germans who spoke out against the keeping of Black slaves on the large Southern plantations - and their protests were not always to their own advantage. What motivated these people to emigrate is once again oppression by their secular and ecclesiastical masters - which prompts the economist Friedrich List to say: "Our governments are to blame, they have to go!" Regarding the German princes, he said: "Germany is a detention room, with detainees that are allowed walk around free only for as long as the government feels like letting them!"
Where the German emigrants travel to the New World in organized groups, it is churches and sects that lead and look after them. These structures also replace, at least to some extent, the political backing that is lacking due to Germany's division into many small political units, and they contribute to the preservation of the German language, customs and culture. On the other hand, it is precisely these diverse sects that prevent unity amongst the German ethnic group - unlike the English churches, that take a patriotic British stance and promote the Anglo-Saxon identity among their flock!
The weakness caused by this lack of unity makes the Germans, for example German Catholics on the Delaware, vulnerable to spiteful attacks in the regions dominated by the Anglo-Saxons. Others are rejected as being pacifist or politically disinterested. Benjamin Franklin, famous both as an inventor and as statesman, spoke scornfully of the "Palatine hayseeds" and considered them arrogant for "not letting us Anglicize them". The small-scale, keep-to-yourself mentality flourishing in the German regions puts the Germans at a distinct disadvantage towards the Anglo-Saxons, and the German clergy and priests, the actual leaders of the German emigrants, are "politically neutral"; as a rule they are uncritical or helpless in the face of Anglo-Saxon dominance.
Franklin's disparaging remarks are contrasted by the statements of the Governor of then still French Louisiana about the German emigrants from the Upper Rhine who, even after the majority of them had perished on the trip from Europe, nonetheless turned the right-hand shore regions of the Mississippi from a fever-ridden marshland into a "German coast": "What we call the German coast here is the most hard-working, most prolific and most honest part of our population." So German industriousness and German honesty are acknowledged, but the German immigrants neither seek political influence, nor would they be readily granted it if they did. One reason for this is also that "the regular folk", farmers and laborers and perhaps the occasional "revolutionary", are what make up the majority of the German immigrants, whereas the English population includes the rich land owners and the equally influential clergy from the nobility or other prominent circles.
In 1733 one Johann Peter Rockefeller (also known as Roggenfelder) arrives in America from the Rhineland-Palatinate.
In 1740 an ancestor of the future President Herbert Hoover, one Andreas Huber, settles in the German community of Fredericksburg, Maryland.
And in November 1741 a logger named Hans Nikolaus Eisenhauer arrives in
Pennsylvania - an ancestor of Dwight D. Eisenhowers, who was later to serve as
Commander-in-Chief of the Allied forces in World War Two, in which position
he would vent his political ambitions in hatred against his ethnic brethren. -
Meanwhile, Austria's Emperor Joseph II. has issued a ban on the recruiters'
activities, making them punishable by death.