Part 5: The Forty-Niners
n September 1852 Carl Schurz, the son of a teacher, and his young wife arrived in New York harbor. As member of a liberal student fraternity he had participated in the Baden Uprising in his homeland. From Philadelphia he moved first to Wisconsin, to be a farmer, but even here his public speeches, perfect in both vocabulary and diction, made him so well-known that Lincoln is said to have been envious of this German. Schurz was later to be praised as "the greatest immigrant Germany ever provided", or "a gift from Germany to America".
As a German who, like most of his countrymen, supported the liberation of the slaves, Schurz joined the Republicans. Lincoln once greeted him with the flattering words, "Within the framework of our brief acquaintance, I must say that no man is closer to my heart than you are."
Lincoln officially defended the Abolitionist Cause, but the words he spoke in 1858 in one of his famous debates with Stephen A. Douglas are not well known: "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races... I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people... and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
President Lincoln, whose stepmother Sarah Bush was of German descent, posted Schurz to Madrid as Ambassador. During the Civil War Schurz took command of a Union Army division consisting primarily of Germans. After the end of the war, Schurz became Senator of Missouri and, in 1877, Secretary of the Interior under President Hayes. As journalist and politician he had advocated a quick reconciliation between the North and the South. At the same time, he also wished to see an improvement in the living conditions of Negroes and Indians, which concerns again netted him considerable opposition.
Regarding these and his other efforts to reform the civil service, Joachim Fernau writes ironically: "All in all, one can imagine how unpopular Schurz quickly made himself... His attempts to clean up the higher offices were perceived as most impudent. Schurz introduced testing, screened the candidates according to their expertise and their respectability, and mercilessly exposed every shortcoming. The New York Customs Office proved to be a particularly smelly hornet's nest. When he opened that up, the entire Republican Party turned away from him... Oh for the good old days under Grant! The days when Vanderbilt was rewarded for each and every kilometer of railroad track with ten miles of land to either side of it! The days when Philip Armour made a million dollars in only three months by supplying meat to the army, even though the maggots were already crawling out of the meat barrels..."
The tragic inner conflict typical of German immigrants to America is expressed in rare form in Schurz's famous statement: "I love Germany like my mother and America like my wife. If one must choose, one stays with one's wife, but the love for one's mother lasts a lifetime." Bismarck admitted: "As a German I am proud of Schurz." But how would the German-Americans reconcile Schurz's words with their actions in the event of a war against their homeland? Their ready adjustment to and ultimately their assimilation into the pre-set Anglo-Puritan society brought the Germans disadvantages almost without exception. Those who set the tone among the Germans were god-fearing Christians. What they lacked in practical life was the ability to assert themselves politically!
Another dedicated champion of the liberation of the slaves was the Mannheim lawyer Friedrich Hecker, who is also credited with establishing the first German athletics society in Cincinnati. In 1896 Adolph Ochs (whose father was from Fürth) founded the New York Times. In Manhattan in 1853 Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg from Wolfshagen, together with his son Henry, founded the company Steinway & Sons, whose concert pianos would soon become world-famous. Dr. Abraham Jacobi, an escapee from the Minden prison, opened up a medical practice in New York, pioneered pediatrics in the United States, and gained world fame through his publications.
The watchmaker and optician Heinrich Göbel, an immigrant from Springe on the Deister Mountain, invented the lightbulb - with a charred bamboo fiber in a vacuum glass bulb - in 1854, 25 years before Edison picked up on this invention. Heinrich Gustav Hilgard, known as Henry Villard, made a name for himself in the construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad. He financed the enterprise in part with credits from Germany, as thanks for which the state capital of North Dakota is named Bismarck. Together with Edison, Villard-Hilgard founded the Edison General Electric Company. He also acquired the majority of shares in the Evening Post, one of New York's major newspapers, and appointed Carl Schurz as its editor-in-chief.
In his book Halleluja Joachim Fernau is less taken with Villard's methods. He describes Villard as a major participant in the method of luring cheap labor to America via European recruiting agencies. "They canvassed the poor districts all the way to Naples and Sicily and deep into the heart of Russia." Consequently, for example, of 25,000 steel workers in the smoke-drenched Pittsburgh region, 15,000 were immigrants.
Between 1852 and 1854, some half a million immigrants from the German-speaking regions arrive in America. Among the "nativists" who feared the new competition on the labor market, these waves of immigrants prompted considerable resentment. The immigrants tended to be better qualified, dominated specialized professions, and on the whole exhibited a superior work ethic, far removed from the otherwise common desire to make "fast money" in any way possible.
But what the old-established Puritans held against the Germans in particular was their custom to use Sundays not only to piously read the Bible but also to recover in their own way from the strain of the week, with music and dancing and beer. Hundreds of associations of nativists, East Coast Puritans, teetotalers or Messianic Templerenzers - usually with especially strong representation by the fairer sex - crusaded against this "German vice" that threatened the nation's salvation. President Kennedy once stated that it was thanks particularly to the influence of German immigrants that "our everyday life was rid of the strict and overly pious Puritan character." In 1793, in his book The Age of Reason, the American freedom hero and first Foreign Minister of the United States Thomas Paine wrote about his countrymen: "If the taste of a Quaker could have been consulted at the creation, what a silent and drab-colored creation it would have been! Not a flower would have blossomed its gayeties, nor a bird been permitted to sing."
The Germans, insulting as they did the purity of American morals, were attacked, stoned, even murdered by the fanatical mob. The German Theater in New Orleans was turned into a sea of flames. In Chicago a regular battle ensued in 1855 when the German pubs were to be closed on Sundays. But for once these radical proceedings by the Puritans achieved the opposite of their intent. The attempted discrimination against the Germans rather became an impetus for them, true to the principle that pressure creates counter-pressure! But unfortunately this chance was wasted. If the Germans had founded a party of their own, this budding self-confidence might have lasted!
On the occasion of Schiller's 100th birthday in 1859, lavish Schiller Festivals were celebrated throughout the nation. Friedrich Kapp considered that the Germans were "at the apex of their development and intellectual importance to the United States" at this point. But when this Schiller Year was also the first time that a German was elected Sheriff of Chicago, the Anglos howled in outrage: "How disgraceful it would be," the Times wrote, "if it should come about that an American is hanged by a German!"
The cartoonist Thomas Nast - among whose lasting contributions are the two American Parties' political symbols, the "donkey" and the "elephant" - accompanied the war as a forerunner of today's photojournalists. Joseph Keppler from Vienna followed Nast's tradition and in 1876 became the co-founder of the magazine Puck, the largest American humorist publication.
But the German lack of unity in matters of politics persisted even after the war was over. It was again typical that the German churches put up next to no resistance against the moves towards Anglicizing. Another aspect fateful for the Germans was that the Civil War, which claimed a total of 600,000 lives, had also cost them a great many of their own leading men. And so the Germans in America remained without an able elite. Except in academic matters they never acted as a closed unit, but remained divided into special interest groups. Their spiritual leaders consistently placed their special principles above their ethnicity. Instead of forming an independent unit, the Germans fragmented themselves amongst the existing parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.1
This absence of political ambition resulting from the lack of political instinct was to have devastating consequences later on. Even though great numbers of Germans fought for America and against their homeland in both world wars, they - unlike the Poles and Czechs - had no influence whatsoever on the borders determined in the Dictates of Versailles and St. Germain by the Allies and their Eastern satellites!
The lack of their own party was already reason enough for the weakness of the German ethnic group. No less devastating a factor was their underestimation of the significance of their own language. Whereas other minorities often still speak their mother tongue even in later generations, the German immigrants have almost always been ready and willing to learn the English language as quickly as possible and to either abandon their own language entirely or to let it degenerate into an unholy mess of "pidgin English". In general, mastery of the English language was a vital prerequisite for economic success. But the renunciation of one's own language even in the circle of family and friends was more the consequence of laziness and thoughtlessness, which was intensified by the fact that the newly arrived laborers and farmers did not have the benefit of a pre-existing German leadership elite. Accordingly, the historian Kapp commented sadly: "That which we call the German element in the United States is little more than the generation that has just immigrated and is now becoming extinct within itself."
The 1871 founding of the German Reich by Bismarck after the Franco-Prussian War became a new high point for the Germans in the USA. The glory of victory, and the identification with an Empire that is now powerful and united, prompted enormous parades by the German athletes, singers and marksmen. And with this new Germany as their backing, a pride in the land of their forefathers finally began to stir.
This new spirit found expression in Cincinnati in 1888 on the occasion of the inauguration of the "Germania Hall", in an address by Wilhelm Kaufmann which unfortunately also contained a few awkward phrases which Yankees in the audience did not exactly take kindly: "We cannot render our Fatherland any better service than by preserving the German people's cultural spirit, the spirit that permeates the entire globe and has proven itself a thousand times. It is the German genius, the lively effervescent fount of German idealism, paired with hard work, endurance and bravery, that makes the Germans the leading nation that now conquers the entire world." While the latter was by no means meant literally, an Englishman or an American might have come up with such ideas, though never with such words.
After the 1866 Prussian victory over the Austrians at Königgrätz, immigration from Austria-Hungary increased. By 1919 some 1,500,000 citizens of the Dual Monarchy had landed on the eastern American shore, almost 140,000 of them in 1907 alone. 300,000 Russian-Germans settled in the American Midwest, Germans from the Black Sea in the Dakotas, and Volga-Germans in Nebraska. As a rule these ethnic German groups were more strongly conscious of their Germanness than the Germans from the Empire. In this way the Russian-Germans, who already knew how to preserve their ethnicity in a tough struggle with a foreign environment, perhaps contributed more to America and its German element than many another group of immigrants. Among other things, the Russian-Germans introduced "kubanka", the world's hardest variety of wheat, which is rust and drought resistant and would make the Prairies one of the greatest bread baskets of the world.
Like the Mennonites and the Amish, the Hutterites - a sub-group of the Russian-Germans - have managed by means of social isolation, a strict moral lifestyle and the special form of their religious faith to preserve their autonomy as a pure ethnic group to this very day. These three groups are the only true linguistic enclaves remaining in North America, and are popular tourist attractions and highly respected for their people's honesty and competence.
One of the greatest areas of interest among the German-Americans is gymnastics, whose social function as expressed in the various clubs and groups goes far beyond mere exercise. For a long time, gymnastics clubs contributed to a unification, albeit a loose one, of the German immigrants, though they lacked an umbrella organization. By the beginning of the First World War, another amalgamation, the "Deutsch-Nationale Bund", represented an association of some 10,000 clubs in 45 states with a total of 2.6 million members, making it the largest ethnic organization in America.
Thanks to its scholarly elite, Cincinnati was the stronghold of intellectual life in America in the late 19th century. In 1890 57% of the 300,000 registered inhabitants of this city are Germans. St. Louis and Milwaukee were also cities with a strong German population, as was the rapidly growing city of Chicago, which the London Times called "America's German miracle". Around 1900, the German share in American economic life was fully one-third. In the vicinity of Chicago there were more than 100 towns with names such as Strassburg, Vienna, Baden, etc. A lesser-known fact is that the largest "German" city at that time was New York, which had a larger German population than Munich. Around 1900 there were German enclaves in virtually every state of the Union, and as a survey showed, the German immigrants continued to be the group most desired by the communities as new citizens!
In California, San Francisco was the intellectual center of the German-Americans until World War One. In 1901 a copy of the Goethe-Schiller-Memorial that stood in front of the Weimar National Theater was erected in Golden Gate Park. Commenting on its unveiling, Charles Bundschuh wrote: "Proud and noble, Germany's most magnificent monument stands on the Pacific coast as the most profound glorification of the Germanic spirit, the spirit to which this developing American nation owes so immensely much."
Even as late as 1911, the American Congress gave a copy of the Steuben Monument in Washington as a gift to the German Emperor and the German people, "as a symbol of unwavering friendship" between the two peoples! In 1913 a great Wagner Festival, involving more than 1,000 singers, took place in New York. To the Americans, Germany was synonymous with Goethe, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach until just shortly before the war. Americans went to study in Göttingen or Heidelberg, and "all boys and girls read the German poets and philosophers."
The German immigrants helped shape the New World in every aspect of life. "He builds, tills the soil, tends the forests, fights, discovers, collects, develops, teaches, plants and heals. He makes the German language a symbol for entire professions. He opens up vast wilderness regions, introduces entire industries, founds the greatest banking and merchant houses, and plays an enormous role in academe and in medicine. Among his ranks there are titans of business, economic leaders and the founders of dynasties such as Studebaker, Wurlitzer, Heinz, Steinway, Villard, Guggenheim or Strauss, such as Spreckels (the 'Sugar King'), Weyerhäuser (the 'Lumber King'), or Kreiser (the 'Cattle King' of the USA)."
The Brooklyn Bridge in New York, built by Johann Augustus Roebling (Röbling) and his son, may be regarded as a cultural symbol and an emblem of the German spirit transplanted into the New World. Gustav Lindenthal and Ottmar Amman are two other important pioneers of bridge construction. Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the Linotype system, which first permitted the cost-effective mass printing of newspapers and books - a marvel of printing technology. In the service of "General Electric", the inventor Charles Proteus Steinmetz became a "modern Jupiter, hurling lightning bolts". Cyrus Eidlitz built the New York Times building, Henry Hardenbergh the old Waldorf Astoria, Henry Koch the City Hall of Milwaukee. The iron cupola of the Capitol in Washington was designed by Thomas U. Walter. Rudolph Dirks created the first American comics ("The Katzenjammer Kids", based on "Max und Moritz"), and Charles Schultz made the "Peanuts" world-famous. Oscar Hammerstein I. founded six opera houses, and Oscar Hammerstein II. wrote the musicals "The King and I", "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma".
From all this, one may conclude that the Germans were active primarily in the cultural and creative branches, while politics and the press, which were governed by high finance, were shaped by Jews and Anglo-Saxons - as are almost the entire media nowadays.
The Germans were credited with the talent to "get things going", to find new methods, solutions to problems, and to be able to adapt quickly to any given situation. On the other hand, this unsolicited admiration was often accompanied by a considerable portion of envy. Even though they were particularly esteemed as farmers and artisans, the Germans were rejected and not infrequently the target of open enmity in the predominantly Anglo-Saxon regions of the country. The trait of clumsy helplessness - the complex suffered by a newcomer from an insignificant little principality, by a plain honest fellow who does not have the self-assurance of an Englishman - increased the rejection he was made to feel, rather than reducing it. Anglo-Saxons have only ever respected strength!
The aforementioned Franz Lieber won the hearts of generations of American students for the German arts. He also published the New World's first encyclopedia. The impressive pictures painted by Albert Bierstadt from Solingen brought the "Wild West" to life, and Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's "George Washington Crossing the Delaware" was to become America's most famous historical painting.
But it is in the field of music that the German-Americans gained by far their greatest influence. The artistic mastery of German musicians became the cornerstone for the founding of numerous choirs and orchestras. This musical creativity first had to prevail against the hysterical doctrine of Puritanism, which even banned music - but then the annual Bach Festivals in Pennsylvania became a musical event that put the entire nation under its spell.
In 1783 the country's first musical band was founded in Philadelphia. A century later, the towering influence German composers have had on American music is undeniable. In 1890, 89 of the 94 musicians in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra were Germans. A year later, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was founded by Theodor Thomas. In 1903 Heinrich Conried from Bielitz assumed the leadership of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, to which he summoned Gustav Mahler in 1907.
But all these great cultural achievements were to bolster
the German-Americans' self-confidence only for a short time. Once America
entered the world war on the Allied side, a devastating relapse
occurred - very quickly and very thoroughly. Even the most illustrious names such
as Steuben, Astor or Steinway were soon equated only with power or wealth, but
no longer with German achievements.
refugees expelled from their Eastern homelands after the Second World War
suffered a similar fate. The pressure to adapt to the status
quo - in this case, the pressure exerted by Allied
and neo-German re-education efforts and by the persecution of those who remained
steadfast - was no less comparable to the conditions in America than the end result
was similar: the expellees worked hard and built up the country and its
infrastructure and, guided by a soft leadership, cared more about cultural matters
than about politics. After 50 years of "trusting" in the politicians in Bonn, their fate
has concluded in the same way as that of their American parallel: sold
out - betrayed - forgotten. ...back...