The title of this blog is a quote found in the scrapbook of the United German Singers Collection. No, this has nothing to do with the von Trapp family from the Sound of Music; they were Austrian. Rather, these singing groups were mostly comprised of German immigrants. The scrapbook from the first half of the 20th century details their programs and life for the German immigrants. One article that particularly stuck out to me was this very small clipping dated August 25th, 1914. World War I, or the Great War, had just begun, and German-American citizens and immigrants found themselves suddenly forced to choose a side; German or American.
You can see a picture of the article here, or I transcribed it below.
“Germany Loyal to the U.S., He Says”
To the Editor of “The Bulletin”
“Sir: “F.G. Owen” objects because German-Americans, good-hearted, and benevolent as they always are, held a meeting to find ways and means to assist the Red Cross Society in this present war; and then he adds: “They would still fight for Germany and against the United States of America.”
I will try to explain the position of German-Americans to him and perhaps, if he is open to conviction, he will change his opinion: German-Americans are like a married man, whose mother is living. This man will defend his mother in every way and to the fullest extent against any outsider: in a family quarrel the wife is the nearest to the man and it is his honorable duty to stand by her. Germany is our mother, Columbia (United States), our wife.
Furthermore, German-Americans are honorable men: they have sworn allegiance to this country, the fatherland of their children and are ready to defend it against any nation – and have fought with Americans shoulder to shoulder, as history will teach Mr. Owen – and which the Englishmen have never done.” J.B. Mayer (President of the Pennsylvania German-American Alliance and a Member of the United German Singers)
This article is an incredible asset to use with students because it encompasses an important point in German-American history. First, it makes a fantastic comparison, with the mother/wife scenario, to show how German-Americans were conflicted during World War I, yet many of them realized that they could not/would not fight against the United States. Second, it illustrates the opposition that German-Americans faced from the public if they defended Germany since most propaganda was pro-British and anti-German. Suddenly, German-Americans became the enemy at home and they had to prove their loyalty as citizens, or face harsh criticism in the press.
Some discussion question for students:
- According to this article, how do Germans, living in the United States, view Germany?
- If war broke out, does the author believe the German-Americans should fight for the United States or Germany?
- What can this article teach us about immigration particularly during WWI?
- What can this article teach us about national public opinion during WWI?
- How could this article relate to issues with immigration today?