This article analyzes the attitudes and reactions to World War I on the part of German Americans. It is based only on private letters whose authors could be identified by name and located in the U.S. Census. This provides crucial information such as recency of arrival, social class, community of residence, and in some cases religious background, to supply context for the sentiments expressed in letters. But equally important as who was writing and what they wrote, is the issue of who was not writing. One of the striking features of transatlantic correspondence is how seldom it extended beyond the immigrant generation. This was not due to language loss, but rather to lack of emotional ties. There were U.S. soldiers of the second and third generation writing home from France in the German language, evidence that preservation of heritage languages had no political significance.

Since World War I and even before, continuing right down to the present, there is a tendency in nativist circles to see the preservation and use of heritage languages as evidence of disloyalty to the United States. While Spanish has been the target of most of this ire in recent decades, German as the language of the enemy aroused widespread suspicions during World War I, its use often viewed as prima facie evidence of disloyalty. Leading the attack on “hyphenism” was former president Theodore Roosevelt. At a Columbus Day address in 1915 when the nation was still officially neutral, he declared: “The German-Americans who call themselves such and who have agitated as such during the past year, have shown that they are not Americans at all, but Germans in America.” Roosevelt promoted a policy of coercive assimilation in a February 1916 speech, more than a year before the United States entered the Great War: “Let us say to the immigrant not that we hope he will learn English, but that he has got to learn it. Let the immigrant who does not learn it go back.” A few months after America declared war, the former president demanded on July 4, 1917: “We must have in this country but one flag, and for the speech of the people but one language, the English language.” More than a century later, Roosevelt's attack on “hyphenated Americans” was still quoted approvingly on the website of the Mississippi Conservative Daily.1

When the country went to war, Congress quickly enacted a law similar to Roosevelt's demand that “all newspapers published in German, or in the speech of any of our foes, should be required to publish, side by side with the foreign text, columns in English containing the exact translation of everything said.” Of some 500 German periodicals in operation when the United States entered the war, only 74 were exempted from the onerous requirement to submit English translations of all their war news (which also applied to papers in other foreign languages). Relief was hard to come by, and probably had more to do with the political connections of the publisher than the attitude a given paper took toward the war.2 The teaching of German in schools was banned entirely in more than a dozen states, with other foreign languages also suffering much collateral damage. Although overturned by the Supreme Court in the 1923 case Meyer v. Nebraska, such laws decimated German-language instruction. Even after the war, the Ku Klux Klan in Texas crusaded against the use of the German language, demanding among other things that soldiers' funerals not be conducted in German.3

Fredrick C. Luebke's Bonds of Loyalty has prevailed for more than forty years as the standard work on the German-American experience during World War I. More recently, a prize-winning Heidelberg dissertation by Katya Wüstenbecker examined the subject in greater depth, focusing more narrowly on four major Midwestern cities. Wüstenbecker for the most part comes to very similar conclusions as Luebke. She too finds that the arrogant and incautious remarks of some “Club Germans,” during the neutrality period when it was perfectly legal, fueled the hostility that all German-Americans faced once America entered the war. She also echoes Luebke's findings that the most harmless and apolitical groups, “Sect Germans” such as Hutterites and Mennonites, were the ones who suffered the most severe persecution. In contrast to Luebke, Wüstenbecker does find “Church Germans” from mainstream denominations no less prone than “Club Germans” to making impolitic remarks at the outset of the war that would come back to haunt them. Her study also found considerable variation in the degree of repression during the war, for example, stark contrasts from city to city in the tendency to replace German street names.4 This was confirmed by two state studies of the German-American war experience in Texas and Missouri, both of which moderate the charges of wholesale German harassment. The Missouri study concluded: “In contrast to the experience of German-speakers in Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, few German-Americans in Missouri encountered the violent aspects of what Luebke called the ‘fierce hatred of everything German’ during World War I.”5 And in both states, among the denunciators of alleged German sympathizers one finds names that are unmistakably German, an ancestry that the census confirms.

Wüstenbecker, like most scholars who have treated this subject, devotes considerable attention to the lynching of immigrant Robert Prager in Collinsville, Illinois. However, she was among the first to point out the obvious German ethnicity of two of the mob members, including their ringleader Joseph Reigel, as well as various local officials involved in the trial—something that even Luebke's otherwise evenhanded and insightful account missed.6 “Da waren Deutsche auch dabei” (“At your side there were Germans too”), a self-congratulatory poem touting German contributions to America, takes on a whole new meaning in the light of this information.7 With Germans or any other group, there is much more to ethnicity and the ethnic experience than just victimization.

This article offers insights into both the actions and the attitudes and motivations of German Americans in the Great War, and their relation to language and culture. It is evident that German Americans were misunderstood both by their former countrymen in the Fatherland and by their fellow Americans. As Texas editor William Trenckmann wrote, “Over in Germany the German Americans were frequently accused of not exerting their influence strongly enough to avert this calamity, which had been foreseen for years. This charge is unjust. Their protest against the course of our government was doomed to failure, as it could reach only a small percentage of our people.”8 Germans often assumed that because German Americans (not even 9% of the 1910 U.S. population, including the second generation) were unable to prevent Woodrow Wilson's re-election or American entry into World War I, it meant they had quickly shed their ethnicity and immersed themselves in the Melting Pot (or better said, Bleaching Vat), abandoning the German language and culture. Anglo-Americans, on the other hand, often confused such cultural loyalties or mere language preservation with political loyalty to the Fatherland. In fact, as will be seen below, language and loyalty were largely unrelated. More than 70 percent of German Americans with two immigrant parents claimed German as their mother tongue, but men of this generation served in World War I at rates not greatly different from other ethnic groups, including subject nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who were presumed beneficiaries of an Allied victory.9

The premier German-American statesman of the Civil War era, Carl Schurz, had always maintained that an immigrant's love for his native and adopted countries were no more incompatible than the love for mother and wife: “Those who would meanly and coldly forget their old mother could not be expected to be faithful to their young bride.” The Omaha Bee put it even more succinctly: “Germania our Mother, Columbia our Bride.” But as many a rueful husband can relate, this holds true only so long as the two women remain on speaking terms. Schurz, who died in 1906, was mercifully spared having to witness the falling out between the two loves of his life; some 2.5 million other German immigrants were not so fortunate. Given a choice, most German Americans would no doubt have preferred to see America remain neutral in the Great War. Many were critical of American munitions exports that went almost exclusively to the Allies. But when forced to choose between the old homeland and the new, the great bulk of them would have agreed with the Cincinnati Freie Presse: “We stand and fall with the land of our choice.”10

Rather than accepting the pronouncements of elites and opinion leaders, this article attempts to test them against the actions of the rank-and-file and the attitudes that motivated them. It applies both social-scientific data from the census and humanistic evidence from private letters of ordinary German Americans. These rather disparate sources nonetheless point to very similar conclusions about the German-American experience in World War I: (1) language and loyalty have precious little to do with one another; and (2) there were German Americans on both sides of many of the confrontations of this era.

Willingness to perform military service has long been regarded as evidence of loyalty to the United States. This was the rationale for the organization of ethnic regiments in the Civil War. Although there has been some work on other ethnic groups, German-American participation in World War I has yet to be examined in any detail.11 The 1930 census data provided a direct measure of military service, which allows one to gain some insight into ethnic attitudes. This investigation, based on a representative nationwide 1:100 census sample, is restricted to white men of prime military age born in the United States (table 1).12 Immigrants were excluded, because they were not obliged to serve unless they had become citizens or declared their intent to do so, and immigration had slacked off so much after 1893 that there were only about 50,000 German men of military age in the United States. Ethnic affiliation is defined by the birthplace of the potential soldier's father (which in most cases was the same as their mother's). Germans and Austro-Hungarians, the main nationalities of the Central Powers, could be distinguished from their former Slavic subjects, who by 1930 had established their independence.13 Although technically part of the Allied group, the Irish were tabulated separately on the assumption that their nationalist movement may have made them reluctant allies with the British.

Table 1

World War I Military Service by Ethnicity, Second-Generation Men, 1930 Census

Father's OriginsSample (N)Percentage ServedIndex
United States 13237 29.4  99  99 102 
Allied (except Irish)  1186 31.8 107 107  99 
Ireland   419 34.8 118 119 104 
Germany  1316 27.9  94  96  91 
Other Central   108 38.9 131 127 111 
Central Occupied   288 30.6 103  96  90 
Italy   180 23.9  81  75  62 
Other Neutral   872 30.1 102 101  96 
Total 17606 29.6 100 100 100 
Father's OriginsSample (N)Percentage ServedIndex
United States 13237 29.4  99  99 102 
Allied (except Irish)  1186 31.8 107 107  99 
Ireland   419 34.8 118 119 104 
Germany  1316 27.9  94  96  91 
Other Central   108 38.9 131 127 111 
Central Occupied   288 30.6 103  96  90 
Italy   180 23.9  81  75  62 
Other Neutral   872 30.1 102 101  96 
Total 17606 29.6 100 100 100 

Notes: Index 1: Percentage served among respective ethnic group/Total percentage served (29.6) * 100; Index 2: Percentage served adjusted for age, as percentage of overall service rate; Index 3: Percentage served adjusted for age, marital status 1917, literacy, and urban/farm, as percentage of overall service rate.

Source: Calculations based on the 1930 U.S. Census IPUMS 1% Sample. Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 (Machine-readable database). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.

It is evident from this data that second-generation Germans hardly stood out from their fellow Americans in their rates of military service. Despite the Polish and Czechoslovak nationalist causes, the subject nationalities of the Central Powers served at rates barely higher than Germans, and they were overshadowed, as was every other ethnicity, by the (German) Austrians and (ethnic) Hungarians who make up the Other Central category. Old Stock Americans whose fathers were native born served at only average rates, but men with roots in the Allied countries of Britain and France turned out in force. The two groups whose service rates are the most surprising are the Irish and Italians. Whatever their feelings about the Irish nationalist cause or their resentment of British domination, the sons of Erin flocked in unrivaled numbers to the American banner. Although Italy abandoned its neutrality and joined the Allied coalition before the United States, Italian Americans had the lowest service rate of any major ethnic groups in World War I. But given the high rates of return and repeat migration, some may have been back in Italy during the war.

In order to isolate the ethnic aspect of military service, statistical controls were imposed to neutralize several other factors that heavily influenced recruitment rates: first the age structure, and in addition the marital status, literacy, and the type of community of residence. The latter was necessary since city residents had the highest participation rates, but participation fell off for rural residents and especially for those living on farms, who served at less than two-thirds the rates of urban dwellers. The results are shown in table 1: the leftmost column reports the number of cases in various groups, the next two show the raw service rate, expressed first in absolute terms and then (Index 1) as a percentage of the overall average of 29.6 percent. Index 2 includes a statistical control for age (i.e., what the service rates would be if all ethnicities had the same age structure). Index 3 reflects additional controls for marriage, literacy, and locale, providing a statistical adjustment showing what the service rates would be if each group also had identical scores on these independent variables. Except for the Italians, the adjusted scores for all other groups fell into the narrow range between 90 percent and 111 percent of the overall average. Germans served at 91 percent of parity, one point ahead of the Central Occupied nationalities, with a service rate of 90. The high service rate of the Other Central group (mostly Austrians and Hungarians) should be taken with a grain of salt since it is based on very few cases. One thing this data suggests is that the influence of European nationalisms can easily be exaggerated. The service rates of groups whose presumed motivations were very different prove to be quite similar in their military participation.14

The 1980 census with its ancestry question allows an additional look at military participation, also going beyond the second generation, at least for the World War I veterans who survived to age eighty or beyond (table 2). The overall service rate is surprisingly close to that calculated from the 1930 census, around 30 percent. Once again, people of German origins hardly stand out. Their overall service rate is almost exactly at the American average, and just 1.2 points below that for whites only. Germans were behind men of Irish, English, and French ancestry, but they were well ahead of the two other ancestry groups that are separately tallied. Italians again have the lowest rates, and men of Polish background were also well behind the Germans despite any nationalist motives Poles may have had for serving or Germans for slacking. So regardless of one's methodology or definition of ethnicity, the service rates of German Americans in World War I were only slightly below the national average. However, one must keep in mind that the United States imposed conscription in this war, so one could debate whether this is evidence of sincere German-American loyalty, or merely the effectiveness of American draft boards.15

Table 2

World War I Military Service by Ancestry, Men Aged 80+, 1980 Census

AncestryPercentage ServedIndex
English 33.1 117 112 
French 32.1 113 109 
German 28.3 100  96 
Irish 33.5 118 114 
Italian 23.7  83  80 
Polish 24.7  87  84 
All races 28.4 100  96 
Whites 29.5 104 100 
AncestryPercentage ServedIndex
English 33.1 117 112 
French 32.1 113 109 
German 28.3 100  96 
Irish 33.5 118 114 
Italian 23.7  83  80 
Polish 24.7  87  84 
All races 28.4 100  96 
Whites 29.5 104 100 

Notes: Total Index: Percentage served/All races percentage served (28.4) * 100; White Index: Percentage served/whites percentage served (29.5) * 100.

Source: Calculated as proportion of World War I veterans among the male population aged 80 and older, reported in United States, 1980 Census of Population: General Social and Economic Conditions, United States Summary (Washington, DC, 1983), tables 172, 179, pp. 1–169, 1–176.

Although it is important to know how many German Americans voted with their feet and rallied to the Allied cause, one must turn to immigrant letters to obtain a better idea of how they saw the conflict. But not all letters are of equal value for this purpose. Some newspapers in Germany published letters written by Germans (and occasionally non-Germans) living in the United States, and these have been the subject of at least one scholarly article focusing on 1914.16 But this evidence must be used with extreme caution. For one thing, few of the letter writers were identified by name, making it difficult to obtain a social profile of them or learn how recently they had arrived in America.17

One of the few writers who could be identified proved quite revealing. A Dr. Hermann Gerhard of “Deutschburg, Texas,” reportedly wrote to the German consul in Galveston that his little daughter Adele rode her pony to Francitas to pick up the mail, where they learned of the war's outbreak. Gerhard offered his services to the consul, not once but twice, although he was already over age forty-five. The account initially aroused skepticism, since there was no entry for Deutschburg in the Handbook of Texas Online, which normally lists even the most obscure towns past and present. The Handbook did list a Francitas in Jackson County, but no Gerhards showed up among the ninety Germans in the whole county in 1910 or 1920.18 However, Gerhard did show up elsewhere: in a congressional investigation of “Brewing and Liquor Interests and German Propaganda.” It reported on a German-financed effort to achieve an American arms embargo: “a staff of German-American speakers, under the direction of Dr. Herman Gerhard, has been at work among the German-American organizations” of five Midwestern states. It goes on to say that “Dr. Gerhard, an excellent speaker and a most successful organizer, was brought to Chicago from Texas, and … was placed in charge of the speakers of our German-American Bureau.”19

Who was this Dr. Gerhard? For one thing, he was well traveled. Immigrating in 1893, he initially located in Wisconsin where his first three children were born, moving by 1898 to Minnesota where he was serving as a minister near Winona in 1900. He was back in Germany for at least six years, returning to Nebraska in October 1909 to become editor-in-chief of the Lincoln Freie Presse, where he appears in the 1910 census as a salaried employee. The next year he founded Deutschburg, Texas, which never escaped from obscurity enough to rate an entry even in the exhaustive Roads of Texas atlas. Gerhard remained in Chicago in 1920, when the census listed him as the manager of the American Relief Company, though when he died later that year he was listed as a newspaper editor.20

Deutschburg, it seems, had other ideas than its founder. By May 18, 1918, it was hosting a picnic for a Red Cross benefit, though instead of praise it reaped criticism for its unpatriotic name in the English-language press.21 One suspects that Deutschburg was more representative than its founder of German-American attitudes. Gerhard, at least, was a highly atypical case. The writers cited in German newspapers were probably real people, but it is highly unlikely they were a representative cross-section of people writing home, or even that the selections from their letters are typical of the whole of their writings. Even the American press was subject to some wartime restrictions, and this held all the more true for the German press.

Here is one indication: an immigrant novel or Briefroman based on a real person, Jurnjakob Swehn, der Amerikafahrer, was initially serialized in a Berlin newspaper and became a German bestseller during the war, about a poor day laborer's son who became a prosperous Iowa farmer. In the final chapter, “Of the War and the German Awakening in the States,” the hero expresses his solidarity with Germany and even announces his intent to return. Its extreme nationalism was such an embarrassment that this “unlucky thirteenth chapter” was dropped from most post-1945 editions of the book; it is still in print today. However, the real-life prototype of the hero has since been discovered and documented, and it turns out he had died in 1913. So this chapter, unless it was based on immigrant writings from someone else entirely (which is unlikely because correspondence dropped off sharply as soon as Americans entered the war), is pure fiction. There are indications that it was tacked on at the last minute to improve sales and perhaps to get it printed at all despite wartime scarcity. One suspects that similar pressures were at work with selections from real immigrant letters that were published in newspapers.22

Other sources of German immigrant letters offer a more representative cross-section of ethnic attitudes and opinions toward the Great War. A major collection initiative, begun in the 1980s with the support of Volkswagen Foundation grants and expanded to the eastern states in the 1990s after German unification, created the Nordamerika Briefsammlung (North American Letter Collection), or NABS. Initially housed at Ruhr University Bochum and now in the archives of the Forschungbibliothek Gotha, it has grown to some 11,000 German immigrant letters, the largest such collection anywhere.23 Rather than being letters published by editors with axes to grind, most of these were passed down in families to descendants of the original recipients and obtained from private individuals, beginning in the 1980s. The collection project also obtained background information on the writers from German sources and traced their progress in U.S. censuses and city directories. Most of the letters from the World War I era were analyzed by Antje Kreipe in a 1999 Staatsexamenarbeit, but it was never published or translated.24

Kreipe's close reading of these letters provided evidence of widespread sympathy for the German cause and above all for the German people.25 For example, of eight writers who commented on war guilt, all emphasized the innocence of Germany. Similarly, all twelve writers who commented on American export of war materials condemned it. As Kreipe astutely notes, German Americans writing home above all blamed England for Germany's predicament, probably as a subconscious projection onto Europe of their own situation, confronted as they were by the largely pro-British mainstream press in the United States. They reacted much less emotionally to the French and Russians, who had no significant U.S. presence, and gave them very little attention—so little, in fact, that one would hardly notice that they were involved in the war. Of course, another factor that comes into play is that the British were the ones disrupting the postal and other communications with friends and family in the Fatherland and imposing a “hunger blockade” on Germany. The volume of letters slowed somewhat by 1916 and drastically by 1917. But of four writers who weighed in on the 1916 presidential election, their motivations were purely anti-Wilson. Though they may have voted for his opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, not one mentioned his name. However, these letters largely ignored the campaign against German “Kultur” in America except for aspects that impacted them personally, such as the abolition of German church services. Writers reacted “much more intensively at the introduction of Prohibition,” which was addressed by a dozen letter writers, sometimes in more than one letter, “at times extensively and very emotionally.” In fact, as many writers commented on Prohibition as on any other aspect of the war and its effects.26

There was no discernible effect of the length of time spent in America on the attitudes of writers toward the war. Only one-eighth or so of the writers had arrived after 1900. In fact, two Civil War veterans weighed in, one of them albeit in the subjunctive, “if I could be over there, I would march on crutches against the enemy.” By contrast, a young man who had just arrived in late 1913, although he mouthed some “patriotic and belligerent slogans,” decided in spite of his parents' entreaties not to go back and join the German army. By late 1916 he wrote that America was “in fact better … in every respect, than Germany.”27

This material was supplemented by another large anthology of immigrant letters collected by Joseph Scheben in the 1930s, largely in the Eifel area west of the Rhine.28 As was the case in the letters analyzed by Kreipe, in the letters of the Scheben collection it is very rare to find anyone writing back to the Old Country in the early years of the war with criticisms of Germany. Once the United States entered the conflict, very few letters were exchanged because communications with Germany were virtually cut off. But among a dozen people writing back to the Rhineland when they reestablished communications in 1919 or the early 1920s, there were very few critical voices, and then only of the Kaiser rather than of Germany in general. One priest did repeat a remark by a colleague in Germany that the Kaiser was now where his grandfather had driven priests and nuns during the 1870s (during Bismarck's Kulturkampf), that is, in exile.29 Another Eifeler was more direct: “The Kaiser now has what he really deserved, managed to become enemies with everyone, couldn't get along with anyone. Bismarck prophesied it, that he would ruin the whole country.” There is nothing in this writer's profile that would explain his unusual viewpoint. He immigrated in the 1880s and was single or divorced, a Nebraska farm laborer who had invested in land. His Catholicism was anything but devout, his writing style rather flippant. Later in 1930 he remarked: “The German Lutheran preachers were against the war, the Cath[olics] here for it. Here they blessed the cannons.”30 Interestingly, the only one among the seventy-nine writers whom Kreipe analyzed who reported suffering personal reprisals was a Lutheran minister in Ohio, John Gauss, who was arrested “on a charge of being pro-German and assisting men to evade the draft,” for which he was subjected to a fine.31

Most other writers were sympathetic with Germany and above all the economic plight of its people. Several correspondents expressed mistrust of the English-language press. With one exception, all who commented on the subject were resentful of Prohibition, and several remarked on the suppression and decline of the German language. There were frequent references to the military service of family members in America, including a few who had served at or near their ancestral homes in the occupied Rhineland.32 After the war, several writers had contributed to charity drives for relief efforts in response to appeals by a priest in the homeland, though some deflected appeals for money with remarks like “everyone has his cross to bear,” or “the war made the whole world poor,” or “Here in America we also feel the hardship of the past war.” Another immigrant writing a week later from the same German Catholic stronghold of Stearns County, Minnesota, echoed the economic complaints but also remarked, “Here where we live, almost everything is German, and the German language still has preference, and the people still are not ashamed to speak German.”33

As Sherlock Holmes long ago recognized, the fact that the dog did not bark can be of great significance. Equally important as who was writing and what they were writing is the issue of who was not writing. The second generation emitted scarcely a growl. The crucial difference is not between people writing letters sympathetic to Germany as opposed to those writing critically; it is the difference between people still writing to relatives and those who no longer maintained ties with the Old Country. In the author's own family, a German niece re-established contact in 1904 with her uncle who had emigrated in 1864, after being out of contact for “almost 25 years.” But after an exchange of four letters over the course of a year, the correspondence apparently broke off again. The two families had very little to say to one another.34 They were probably rather typical for the immigrant generation; a recent study based on the NABS collection found that correspondence dropped off considerably after about six years, and particularly after the first decade, although some immigrants continued to write throughout their lifetime.35

One striking feature of this correspondence is that it rarely continued into the second, American-born, generation. In a typical collection, there is only a single letter from one of the children, sometimes in English, announcing the death of the parent who had often been writing home for decades. This is true not only of immigrant letters generally, but also of correspondence in the World War I era. Of some 274 such letters in the North American Letter Collection written from the United States to Germany by some 79 authors, all but six writers responsible for twelve letters were of the immigrant generation, so less than 8 percent of the writers and not even 5 percent of all letters were from the second generation.36 So with this group outnumbering German immigrants more than two to one in 1910 (comprising 71% of the German stock), and more than three to one by 1920 (76% respectively), this generational aspect is most crucial.37 One of the prime questions is how much of the immigrants' language, and above all their culture and identity, had been passed on to their children. The limiting factor was not language; as late as 1940 over 70 percent of those born in America with two German parents claimed German as their mother tongue. Identity, however, is another matter.38

Although it is dangerous to generalize from a handful of cases, there are a few observations worth mentioning about the half-dozen second-generation writers that Kreipe identified. Overall, the German language remained much more viable across generations in rural areas and particularly on farms than in cities, so one might expect that most of these letters would originate from the countryside.39 Instead, big cities predominated. One second-generation German wrote from San Francisco, a second from Chicago, a third from Rochester, New York, while a pair of siblings who had grown up in Cincinnati wrote from a suburb on its outskirts. Only two of the writers were farmers, but one's farm was within the city limits of Joliet, Illinois. So only one of the six second-generation writers lived in a genuinely rural community, Staples in north-central Minnesota.

Among other factors that may have promoted language preservation and ties to the Fatherland, several of these writers had actual immigrants residing in their households into their adult years. The Chicago writer, a Catholic priest, lived with his mother in both 1910 and 1920, in a neighborhood where everyone on the census page was of German or Polish origins. The Rochester writer, a skilled worker in the German-founded Bausch & Lomb optical factory, had his immigrant mother-in-law residing in his household in both 1900 and 1910. As newlyweds in 1900 the San Francisco writer and his wife themselves resided in the household of a German immigrant.

Another quite capable correspondent of the second generation, Agnes Klinkhammer, proves to be less surprising when one delves more deeply into her background, even though her mother was also American-born and only her father was an immigrant. She apologized that writing and speaking German was difficult for her; however, she wrote a very competent letter in 1915, with typical complaints about the British blockade and American trade policies, writing that the English newspapers were mostly not credible.40 But she was atypical of the ethnic community in general. She and both her sisters had visited Germany; in fact, she was there with her father when the war broke out. Although he appears as a farmer as late as the 1900 census, he was no ordinary rustic, having served as an administrator for a number of estate settlements and written a newspaper article on the subject of the war. The 1910 census shows him as a retired farmer and real estate agent, and he was in a position to send twenty-year-old Agnes to the Catholic St. Clara Academy in the county.41

Another second-generation writer continued correspondence with Germany eleven years after her mother's death, but there were apparently other immigrant relatives who were still alive with whom she shared German letters, and she said she did not write much German anymore. She reported that her nine-year-old daughter, her husband, and the other children spoke no German, “although they are German.” This is an interesting definition of ethnicity, given the fact that both husband and wife were American-born, making their children the third generation.42

The last case, involving two generations of correspondence from farmers in Joliet, Illinois, is worth discussing in more detail, although it is the exception that proves the rule. Thomas Rademacher had immigrated from the Eifel in 1844, his wife even earlier, and their son Joseph was born in 1854. As the oldest child, he was the one most likely to have the language passed down to him and apparently took over the letter-writing responsibilities after his father's death in 1892. The German recipients stretched over three generations. Thomas's letters were addressed at first to his parents and later to his brothers and sisters. His son Joseph, whose first preserved letter is from 1920, was writing to a female cousin in Germany. His mother lived with his family in 1900 the year before her death, and a widowed aunt who had immigrated in 1884 lived in the household in 1920, reinforcing the language and the personal ties. Rademacher's conservative Catholic worldview is the best explanation for his cultural loyalty, probably reinforced by Catholic schools in Joliet.43

Although Rademacher remarked, “If only I could write better German,” the scholar who collected these letters in the 1930s added a rare footnote commenting that Joseph wrote in “quite good German script,” and that his spelling was also “relatively good.” His letters are a mixture of lament and pious resignation: “my blood boiled at times. But you couldn't say anything, once war was declared on Germany.” “The way it is here now, I never would have believed that it would come to that. But it must be the will of God.” “In short, before the war we had the best country on God's earth. And now it's exactly the opposite.” He goes on to mention that his sons did not have to serve because they were farmers and already had families, although he did need a doctor's certification that he was no longer fit for field work “in order to assure my boys their freedom.” The correspondence continued on through the decade. His last letter from January 11, 1928, apologized for its brevity, saying that the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak; he died eight months later. Reading his correspondence, one would not have suspected that he was born in America.44

A few such exceptions aside, what is striking about this second-generation correspondence is its rarity. Moreover, what little there was did not always express sympathy with the German cause, or viewed the war with “emotional distance” in the case of the Rochester writer. This is not surprising in the case of a Michigan-born woman married to a British immigrant; her German was so poor as to be barely comprehensible. Her two postwar letters to an aunt and uncle hardly mentioned the war except that her son served and had been near the ancestral homeland.45 Another Michigan-born woman wrote in English, understandable given that her immigrant father had married an Irishwoman and anglicized his name. The San Francisco writer in 1914 even offered refuge to his cousin in Germany should he wish to avoid military service.46 If the North American Letter Collection is halfway representative of correspondence with Germany, in relation to the size of the two generations in the ethnic population, immigrants were over thirty times more likely to be writing to Germany than those of the second generation, and wrote at least fifty times as many letters. With the American-born generation, the personal and emotional ties were seldom present. But this did not mean that the second generation had lost the heritage language and was incapable of writing in German.

These were not the only immigrants and their descendants writing across the Atlantic in the German language during the war; there were also German letters crossing the ocean in a westbound direction, written by U.S. doughboys to the folks back home. This discovery was most surprising, because my maternal grandfather, a World War I veteran, related that his American-born mother wrote him her first letter in German when he went off to basic training, but he quickly instructed her to write in English for fear of retribution. Yet there were men in the Army who themselves wrote home in German. In May 1918 the bilingual parish newsletter of the Lutheran church in St. Charles, Missouri, included excerpts from letters of members who were serving in the military, and one of the fifteen letters was written auf Deutsch, apparently from training camp.47 No names were given, but it is quite likely this writer was of the second generation if not the third, as was my grandfather from the same county. Other soldiers writing home in German were identified by name and can be located in the census to determine their generation and other background factors that may have influenced them.

There was one Amana Colony “apostate” who wrote home to Iowa in German as long as he was stateside, but switched to English when he was deployed overseas, reverting to German again when he arrived back in the states. This is the more surprising because Iowa, with its governor's “Babel Proclamation,” came down especially hard on the German language (and other foreign languages as well).48 But Amana is such an anomaly that one should not put too much weight on it. It is less surprising that another Iowa soldier would write in German from the American Expeditionary Force back to Davenport, since the writer was an immigrant, albeit of what sociologists call the 1.5 generation, someone who arrived so young that he might as well have been native-born. This artillerist serving in France wrote to his brother, who had been associated for years with the Davenport Daily Democrat. Although the letter is only summarized, it included this remarkable phrase: “he asserts that the American troops never had a better prospect of a final victory and a general world peace.” Both brothers had first arrived in the country in 1890 at a very young age along with their mother and brothers.49 But an exploration of the handful of German-language newspapers digitized on the Chronicling America website has uncovered letters by more conventional German-American doughboys published in German newspapers in four other states.

Except for the language they were written in, there is little to distinguish these letters from others written by American men serving abroad. Lieutenant Paul Flothow wrote two letters in October 1918 to his immigrant mother that were published in the Omaha Tribüne, including this surprising remark: “On the German exams I came off as the best in my division, and am being employed in the office of the headquarters.” But he was not delighted with his desk job, writing his mother that he will bring home no hero's medals: “this may be a joy for you, but not for me.”50 The Detroiter Abend-Post published a German letter from a soldier to his sister reporting his wounding and hospitalization; both of them were of the second generation. This writer had served in the navy for four years and then enlisted for a six-year term in the army.51 From Missouri, the Hermanner Volksblatt regularly mentioned letters received from soldiers, often telling of safe arrival in France, but it is often unclear in which language they were written. However internal evidence suggests that a letter from a third-generation soldier, although only summarized, was written in German. Despite being hospitalized with severe cuts on his hands, he was anxious to get rid of his bandages and again go “über den Gipfel” (his rendition of “over the top”). Another third-generation soldier's letter of November 25 was published in its entirety. He reported that he had arrived in France too late to see action, going on to say, “Certainly we owe much to the brave ones who gave their lives for the cause of humanity and justice.”52 Six months later, the paper published an account from what it called “enemy country” by a soldier in the army of occupation. Part of the “unüberwindliche” (unbeatable) 89th Division, he reported from the “old, venerable” city of Trier, “There is so much to see and to learn that I'm not ready at all to return home.” He goes on to offer practically a tourist guide of the city's historical attractions.53 There is not the least sign of divided loyalties in any of these letters.

More remarkable are two letters written home from soldiers in France and published by the Seguiner Zeitung in the Texas town of the same name.54 One letter by Robert Klingelhoefer was addressed to “Herr und Frau E. Halm,” presumably Emil and Erna Halm of Seguin, who had immigrated in 1900 and owned a photography studio in town. The other Seguin letter, written to unnamed cousins, was by PFC Carl Biesele, incidentally the younger brother of future University of Texas professor Rudolph Biesele, the premier historian of German Texans of his generation (see  appendix below for a complete translation). Both Klingelhoefer and Biesele were of the third generation. One thing that is striking about these letters is that despite the language in which they were written, the content could have been from any old doughboy. In many respects they sound like typical American abroad. They were curious about local farming practices, and how they compared with those back home, but in other respects appear rather provincial.

The cocky, arrogant American overseas has a longer history than we realize, even when he spoke German. Biesele compared technical progress on the railroad on opposite sides of the Atlantic: “The machines look like toys compared with our big locomotives…. In England we saw some locomotives and freight cars about one third as large as ours. We also saw a few automobiles; these appear to have good motors, but otherwise look like cars that were built ten years ago in America. We saw a whole bunch of Ford, Dodge, and Buick cars here.” Such modern attitudes notwithstanding, Biesele proved to be rather provincial in his tastes: “You can get good sour wine here aplenty, but we don't drink much of it if we can't get sugar to add to it.” For sugar, as well as nuts, figs, milk, and eggs, he uses the German terms, but cakes, candy, and jam are referred to in English. Biesele also observed: “‘Fenzen’ [fences] they don't have here at all except in towns and villages where you have stone walls and fences. So far I've only seen one “Drahtfenz” [wire fence]. The people here are many years behind us in everything.” A Missouri doughboy commented with the same vocabulary: “This is a country without Fenzen [fences], and the people have to herd their livestock.”

The latter quote is from a letter written home from France by a soldier who grew up in Westphalia only a dozen miles from the state capital and was published in the Jefferson City Volksfreund. He writes in typical immigrant German, including a few English nouns like “farmer,” “parlor,” or “town,” and quotes a bit of soldier doggerel, “First we ride, then we float, and then we get—the Kaiser's goat,” demonstrating his command of English. Since his name and that of his parents are listed, it was possible to identify him in the census. Not only had he been born in Missouri; so had both of his parents and three of his four grandparents, indicative of a remarkable degree of language persistence among rural Catholic Germans. But language and loyalty were obviously unrelated. At a nearby German Catholic parish not ten miles from the state capital, a monument on its cemetery consecrates the ultimate sacrifice of three local boys with the words: “Herr gib Ihnen die ewige Ruhe.”55 This too was by no means unique; my research has discovered other gravestones from Wisconsin to Texas commemorating in the German language American soldiers who died in service during World War I. And as if to refute Teddy Roosevelt's fulminations against the hyphen, there are similar soldier's tombstones with inscriptions in at least five other languages besides English: Polish, Czech, Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian.

In summary, whatever their attitudes during the period of American neutrality, German Americans of the second generation served their country just as faithfully as other Central Europeans, with rates of military participation only slightly below the national average. Letters from America published in German newspapers at the outset of the war were very sympathetic, but there is ample reason to question how typical they were. Private letters by German immigrants to relatives and friends in the Fatherland also showed sympathy for the German nation, but even more for its people. Resentful of Prohibition and the loss of German church services, they nevertheless reported little or no personal reprisals.

The paucity of letters from the second generation writing back to Germany in the World War I era, and U.S. soldiers' letters of the second and third generation written auf Deutsch, confirm the statement of a Missouri “German Preacher” touted for “Show[ing] up Kaiserism” with a lecture he delivered in both German and English: “With by far the most Americans of German origin the language has no political significance.”56 Further confirmation is provided by the enemy, a German officer who observed: “Only a few of the troops are of pure American origin; the majority are of German, Dutch, and Italian parentage. But these semi-Americans … fully feel themselves to be true-born sons of their country.”57

Appendix Translation of U.S. Soldier's Letter Originally Written in German

(Italicized words were taken over literally from the original.)

In France, 15 July 1918

Dear “Cousins,”

Since I know that you would like to hear something from me, I'll try to write to you all today. We've been here for three weeks “somewhere in France,” and still it's sometimes hard to believe that you're so far away from home. Last Saturday we got our first mail, and of course everyone was happy to hear something from the “good old U.S.” From now on maybe we will receive our mail more regularly.

How are you all, and what is Seguin up to? I take it that classes 1 and 2 are now completely inducted. Uncle Sam will certainly carry out his great work successfully in the transportation of troops and “Supplies” over here. From the time that we departed Camp ______, you know we were constantly en route with the exception of a day and a half that we spent in “Rest-Camp” here in this country. At the beginning we were rather tired, but now are really going to work and getting used to it. If you want to have an idea of what we're doing here, take a march of ten miles once a week—then add to it regular exercises and instruction classes in the evening. One thing that most of us here don't like are the short nights (from 10 p.m. to 4:30 in the morning), but we can't complain, we're well off and get good and plenty to eat. After the instruction classes we can do what we want, write letters, swim, take walks, or talk about old times.

Let me tell you something about the country here in general. We did not get to see much of England. But it had the appearance as if the people were somewhat schwerfällig [slow] and weren't interested in much of anything. The French in contrast are very patriotic: wherever we marched through we were welcomed and greeted with hurrahs. The band that was along with our unit of troops made a big impression everywhere. The people here had never seen or heard anything like it. The part of the country that we came through is something like what we would call “rolling prairie,” although we also came through about fifty miles of hilly terrain. The fields look good and are well tended; everywhere we saw green grass and the finest and biggest cattle that I have ever seen. We crossed a number of large rivers and many small streams, which all carry clear water in contrast to those of our country, where we only found such clear water in New York State. Along the hillsides you can see many vineyards. The soil is light in color, but with application of plenty of artificial fertilizer and manure the people raise good harvests. However there is an apparent lack of modern farm machinery, so that five people only accomplish as much work as one man in our country. We came through many nice little towns where everything looked nice and clean and modern, although this is one of the poorer parts of the country, from what they say. This would be an ideal country for (Auto)-tourists; it has many good country roads lined on both sides with trees of various kinds, such as maple, poplar, walnut, and mulberry. We also saw some evergreen forests and sawmills, and also orchards.

We marched into a typical French village. The people drive their cattle out to the meadows, herd them there and bring the back to the barns in the evening. When I stood watch last night, I saw an old man who drove in a big load of hay with a team of oxen; the fields which the people work lie all around the village, a little brook runs right through it, in which there are many cattle troughs and big stone troughs in which they do the wash; the water flows constantly through it and therefore is always clean.

I like this place, and as long as we stay here I will be contented. However it is sometimes difficult to buy anything here. Sometimes you can buy nuts, figs, “Cakes,” “Candy,” “Jam,” also milk and eggs. The Y.M.C.A. maintains a Canteen, but in one or two days its supplies usually run out. There is good sour wine here aplenty to be had, but we don't drink much of it if we can't get sugar to add to it. What I miss is good fresh fruit and the good watermelons, which you could have now, but - - -

The other day I saw two men shoeing an ox; they put it into a kind of chute, tied it up with ropes around the body, head, and legs, so that it couldn't move, and nailed two little irons on each hoof. Something else that I had never seen before was a dog that kept a whole flock of sheep together and guarded them. Cause they don't have any fences here except in and around cities and town, where they have stone walls and fences; so far I've seen only one single wire fence. The people here are many years back behind us in everything.

The passenger cars that we rode in were second-class cars and were divided into compartments, with two benches in each compartment. The machines look like toys compared with our great locomotives, but we moved along fast enough with the trains. In England we saw some locomotives and freight Cars about a third as big as ours. We also saw a number of automobiles; they appeared to have good motors, but otherwise they looked like the Cars that were built ten years ago in America; we saw a whole bunch of Ford, Dodge and Buick Cars here.

About my sea voyage I believe I already wrote you. During the last night of the voyage I and most of the others “fed the fishes” as the saying goes, but since then I've been feeling fine. A number of people have had bad colds, cause it is still quite cool at night, about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, but it's now starting to get warmer.

Well,” I hope you all are doing well; write to me now and then and give my best to all my acquaintances.

        With best wishes

            Your Cousin

        (Priv.) Carl H. Biesele

  H.Q. Co. 360. Inf., Care of Signal

  Platoon—American Exp. Forces.


An earlier version of this paper was presented at the “Letters in Troubled Times: Evaluating Epistolary Sources” conference, February 16, 2018, at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL, organized by Suzanne M. Sinke, G. Kurt Piehler, and Sylvia Hahn.


Mississippi Conservative Daily, “Theodore Roosevelt on Immigration,” February 3, 2018. https://politisippi.com/theodore-roosevelt-on-immigration/. Mississippi, incidentally, has the third-lowest level of immigration of any US state and the third highest percentage speaking English exclusively, surpassed only by West Virginia and Montana in these categories.


Carl Wittke, The German Language Press in America (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1957), 264–65. To cite one example, despite publishing a 22-page special issue promoting Liberty Bonds on April 18, 1918, the Republican-leaning Seguiner Zeitung was still subjected to the translation requirement right down to the formal peace settlement in mid-1919.


Walter D. Kamphoefner, “The Handwriting on the Wall: The Klan, Language Issues, and Prohibition in the German Settlements of Eastern Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 111 (2008): 52–66.


Frederick C. Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty: German-Americans and World War I (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1974). Katja Wüstenbecker, Deutsch-Amerikaner im Ersten Weltkrieg: US-Politik und nationale Identitaten im Mittleren Westen (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007).


Matthew D. Tippens, Turning Germans into Texans: World War I and the Assimilation and Survival of German Culture in Texas, 1900–1930 (Austin, Texas: Kleingarten Press, 2010); Petra DeWitt, Degrees of Allegiance: Harassment and Loyalty in Missouri's German-American Community during World War I (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012), 155. Both books are revised doctoral dissertations. Another recent dissertation that examines county councils of defense finds many members of German background in heavily German areas. Sandra Denise Smith Davidson, “Propaganda, Pressure, and Patriotism: The Texas State Council of Defense and the Politics of Gender, Race, and Class during World War I” (Ph.D. diss., University of Houston, 2017).


Wüstenbecker, Deutsch-Amerikaner, 224.


A poem by Konrad Krez (1828–97), an immigrant to Milwaukee, pointing up German contributions to America. An English translation is included in Franziska Ott, “The Anti-German Hysteria: The Case of Robert Paul Prager, Selected Documents,” in German-Americans in the World Wars, vol. 1, ed. Don Tolzmann (New Providence, N.J.: K. G. Saur, 1995), 351, another compilation blind to German names among the lynchers. A recent study in the victimization mode can be safely ignored: Erik Kirschbaum, Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I (New York: Berlinica, 2015), esp. 140, 145. He manages to confuse African-American lynching victims with Germans.


Walter L. Buenger and Walter D. Kamphoefner, eds., Preserving German Texan Identity: Reminiscences of William A. Trenckmann, 1859–1935 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2018), 169.


Walter D. Kamphoefner, “German-American Bilingualism: Cui Malo? Mother Tongue and Socioeconomic Status among the 2nd Generation in 1940,” International Migration Review 28 (1994): 846–64.


“German Language Papers' View of President's Call,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1917, 4.


Nancy Gentile Ford, Americans All! Foreign-Born Soldiers in World War (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001); Christopher M. Sterba, Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Christopher Capozzola, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).


See also Ford, Americans All, 52.


The 1930 census was quite specific in its instruction on birthplaces of persons and their parents: “it is essential that each foreign-born person be credited to the country in which his birthplace is now located,” singling out Austria and Hungary for special attention. Enumerators were instructed to “ask specifically whether the birthplace is located within the present area of the country; and if not, find out to what country it has been transferred. If a person was born in the Province of Bohemia, for example, which was formerly in Austria …, the proper return for country of birth is Czechoslovakia” [italics original]. In uncertain cases, instructions were to add the province or city of birth. The 1920 census tallied both country of birth and mother tongue of persons and their parents, but it did not record military service. Although mother tongue would have been preferable for ascertaining ethnicity, it was only asked of actual immigrants in 1930. https://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/inst1930.shtml, no. 167–68.


It is worth noting that the national boundaries established at Versailles still left ethnic minorities in all of the countries of Central Europe; national identity itself was not primordial, and many people of this region were multilingual. But without recourse to mother tongue data, the location of birthplace on the postwar map is the closest approximation of ethnicity available.


U.S. conscription policies were quite draconian, even against religious groups with centuries old traditions of pacifism. See Duane C. S. Stoltzfus, Pacifists in Chains: The Persecution of Hutterites during the Great War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).


Joseph B. Neville Jr., “German-America Writes ‘Home’: Its ‘Prevailing Mood’ and the Beginning of World War I,” Yearbook of German American Studies 49 (2014): 53–100.


Neville (ibid., 76–77) does indicate that another writer cited by name, Dr. Paul Fletcher, showed no evidence of a link to German-America in the 1910 census, but fails to note that the St. Louis Times that cited him was an offshoot of the German Westliche Post. Neville also investigates the German connections of three other writers identified by name, and notes the later Nazi associations of one of them; see his footnotes 37–39, 45–49.


Deutschburg, or what little remains of it, lies at the intersection of FM 1862 and Johs Road (no. 467) in South Texas near Matagorda Bay. Its cemetery is identified by name in The Roads of Texas (Blue Bell, PA: MAPSCO, n.d.), 146, but does not rate an index entry. The Handbook of Texas Online, which usually gives extensive coverage of the smallest towns past and present, has an entry for Francitas but not for Deutschburg.


Congressional Series of United States Public Documents, vol. 7597, “Brewing and Liquor Interests and German Propaganda,” 19.


While in Germany, Gerhard served as one of the collaborators on the second edition of the nationalistic Handbuch des Deutschthums im Ausland (Berlin, 1906). See Monantsschrift für höheren Schulen 6 (1907): 49. Other information was obtained from U.S. Census entries from 1900, 1910, and 1920, and U.S. Passenger List data, accessed via Ancestry. com. German nationalists though the Gerhards may have been, it appears that Hitler was too much even for them. Gerhard's widow, Maria/Mary, left the United States for Europe in March of 1923 and may have remained for more than a decade (or perhaps traveled twice). But she returned to the United States with her daughter in January 1934, only a few months after Hitler took power, though she made a later visit to Germany with a different daughter, returning to the Unites States in July 1939.


Palacios Beacon, Friday, May 24, 1918, 8, digitized on the Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth411926/m1/8/?q=Deutschburg%201918.


Walter D. Kamphoefner, “The Quest of the Historical Jürnjakob: A Centennial Evaluation of an Immigrant Novel and the Real-life Figure Behind It,” Yearbook of German-American Studies 51 (2016): 1–23.


“Die Deutsche Auswandererbriefsammlung Gotha (DABS),” Auswanderbriefe aus Nordamerika, http://auswandererbriefe.de/sammlung.html.


This study of transatlantic correspondence of the war era analyzed 274 letters from 79 different writers. Antje Kreipe, “‘Wir wedern mit Euch bekriegt von unseren eigenen Mitbürgern’: Die Deutschamerikaner und der Erste Weltkrieg” (Staatsexamen thesis, Ruhr Universität Bochum, 1999), 115–19.


Kreipe's study confirmed my more superficial impressions gained while surveying the material and selecting and editing a number of series for publication. Walter D. Kamphoefner, Wolfgang Helbich, and Ulrike Sommer, eds., News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991), here esp. 260–86, 486–522.


Kreipe, “Deutschamerikaner,” 21–22, 59, 23, 85–87, 101.


Ibid., 31–32.


Jürgen Macha, Marlene Nikolay-Panter, and Wolfgang Herborn, eds., Wir verlangen nicht mehr nach Deutschland: Auswandererbriefe und Dokumente der Sammlung Joseph Scheben (1825–1938) (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2003). A topical index, p. 577, lists all the letters that mention World War I. The quality of writing of these largely unschooled correspondents is obscured by the fact that Scheben standardized some dialect expressions as well as spelling, punctuation, and paragraphing, as he wrote to Wisconsin Historical Society director Joseph Schafer in a letter of November 12, 1931. A few of these letters were also utilized in the Kreipe work above. These letters will be cited by the sequence numbers supplied by Scheben. All translations from the Kreipe and Scheben works are my own.


Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, here no. 258, written January 16, 1921 [1920?] from Cold Spring, MN.


Ibid., no. 146, written March 12, 1920, from Minatare, NE; and no. 153, written August 14, 1930 from Lincoln, NE. Another Eifeler had complained in 1920, “The bishops are mostly Irishmen. They are most all against German and were also very hostile during the war against us Germans” (no. 252, written on December 14, 1920, from McIntire, IA).


Kreipe, “Deutschamerikaner,” 81. This is confirmed by an article in the Lima [Ohio] News, April 15, 1918. Atypical though he was, his quote was chosen for the title of Kreipe's work: “We are being warred on with you by our own fellow citizens.”


Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, nos. 72 (as above), 111, and 223 (as above), mention military obligations or exemptions of family members. Letter nos. 165, 210, 222, and 320 mention relatives or acquaintances whose service took them near the writers' ancestral homelands in the Eifel.


Ibid., no. 72, written November 12, 1922, from Portland, OR; no. 242, written on April 28, 1922, from Johnsburg, IL; no. 256, written January 2, 1921, from Avon, MN; no. 257, written January 8, 1921, from Melrose, MN.


My translations of letters from the Wieden family, Hoffnung bei Solingen, January 17, 1904, to “Mr. Eberhard Niendicker or his legal heirs”; February 28, 1904, to Dear Uncle, dear Aunt, and all relatives; June 29, 1904, to Dear Relatives; December 11, 1904 to Dear Uncle and Aunt. The last letter is quite revealing: “We haven't written for so long, the reason for that is because one day goes by like the other, without any events worth writing about.” It also displays a remarkable ignorance about circumstances in America generally and with the relatives in particular: “Do you also get snow and frost in your area? And do they also celebrate Christmas there in America?”


Felix Krawatzek and Gwendolyn Sasse, “The Simultaneity of Feeling German and Being American: Analyzing 150 Years of Private Migrant Correspondence,” Migration Studies (2018): 1–28, here particularly fig. 2.


Kreipe, “Deutschamerikaner,” analyzed 274 letters from 79 different writers, only six of whom, writing a total of 12 letters, were of the second generation; see 115–19.


Kathleen Neils Conzen, “Germans,” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, 1980), 406.


Kamphoefner, “German-American Bilingualism,” 846–64.


Besides the second-generation writers that Kreipe identified, there are a couple more from the Scheben collection that are analyzed below: nos. 165–66, 274.


Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, no. 274, written January 15, 1915 from Cassville, WI, by Agnes Klinkhammer to a German girlfriend she had just visited the previous summer. Klinkhammer lived in Grant County, WI, which was home to more than 2,500 German immigrants, and over 10,000 German ethnics counting the second generation.


See Scheben's preface to the letters written by Agnes Klinkhammer's father and uncle between 1863 and 1912, in Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, no. 284–no. 288. The father, John Friedrich Wilhelm Klinkhammer, who immigrated in 1865, had applied for a passport already in 1885 at age 46, and again in July 1914, as did daughter Clara in May 1891. Agnes and her father arrived back in New York September 22, 1914, the first entries on the ship's passenger list, suggesting they traveled first class.


Ibid., no. 165, written October 10, 1920, from Potosi, WI, and no. 166, written on December 15, 1924, from Dubuque, IA—both locations with heavily German populations.


These letters in the Scheben collection were also analyzed by Kreipe. An overwhelmingly German parish had been founded in Joliet in 1850, and in 1892 had a school with over 400 pupils. The Franciscan sisters who taught there had been present since 1865. Johannes Nep. Enzlberger, Schematismus der katholischen Geistlichkeit deutscher Zunge in den Vereinigten Staaten Amerikas (Milwaukee: Hoffmann Brothers Co., 1892), 53. The letters of Thomas Rademacher from 1842 to 1869 are published in Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, nos. 108–10.


Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, no. 112, written September 27, 1920; no. 111, written February 24, 1920; and nos. 111–20, that is, ten postwar letters in all.


Kreipe, “Deutschamerikaner,” 20; Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, nos. 143–44, written from Detroit, MI, August 15, 1919, and June 13, 1920.


Macha, Nikolay-Panter, and Herborn, eds., Auswandererbriefe, no. 416, written from Alma, MI, December 16, 1924. A previous letter of May 7, 1924 (no. 415), had been written in German, but context suggests it was dictated to a scribe, because the English letter is if anything more poorly written than the German. Kreipe, “Deutschamerikaner,” 29.


Lutherische Immanuels-Bote, St. Charles, MO, May 1918. The July 1918 issue included excerpts from nine soldiers' letters, all in English, but some or all of the same writers may have been quoted in the previous issue. Copies in folder 373d, Missouri Council of Defense Papers, Western Historical Manuscripts Collections, Columbia, MO.


Harry Young wrote nine German letters between August 1918 and February 1919, now digitized in the Amana Heritage Society Archives, Amana, IA. William L. Harding, “Original Copy of Babel Proclamation,” German Iowa and the Global Midwest, accessed February 4, 2018; http://germansiniowa.lib.uiowa.edu/items/show/313.


Der tägliche Demokrat (Davenport, IA), March 18, 1918, 6. William Sachau reportedly wrote from France to his brother Walter in Davenport; the newspaper may have reversed the names; only Walter is listed in the 1930 census as having served.


Letters of October 24 and 31, 1918, in Taägliche Omaha Tribuüne, December 6, 1918, 3. Another German letter written on October 7 by John Reisbeck was published by the paper on November 22, 1918, 4, but that was less remarkable given that he was an ethnic German immigrant from Russia.


“Vom Hospital in Frankreich,” Detroiter Abend-Post, November 3, 1918, by Walter A. Nichols (sic; actually Nickel). According to the census entry for his sister [Jo]Hanna Schepperle, both of their parents were German immigrants; her husband was native born with a Swiss father.


Irwin [Erwin] Ochsner, undated letter quoted in Hermanner Volksblatt, October 25, 1918, 4. Since it also quotes “Boys in Khaki,” this strongly suggests the translation of “over the top” was Ochsner's and not the editor's. Letter of Walter Bruens, farmhand and country school teacher, dated November 25, 1918, published in Hermanner Volksblatt, December 27, 1918, 5.


H. N. [Henry] Claus, undated letter quoted in Hermanner Volksblatt, May 2, 1919, 1, 5. Claus was also of the third generation and, like most inhabitants of Trier, Roman Catholic. His letter was also published in the English-language Hermann Advertiser-Courier on April 30, 1919, so it is possible that the German was a translation.


Seguiner Zeitung, August 15, 1918, 1, digital access through the Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth488495/.


Letter of Edward Holtermann, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ferdinand H. of Westphalia, MO, Jefferson City Missouri Volksfreund, June 20, 1918. New Saint Xavier's Catholic Church Cemetery, Taos, Missouri; photo courtesy of Dale Doerhoff, Jefferson City, MO. The three all had German-born fathers who had immigrated between 1853 and 1888, but all three of their mothers and one maternal grandmother had been born in Missouri.


Sermon of Rev. N. Rieger of Higginsville, MO, published under the title “German Preacher Shows up Kaiserism,” Kansas City Star Journal, May 5, 1918. Clipping in folder 373a, Missouri Council of Defense Papers, Western Historical Manuscripts Collection, University of Missouri-Columbia. Manuscript census entries confirm that he was a son of Joseph Rieger, one of the “founding fathers” of German Protestantism in America with the 1840 Kirchenverein des Westens, predecessor of the German Evangelical Synod of North America.


Cited in Ford, Americans All, 145.

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