United States, World

German-American Persecution World War I

Propaganda, social media, unworthy news sources have led to unequal treatment of individuals in certain cultures. Germans had always been the largest non-English-speaking immigrant group in America.  In the Colonial Era, the first great wave came and settled in Pennsylvania, New York, and Maryland.  Then the second large wave of German immigration started around 1830.  By 1875, Germany had become a wheat importing country.  German farmers became superfluous and immigrated to the U.S. Once the farmers came many of the people who depended on them followed them. Despite American stereotypes of German-Americans, they were actually very diverse.  Some Germans assimilated quickly, while others like German Catholics and Lutherans believed that the preservation of their faith depended on maintaining German language and culture.  They also believed that German culture could be infused to American culture and improve it. Trying to do that, the churches operated their own schools and German-American communities published newspapers in German. However, there was a lot of propaganda saying how will they vote and will they want the best for our country or theirs. During the 1850s, 900,000 Germans went to the United States. That was at a time when the German population was about only 40 million. As historically demonstrated through the negative propaganda projected on the german population reflecting a negative view of the entire population, today we see a similar comparison with the treatment of other races and ethnicities.

In 1914 with the outbreak of World War 1, American propaganda was raised to support the ally war effort. This propaganda consisted of Anti-German sentiment, with films being pumped out showing Germans raping and murdering women and children to display Germans as evil. The propaganda worked beyond the government’s desire. Since after World War One people will view Germans as bad because of all the propaganda against them and then later on when the nazis and the holocaust come around. Today, when the question of loyalty of immigrants has again become contentious, what happened a century ago has special relevance. The relevance is almost identical because in today’s world people see Muslims as terrorists even though it’s just a very small amount and back then everybody thought Germans would rape and kill women and children. World War I inspired an outbreak of nativism and xenophobia that targeted German immigrants. Since there was all this hatred towards German-Americans, they often worshipped in churches where German was used. They could live on city streets or in towns with German names. And while many immigrants assimilated into the English-speaking mainstream, many others sent their children to German-language public schools. Even if Germans were in America before the war people would still think they have a negative impact on them and wouldn’t want them in America. The escalating distrust and hatred of all things German had an impact on a large number of American residents and citizens. This is also related to how when Muslims dress a certain way or talk in their language, people automatically assume something bad is going to happen. According to the 1910 Census, of the 92 million people living in the U.S., 8.6 million were of German birth or parentage, and a large number of them still held on strongly to the German language and traditions(Census).

During World War I, the United States and its allies were fighting against Germany and its allies in Europe. As a result, anti-German sentiment developed in Ohio and across the nation during 1917 and 1918. Being anti-German became a way of showing patriotism for the American war effort. Many Ohioans began to target German-Americans in their zeal to promote patriotism. Because there was a significant German-American population living in Ohio during World War I, anti-German sentiment was a serious problem. Many Ohioans assumed that people of German descent, conscientious objectors, and those who were not in favor of the war were traitors, even if there was no evidence to support those assumptions. Government actions promoted some anti-German activities, such as Ohio’s Americanization Committee. Many towns and cities chose to re-name streets which had German names. Some of these name changes were for the duration of the war, but many were never reversed. The community of New Berlin changed its name to North Canton to show its patriotism. The state legislature passed the Ake Law, which banned the teaching of the German language in all schools below the eighth grade. Anyone who was suspected of being sympathetic to the German cause faced persecution by fellow Ohioans. All of these acts of hatred are related to the acts against many other races such as Jewish people, Muslims,  and Japanese during Pearl Harbor. They were all similar in some ways, but they all also were different in the different ways they targeted the people.  

Overall, all of the propaganda against the Germans was very hard on them and it took them awhile to recover from all the hate. With the names and culture of Germans being practically erased in World War 1, we don’t see a revive of German names and culture until post World War 2. This revive due to an influx of German immigrants still doesn’t meet the size of German speakers and German names in the US pre-World War 1. Whole German towns in the midwest which spoke German no longer exist, with their names changed and their language no longer consisting of German. All of this gives some perception into how propaganda can change something so quickly, that you don’t even remember how it was before.

Article by Carson Johnson & Video by Ethan Ludwig

Works Cited

Siegel, Robert, and Art Silverman. “During World War I, U.S. Government Propaganda Erased German Culture.” NPR, NPR, 7 Apr. 2017, www.npr.org/2017/04/07/523044253/during-world-war-i-u-s-government-propaganda-erased-german-culture.

NPS, National Park Service. “Immigrants in the Military during WWI (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2015, www.nps.gov/articles/immigrants-in-the-military-during-wwi.htm.

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