To Aid the Fatherland. German-Americans, Transatlantic Relief Work and American Neutrality, 1914-17

This article explores German-American war relief for Germany during World War I, concentrating on the period of American neutrality, 1914-17. Based on financial ledgers, meeting protocols and the publications of ethnic organizations, it shows how
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  Elisabeth Pilller To Aid the Fatherland. German-Americans Transatlantic Relief Work and American Neutrality 1914Ð17  A later version of this article was published as: "To Aid the Fatherland. German-Americans, Transatlantic Relief Work and American Neutrality, 1914 Ð 17" Immigrants and Minorities. Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora   35/3 (Nov 2017): 196 Ð 215. Abstract This article explores German-American war relief for Germany during World War I, concentrating on the period of  American neutrality, 1914Ð17. Based on financial ledgers, meeting protocols and the publications of ethnic organizations, it shows how German-American charity served as a force of mobilization on behalf of the old fatherland after August 1914 even as American public sentiments turned increasingly hostile towards Germany. The article nuances common notions of American humanitarianism during the period of neutrality and broadens our understanding of how German-Americans (and by extension, ethnic groups more generally) tried to balance political loyalty to their ÒhostlandÓ with emotional attachment to their Òhomeland.Ó Keywords  World War I, American Neutrality, German-Americans, German Propaganda, Humanitarianism, Divided Loyalties Introduction On August 9, 1914 the German Society of Pennsylvania  , the oldest German-American society in the United States, held an extraordinary meeting in the great hall of its splendid building in Philadelphia. The occasion was earnest. The war in Europe was just one week old and the German Society was trying to ascertain what attitude to take   towards the conflict and how, if at all, it was to get involved. As its officers met that day they took two decisions that engaged them strongly on behalf of Germany. Feeling that Germany had been encircled and attacked by an ill-meaning group of enemies, they first decided on a concerted propaganda campaign to protest the old fatherlandÕs negative portrayal in American newspapers. 1  The second decision, which is the subject of this article, was the establishment of a relief organization, the Hilfsfond  , to collect funds for the widows and orphans of the soldiers of the Central Powers. In taking these steps the assembled German-Americans 1  Horner Memorial Library (HML), MS. Coll. 38 Hilfsfond Records, Box 1, Minute Book, 1914Ð1919, Meeting (9 August 1914). 2  The Wacht am Rhein   was a popular patriotic song akin to an informal national anthem in late-19th century Germany.    consciously acted as American citizens and   ethnic Germans. The meeting featured both an enthusiastic Òthree cheers for the old fatherlandÓ as well as a minute of silence to honor the memory of the late first lady Ellen  Wilson. It closed with patriotic songs: first, the Star Spangled Banner,  then the Wacht am Rhein  . 2  The ensuing heavy involvement in German relief work was not particular to the German Society of Pennsylvania  , but was highly representative of individual biographies and institutional histories in all of ÒGerman-AmericaÓ during the period of American neutrality. 3  In fact, what appears at first a marginal topic was central to individual and collective experiences of German-Americans in the era of World War I. After 1914, German relief work pre-occupied ethnic communities across the United States like no other endeavor. Hundreds of relief committees were founded across America and millions of dollars were raised for German widows and orphans, for the reconstruction of devastated East Prussia and for German POWs in Siberia. In terms of the thought, energy, emotions and expense that went into aiding German war victims no other German ethnic activity could even remotely match it. 4  ÒIf the cultural historian ever writes a history of the concomitants of the Great WarÓ, wrote Max Heinrici, publicity director of the German Society of Pennsylvania   in 1917, about the relief work, Òhe should not carelessly pass over the loyalty ( Treue  ) to the Heimat, which the German Society of Pennsylvania   has shown. This loyalty stands out as one of its kind, as the most beautiful monument to its unchanging love for German folkdom far away.Ó 5  Despite its contemporary importance, German-American relief efforts Ð and ethnic relief more generally Ð have so far found scant scholarly attention. In contrast to HeinriciÕs hopes, historians have overlooked this unique expression of German-American Òloyalty to the Heimat.Ó Studies on German-Americans during World War I routinely mention it in passing, only to hurry on to the purportedly more politically significant events of the time such as German-American agitation for an arms embargo. 6  This article, instead, positions relief work at the heart of the German-American experience during the period of American neutrality, bringing together the history of ethnic identity with the burgeoning historiography of humanitarianism. Indeed, over the last decade a Òveritable explosionÓ (Little) of studies on humanitarian aid has shown that Americans embraced a humanitarian crusade of unprecedented proportions during almost three years of neutrality. 7  Existing aid organizations like the 2  The Wacht am Rhein   was a popular patriotic song akin to an informal national anthem in late-19th century Germany. 3  See the articles in Singer, Jahrbuch.   4  HML, Ms. Coll. 46 Max Heinrici Manuscript and Photographs, Box 2 ÒDie ereignisreichen zwanzig Jahre 1915Ð1935 der Geschichte der Deutschen GesellschaftÓ (ca. 1936Ð1938); more than two-thirds of this 250-page account are devoted to relief work. 5  Heinrici, ÒDas Hilfswerk PhiladelphiasÓ in: Singer, Jahrbuch  , 251Ð262, 252. 6  Child, The German-Americans  , Luebke,  Bonds of Loyalt  y, WŸstenbecker,  Deutschamerikaner, Fulwider,  German Propaganda   illustrate this treatment. Useful, if largely descriptive: Wittke, German-Americans  , 30Ð38. The post-war period is better researched in: Kreyenpoth,  Auslandshilfe; Stšhr, So half Amerika  ; Strickland,  American Aid  ; Rippley, ÒGift Cows for GermanyÓ; Piller, ÒGerman Child DistressÓ. 7  E.g. Irwin, Making the World Safe; Little, ÒAn ExplosionÓ ;Little, Band of Crusaders;  Westerman,  Rough and Ready Relief  . For a good introduction see the special issue of First World War Studies 5, no. 1 (2014).       American Red Cross and newly founded ones like the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, alongside hundreds of voluntary organizations, collected, allocated and administered funds to war sufferers across Europe and the world. In their appeals for public charity, they constructed powerful humanitarian narratives, which mobilized  Americans on behalf of otherwise distant others and ultimately helped shape how they imagined the United StatesÕ role in the world. Humanitarian relief work, as historians have argued, meaningfully involved Americans in the war well before they entered it officially. 8  Still, many areas of AmericaÕs humanitarian engagement remain un- or underexplored. Even as the inherent tensions between international and national service in humanitarian work (most noticeable with regard to the Red Cross) have received increasing attention 9 , studies still tend to overstate the impartial, disinterested nature of American humanitarianism during the neutrality period. The predominant focus on large national organizations and on some prominent neutral or Allied countries (especially Belgium and France), which often had no considerable ethnic presence in the United States have helped paint a picture of an American humanitarian project that at least aspired   to be impartial during the neutrality period. 10  This article challenges this picture. Indeed, studying the relief work of AmericaÕs largest ethnic group reveals a messier and more divisive reality of U.S. charitable involvement after 1914, alive not only with noble humanitarian sentiments, but European nationalism. Moreover, by tracing German-American charitable involvement the article sheds light on the still underexplored process of ethnic mobilization. While historians have underlined the upsurge of patriotic feeling among German-Americans in August 1914 and charted ÒprofessionalÓ German-American efforts to lobby for a German-friendlier U.S. policy through, for example, a munitions embargo, 11  ethnic relief work reveals how a broader segment of ÒordinaryÓ German-Americans chose to engage with, and make sense of, the European conflict. Based on financial ledgers, meeting protocols and publications of ethnic organizations, this article locates German-American relief work in the changing dynamics of the neutrality period. Proceeding chronologically, it first details relief work as a force of mobilization on behalf of Germany after August 1914. It then illustrates how transatlantic charity helped German-Americans to hold on to their pro-German position in the increasingly hostile public climate after the sinking of the Lusitania, traces its use as a tool of ethnic politicking during the election year of 1916 and charts its final demise in early 1917. The article nuances common notions of American humanitarianism during the period of neutrality and broadens our understanding of how German-Americans (and 8  Little, Band of Crusaders  , 75; Irwin, ÒTaming Total WarÓ, 766. 9  On tensions between international and national humanitarian spheres: Jones, ÒInternational or transnational?Ó Irwin has recently pointed to this partisan nature of American aid, but detailed studies are lacking; see Irwin, ÒTaming Total WarÓ and her instructive comments in Cappozola et al. ÒInterchange: World War IÓ, 470Ð472. 10  E.g. Little, Band of Crusaders  , 359; Westerman, ÒRough and ReadyÓ, 58; Irwin, Making the World  , 56. 11  Child, ÒGerman-American AttemptsÓ.    by extension, ethnic groups more generally) tried to balance political loyalty to their ÒhostlandÓ with emotional attachment to their Òhomeland.Ó German-Americans on the Eve of World War I  When World War I broke out in Europe, German-Americans belonged to the largest and one of the oldest immigrant groups in the United States. Most of the more than eight million first and second generation German- Americans held American citizenship and they were generally considered part of a well-educated, industrious, upwardly mobile, altogether ÒdesirableÓ ethnic group. 12  Despite their advanced Americanization, however, a considerable number still cultivated their traditions and language in a large array of singing, gymnastic, sharpshooting, veteran and mutual aid associations. By 1914, about 6000 such associations alongside 600 German-language newspapers and a significant number of churches formed the backbone of what many contemporaries saw as a formidably organized and united ÒGerman-AmericaÓ. 13  But this common perception of an influential ethnic group stood in marked contrast to the feeling of decline harbored by many ethnic leaders (editors, club presidents, pastors), often professionally dependent on ethnic survival. They were painfully aware of the deep religious, regional, social, political and generational divisions within their ethnic group, as well as its dwindling strength. Ethnic institutions, strong as they might have seemed from the outside, had already entered a long period of decline. As immigration dropped after the 1890s, so did the number of German newspapers, club memberships and German-language church services. 14  The German Society of Pennsylvania, for example, lost 30 % of its membership in the pre-war decade. 15  By 1914, most  Americans of German birth and descent no longer had any association with ÒorganizedÓ German-America. 16  Politically, their notorious factionalism had always precluded anything resembling a united ÒGerman voteÓ, leaving German-Americans without political influence commensurate to their numbers. In the increasingly nativist climate of the turn of the century, ethnic leaders felt mired in a near hopeless battle for ethnic maintenance. In response to this, the National German-American Alliance   (NGAA) was founded in Philadelphia in 1901. As a national umbrella organization it hoped to unite German-American associations behind common goals: furthering cordial relations between Germany and the U.S., gaining recognition for ethnic contributions to American society, defending German traditions and elements of sociability against Anglo-Saxon values, especially prohibitionist 12  Nagler, Nationale MinoritŠten  , 77Ð79. 13  Bergquist, ÒGerman-AmericansÓ, 158. 14  Kazal, ÒBecoming Old StockÓ, 236. 15  Pfleger, Ethnicity Matters  , 34. 16  Wiedemann-Citera, Die Auswirkungen   28.    encroachments. There emerged, as James M. Bergquist has noted, Òthe anomaly [É] of a strong defensive mentality in organized German America, at a time when its institutional structure seemed to be at its strongest.Ó 17  If in theory, the NGAA desired a more influential role for German-Americans as American citizens, in practice, the cultural chauvinist rhetoric of its leaders made it appear pro-, even Pan-German, particularly in light of rising political and commercial tensions between Germany and the United States. 18  It is against this backdrop of a defensive ethnic mentality and rising Anglo-American suspicions of ethnic separatism that post-1914 developments have to be understood. German-American War Relief Cultural Mobilization and American Neutrality The outbreak of war in Europe inspired at first an upsurge of interest in Germany and had a unifying effect on parts of an otherwise heterogeneous ethnic group. 19  While we ought to be careful not to confuse the often militant positions of ethnic leaders with those of the German-American majority, 20  there is evidence that even among those that had otherwise little regard for ethnic activities, let alone GermanyÕs political leadership, many were convinced of the defensive nature of the German war effort, and felt compelled to defend the old fatherland against the charges of barbarism leveled against it and, indirectly, against them. The circulation of German-language newspapers rose impressively as German-Americans sought news more sympathetic to the German cause and less tainted by what they considered the pro-Allied bias of the English-language press. 21  In larger  American cities, parades and demonstrations were held in support of Germany. The organization of war relief was among the most visible manifestations of this ethnic revival. Already on August 3 1914, President of the NGAA Charles Hexamer (a Philadelphia dentist, who also presided over the German Society of Pennsylvania  ) called on German-Americans to start collections for GermanyÕs wounded, widowed and orphaned, which the NGAA would then forward to German charities through the German Red Cross. 22  During the following weeks, the substantial infrastructure of German-language newspapers, churches and ethnic associations amplified this call to action, taking it into every nook and cranny of organized German-America.  While transatlantic empathy certainly played a role, Òprofessional German-AmericansÓ also saw in war charity an opportunity to revitalize a disintegrating ethnic community, rouse an apathetic second generation to their ÒGermandomÓ and strengthen their claim to ethnic leadership. Nationally prominent German-Americans like New York lawyer and philanthropist Arthur von Briesen, Harvard professor Hugo MŸnsterberg or former Secretary of 17  Bergquist, ÒGerman AmericansÓ, 159. 18  Johnson, Culture at Twilight  , 24. 19  Tolzmann, ÒThe SurvivalÓ, 120. 20  Luebke, Bonds of Loyalty  , 88. 21  WŸstenbecker, Deutsch-Amerikaner  , 53. 22  Johnson, Culture at Twilight, 99.
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