It is necessary in the course of explaining the roots of the Bund to offer at least a synoptic sketch of the role of the German element in this history of the United States. Construed as a minority ethnic group, Germans constitute probably the largest single element, exceeding even the Irish, with whom they have intermarried considerably. Estimates for those of German or part-German descent range up to 52 million, far exceeding the Blacks and, at least for a while, the “Hispanic” hordes pouring across the Rio Grande.
The usual date given for the arrival of the first Germans in the colonies is 1683, but one writer has asserted that the “damned Dutch” in Jamestown in 1607 were actually the first. /12 The “Dutch” governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Minuit, was born in Wesel on the Rhine, and about 1664, Johann Prinz arrived in New Sweden (now Delaware) with fifty-four German families from Pomerania /l3 The story of Jacob Leisler, the second governor of New York in the confused period of the English “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, is well known.
The first permanent and wholly German settlement did indeed take place in 1683, when Germantown, Pennsylvania was founded. The German immigrants of 1683 were Protestants of various fundamentalist sects. Francis Daniel Pastorius, their leader, was an educated man, but Gennan immigrants, in 1683 and thereafter, were tradesmen, skilled artisans and farmers. Huebner lists carpenters, locksmiths, shoemakers and tailors. /l4
During the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713), large numbers of poor refugees began arriving from the Rhineland, devastated by the aggressive designs of Louis XIV. In the single year of 1709, more than 600 families were shipped to the Carolinas. After the large influx of Hessians, many of whom stayed on after the Revolutionary War, German immigration continued at a fairly modest level. It began to increase again in the period 1830-1850 and positively exploded after 1852, amounting to perhaps a half a million in a very few years. /15 Again the preponderance seems to have been women, small tradesmen and peasants, although there was a fairly sizeable contingent of liberal intellectuals-refugees from the failed revolutions of 1848.
In the sunnier days before Europe began its suicidal “Peloponnesian Wars,” Germans in America had no doubts about their successful integration into American life. Germans played a major role in the Federal Army during the War between the States. The XI Corps of the Union Army contained two entirely German divisions and the name of Carl Schurz is prominent in the history of the period. Germans also played an important part in the Westward Movement.
Wine flowed from German vineyards, gold from German discovered mines, wheat from virgin prairies broken by diligent and skillful German farmers, and blood from Indians who fought the cavalry regiments with their large proportion of German troopers. /l6
During the epoch between the Gilded Age and the outbreak of World War I, a number of German families moved up socially and were assimilated into the then Anglo-Saxon Establishment. Chief among them were the big brewing families of St. Louis and Milwaukee and the meat barons of Chicago. But for the Swabian and Bavarian peasants, the Austrian and German waiters and beer-garden proprietors, a certain, sentimental Heimweh (homesickness) was always present. The Songfest at the local Turmverein Halle (gym) was at least as natural and gemütlich (innocently cheerful) as a Cinco de Mayo parade in Los Angeles or St. Patrick’s Day in New York
The unification of Germany under Bismarck, though incomplete without German Austria, was by 1871 a source of great and justifiable pride for persons of German ancestry everywhere. So was the seemingly miraculous victory over erstwhile mighty France in six short months. Germans had no longer to smart under a somewhat patronizing view of them as rather quaint peasants and pedagogues with a medieval social structure.
In the late nineteenth century there reigned an era of great good will between the United States and Germany. German universities attracted many American students and the American university system itself was modeled after that of Germany and not, as one might have expected, after Oxford and Cambridge. German immigrants were encouraged and welcomed because of their enterprise, hard work, and respect for the law.
Not very long after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, this affection and admiration was to undergo an almost total volte face from which it never recovered. It is not necessary here to dissertate upon the causes of this change of heart. It was essentially due to the extremely effective and one-sided propaganda to which the American public was exposed. The effect, however, was that even before the entry of the United States into the war, public sentiment in the United States had become virulently anti-German. And the understandable reaction of German publications in the United States to defend their ancestral land only succeeded in exacerbating the hostility.
Huebner and O’Connor are both very graphic on the subject of the German-American reaction to Allied propaganda and the enormous advantage that the propaganda had in English-speaking, Anglo-Saxon dominated America.
When eminent Americans of German ancestry defended the Central Powers with the same passion which innumerable other Americans were bringing to the support of the Entente, they were dismayed to find that in their case such efforts were held to be akin to treason. Their response — as human as it was unwise — was to speak with only greater anger and violence. /l7
Referring to the last months of 1916, O’Connor points out that “German-Americans” were now “only a few months away from the most traumatic moment in their history as part of American life.” /l8 Huebner writes that at this critical period, the inability of the Central Powers to present their case fairly and the incessant denunciation of everything German caused many German-Americans to become even more pro-German than they might otherwise have been. They bitterly resented the epithet “Hun” applied to themselves and to their kin in Europe as well as President Wilson’s contemptuous remarks about “hyphenated Americans” and his doubts as to their loyalty. /19
In describing H. L. Mencken’s biting attack in 1920 on those “who had fought the war with their mouths”-the bullying of elderly German waiters for example-O’Connor has the following very interesting sentence for those of us who have witnessed the same propaganda warmed over for use in the Second World War.
Nor did Mr. Mencken believe that posterity should overlook the New York Tribune liar who invented the story about the German plant for converting the corpses of the slain to soap. /20
The teaching of the German language was forbidden by statute in twenty-six states. /2l Even Hermann Hagedom, a great friend of Theodore Roosevelt, was suspected because of his German name and the fact that his water-tower “commanded” the arms factory at Bridgeport, six miles away. /22
The venomous hysteria even extended to the animal world and the lives of dachshunds, schnauzers, weimaraners and German shepherds (temporarily renamed Alsatians) were made miserable by small boys aping their super-patriot fathers. /23
The end of it all, of course, was what John Maynard Keynes called “the Carthaginian Peace”: the Diktat of Versailles. Not only Germans but even among Germany’s former enemies there was a growing number of those who felt a great revulsion at the spectacle of the victorious democracies exulting in their unbridled orgy of revenge, and who perceived in the vicious spite of the victors the seedbed of another war. Harold Nicolson, a member of the British delegation at Versailles, wrote:
We came to Paris confident that the new order was about to be established; we left it convinced that the new order had merely fouled up the old … conscious that the treaties imposed on our enemies were neither just nor wise … that seldom in the history of man has such vindictiveness cloaked itself in such unctuous sophistry. /24
If Englishmen could harbor such sentiments, it is hardly to be wondered at that the shock and horror at the Diktat and the real or apparent cynical betrayal of the promise of a just peace implicit in Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” were infinitely more acute among Germans and German-Americans. It is also pertinent to note that despite the starvation and misery of the immediate post-war period in Germany, the moral stigma which was forced upon Germany by the “war guilt” clause (Article 231) burned as a deeper humiliation and injustice in the German soul than the physical deprivation of food, territory, armaments or money. O’Connor writes of the lingering resentment of German-Americans for their treatment and their suspicion in the thirties that “F.D.R. was heading toward another intervention in Europe.” /25 It was undoubtedly this sense of injustice and persecution which accounts for a certain degree of stridency in the public utterances of the Bund and its leaders.
I have quoted O’Connor at some length precisely because his hostility towards the Bund and his description of it as a small minority “infected” with the “Nazi virus” and as a “lunatic fringe” tends, I believe, to lend all the greater verisimilitude to his sympathetic description of the role of Germans in American history. Unencumbered by either love or loathing, we may now approach the study of the Bund itself and its enemies without recourse to the kind of epithets and disclaimers which O’Connor appears to find necessary. That the Bund acted rashly, and sometimes lacked the sensitivity and Levantine subtlety which might better have served the interests it sought to defend, may well be true. But it was surely a very human and natural reaction to the humiliations of World War I and to the Versailles Diktat as well as glory and pride in the post-1933 German renaissance. And if, despite its best and most earnest efforts, Deutschtumwas fated never again to win the affection of pre-war days, it could at least win respect. German-Americans and Germans of the Reich alike could derive a thrill of pride at the new mood of hope, the achievement of full employment, and the general transformation in so short a time from pariah Germany into a Germany which spake with such confidence in the councils of World Powers. This writer as a teenager was a personal witness to that extraordinary and ubiquitous mood of joy and uplift, having spent a vacation in Germany from his native England, at that time plunged in the all-pervading gloom of the Great Depression.
Such was the historical into which the Bund was born.