The Forgotten Genocide Lecture Series
At the St Louis Community College-Meramec, Kirkwood, Mo.
Dr. Kearn Schemm Jr.
Lawyer, U.S. Diplomat, Human Rights Activist
Vice President German World Alliance/Deutsch Weltallanz
My topic today is “the war against German culture.” It is a topic that probably impacts many of you, given the fact that Missouri was settled to a large extent by Germans, in fact, according to Prof. Don Heinrich Tolzmann, Missouri is almost 40% German today. Can I have a show of hands as to how many of you in the audience are of German ancestry?
The topic impacts me, since I am a third generation American of half Germanic ancestry. I was born in Newark, New Jersey, in a hospital founded as the “Newark German Hospital” and now known as “Clara Maass Hospital” after its most famous nurse, who gave her life trying to help Walter Reed find a cure for yellow fever. The reason that the hospital is no longer named “Newark German” is the war against German language and culture, which continues to this very day. Things Germans were not always negatively stereotyped. Let me ask you a few questions, the answers might amaze you:
1) When was the first anti-slavery protest drafted, and what language was it in? (German, 1688 By Franz Daniel Pastorius in Germantown, Pa)
2) Who founded the first public library in New York? (A German refugee turned newspaper publisher named Oswald Ottendorfer and founded the Ottendorfer Library in 1884.)
3) Who founded the first legal aid society in the US? (Germans: Deutscher Rechts-Schutz Verein (German Legal Aid Society), was incorporated in New York City in 1876)
Now, the term German today has many implications to many people. I’d like to take a moment now to have a few of you give me your thoughts when you hear the word, “German.” Please don’t be shy; we need to know how our ideas have been molded. Let’s make a column of positive stereotypes and one of negative ones. We now have industrious, hard working and honest on the positive side, Nazi (our “N” word), militaristic and aggressive on the negative side.
These negative stereotypes were not always so. While many think that Germans are militaristic or well organized, Leo Tolstoy, in “War and Peace” gave a very different opinion of the martial qualities of the Germans, “awareness of disorder became a general conviction; but now, ascribing the cause of the disorder with particular pleasure …to the muddleheaded Germans, everyone became convinced that the harmful confusion taking place was the doing of the sausage-makers.”
It was socially acceptable to be a German and be proud of it. Queen Victoria spoke only German until she was three. Her son, Edward VII, spoke English his whole life long with a German accent. Queen Victoria once declared that “the German element is one I wish to be cherished and kept up in our beloved home,” she even went so far as to tell her cousin, King Leopold of Belgium, that, “my heart is so German.”
The queen was not alone in her feelings, on the eve of the First World War, a group of eminent British intellectuals published a remarkable open letter: it lauded Germany as a “highly civilized” country with a “culture that has contributed greatly to Western civilization, racially allied to ourselves and with moral ideas largely resembling our own”. Two days before German troops invaded Belgium, the letter called for British neutrality, arguing that war against Germany would be a “crime against civilization”.
While the first world war was what started the hard core war against German culture and language, there had been rumblings before the US entry into the war and the person who voiced these rumblings in the US loudest was Theodore Roosevelt, who said on Columbus Day 1915, before the US entered WWI that,
“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…a hyphenated American is not an American at all… The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”
Roosevelt implied in these remarks that the Germans and Irish, in particular, had some sort of extraterritorial loyalty. He and his whole class had no difficulty in identifying with and showing loyalty for the war aims of Great Britain, however.
Perhaps the seminal moment in the War against German Culture was on August 5, 1914, when the British cut the transatlantic cables from Germany to the US. The purpose of this act was to prevent the German side being heard in American press, to prevent articles showing the German war effort in a positive way from reaching the American public. British censors now filtered all European news; only German news dispatches brought in by ship or submarine reached the American press. The English-language press ignored these as “German Propaganda.”
Incidentally, in what language were the largest numbers of newspapers printed in the US until 1917? Anyone have a guess? (German).
So WWI progressed with only British propaganda being available to the American people. Germans went from being Saxon brothers to being Asiatic Huns overnight. Lies were told about rape and child murders committed by German soldiers in Belgium, about German plants that turned the corpses of murdered Belgians into soap and other products for German use. Germans in Canada were terrorized; the town of Berlin was forced to change its name to Kitchener. Germans in Britain itself were interned en mass in the huge Concentration camp on the Isle of Mann, which held over 100,000 German-British civilians. Incidentally, when was the concentration camp invented, and by whom? (By the British during the Boer War)
Although they controlled most news from Europe, the British could not control the flood of news that resulted from the armed rebellion in Ireland during Easter week, 1916. The brutality with which the British put down the rebellion horrified Irish-Americans and many Anglo-Americans and came close to causing the US to enter WWI on the side of Germany. The execution of the leaders of the rebellion, seen by many Americans as the founding fathers of a free Ireland, further burdened US relations with the British Empire. It is interesting to note that there were no rebellions in the German Empire during WWI, its citizens, of whatever ethnicity, supported the country which had granted universal adult male suffrage before GB and had had the first social insurance system in the world.