Thursday, March 27, 2014

WWI America: German - American Hysteria and Internment Camps

Public Domain
WWI Injustice:
The German-American 
Detention Camps

World War I changed the lives of many people throughout Europe and the United States. Hatred, fear and prejudice has never been a stranger to our American culture. The last time I wrote about a social injustice that occurred in United States History I wrote about the Eugenic Laws of Edwardian society. The Eugenic Laws were well into practice by the time the United States entered World War I.
World War I, also known as the Great War, began in Europe on July 28, 1914. The United States tried to remain out of the European conflict. On May 7, 1915, Germany torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. The British ocean liner was on route from New York to Liverpool. Out of the 1,959 passengers and crew on board only 764 survived. Of those who perished 128 American lives were lost including American publisher and writer, Elbert Green Hubbard. The lost of American lives outraged the American public. On April 2, 1917, the United States entered World War I.

German-American Immigration History
The first German families arrived and settled in Pennsylvania between 1671 to 1677. These German colonists came to Pennsylvania to escape from religious persecution. A hundred years laters,  8.6% of the American population and 33% of the population in Pennsylvania was German. During the American Revolutionary War the German numbers were strengthened when around 30,000 Hessian soldiers came to the United States to fight on behalf of England. After the war, 5,000 of those warriors chose to remain behind and start a new life for themselves in the newly formed United States of America. 
Germans also entered the United States through the redemptioner system. A German peasant would board a vessel for free and upon arrival at an Atlantic port would be sold to an American businessman for four to seven years to win his freedom and pay for his passage. This scheme lasted until 1815 and was the only way some could immigrate to the United States. 
Following the end of the Napoleonic Wars of 1815, the United States saw large immigration waves from Germany. 6,000 Germans entered the United States during the 1820's. Most of these immigrants were Lutherans who sought religious freedom. During the 1840's, Germany was suffering from the same potato famine that Ireland was. Nearly 1 million Germans immigrated to the United States during the 1850's. That figure dropped to 723,000 during the 1860's and slightly grew to 751,000 during the 1870's. It peaked at 1,445,000 in the 1880's. By the time the United States entered WWI German-Americans were the largest population in the United States whose language wasn't English. 

German-American Hysteria
The German-Americans had enjoyed a wonderful like in the United States before the United States
NY Times article on Name Changing Bill 1918
entered the war. Most German-American families had maintained their cultural heritage through their faith, customs, education, and by speaking the German language. Everything changed when the United States entered the Great War. "With the start of World War I, German Americans suddenly became the face of the enemy in the United States, and they suffered through violent harassment. Anything remotely "German" was attacked and/or destroyed. Books were burned, street names changed, and German businesses boycotted. Music by German composers like Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was removed from public performances. Hamburgers, sauerkraut, and dachshunds were renamed "liberty burgers," "liberty cabbage," and "liberty hounds." German Americans were physically attacked, tarred and feathered, and even killed. Robert Paul Prager, a German-born coal miner who was lynched by a mob in 1918, became the symbol of anti-German violence." - US History in Context.
German-Americans were expected to abandon their cultural heritage and take up Americanism or face their destruction. Throughout the United States anything that had to do with German cultural was attacked. The attacks on German - American culture had a devastating blow to the preservation of German-American cultural heritage. Today, most German-Americans have lost the cultural treasures their ancestors had once enjoyed.
The German-American hysteria was largely fueled by President Woodrow Wilson's administration. President Wilson's administration released thousands of propaganda posters like the one at the top of this posting to dehumanize the German-American population. Once you dehumanize someone it's easier to cast violence against them. 

President Woodrow Wilson issued two sets of regulations on April 6, 1917 and November 16, 1917. These regulations imposed restrictions on any German male over the age of 16. They were written in German and English. The regulations imposed restrictions on any German descent male age 14 years or older. 250,000 German American men were required to register at their local post office, carry their registration card with them at all times and report any changes to their address or employment. 
President Wilson stated in his Flag Day speech on June 14, 1917, “The military masters of Germany have filled our unsuspecting communities with vicious spies and conspirators and have sought to corrupt the opinion of our people….[these persons] seek to undermine the Government with false professions of loyalty to its principles." President Wilson wasn't the only one in his administration to speak out against the German-American population. On April 18, 1918, the same restrictions were imposed on females. 

German - American Internment Camps
President Wilson had been ready for his attack against the German-American population. He established three internment camps for the German-Americans who would not denounce their cultural ties with Germany. You can learn more about the internment of German-American at this link
The internment (concentration) camps were ran by the United States Army. The main concentration camps were located in Fort McPherson and Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and Fort Douglas, Arizona. The camps in Georgia were established for German-Americans east of the Mississippi while the Fort Douglas camp was for those who lived west of the Mississippi.  In addition to the three internment camps twenty transit stations were also established throughout the United States. These stations and the camps were managed by the Enemy Alien Registration Unit of the U.S. Department of Justice.  Thousands of German-Americans were arrested and detained as enemies of the United States just for being of German descent. Most were not released from captivity until two years after the war had ended.

German sailors held at Fort McPherson

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