Long ago before the Third Riche took over Germany; my Great Opa said that if Adolf Hitler ever became the leader of Germany that he would leave and find a new life for my Great Oma as a barrel maker in Michigan. They left their country to find something great in the next but also, they too dealt with the crisis of racism and xenophobia which is why they joined groups like the Kolping Society which gave them a sense of community, security, and acknowledgment of the culture they were proud to bring with them. The group was founded by Adolph Kolping who was a German Roman Catholic priest who helped the lives of workers in industrial communities and protected their dignity and their rights; after he died he was Betificated by Pope John Paul the Second in 1991.
When I was at the funeral of my Uncle Gorge who died in 2019 before Christmas; which is very hard for us because as a German American family because you want to enjoy Christmas before you pass…There were all sorts of photos of him as a soldier, a funny photo of him as the baby New Year, and all of the Schzenfest he won which is a total of nine or ten of them! I also got to learn much more about my family and heard all sorts of stories about what happened during and after the Second World War; one member of my family helped the Russians find buried German weapons after they found him stealing food.
I’m telling you this story because racism is not the only problem we have here; we in America have suffered from assimilation and xenophobia no matter the person or institution and when I was young the conversation started watching Rankin/ Bass’s Santa Claus is Coming to Town with a character called Bergermister Misterberger who wore Bavarian attire and was voiced by Paul Frees. Although it came out in the seventy’s it had what we would now consider a German stereotype… “Oh, I HATE TOYS! Either they are going or I’m going and I’m not going”
It made me feel upset that even after the Second World War people still felt this way about Germans and German Americans. We, after all, help rebuild Germany and many other countries after the war. Yes, the character is funny, but he reflects a tough issue I tackled when leaning about Dr.Seuss; that Americans never acknowledge like slavery the abuse, discrimination, and harassment of German Americans.
This cartoon reflects the anger he felt towards people who ignored the plight of people leaving countries invaded by the Nazis because they only cared about their patriotism more than the harm being done to people suffering at the hands of a fascist government. He wrote it because just like me he too was a descendant of German Immigrants and was called horrid slanders because his father was a brewer like my Great Opa and my Grandma was treated in the same fashion. This cartoon needs to be in every child’s history book along with all of his books but it’s not. Just like the myth of the Lost Cause is still in history books that do not address the horrors of slavery and treat it as a controversy like evolution in a biology book; It’s also the myth that assimilation was a good thing for immigrants.
Assimilation is why we as German Americans lost our language, books, and music and in some parts of America children who were German Americans were forced to burn books like Der Struwwelpeter and Max and Moritz which later influenced comics like The Katzenjammer Kids who do speak like my characters. One song of influence and protest for German Americans and Austrians is the Erzherog Johann Jodel which is a song not only about feeling homesick but also addresses the harm done by assimilation reflected in the second lyric.
We're die Gegend kennt
Wo ma’s Eisen brennt?
Wo die Enns daherrausch unt’n im Tal?
Und vor lauter Lust
Schlogt oan da die Brust?
Wo so lusti alles überall?
In English it’s
Anyone know the land, where the iron burns?
Where are the towns in the valley?
And for sheer lust, where were the logs that crest
Why does it feel so funny overall?
In German the word lusti or funny in English can also mean familiar to a person; no one can change a person based on their ethnicity because it’s always been there no matter how many books you burn, the music you avoid, or languages you won’t allow people you speak. We as German American’s did not destroy who we are but we kept and acknowledged the parts that mattered to us, like Jodeling, Volksmusik, our traditions, our folklore, and fairy tales, our honesty, our kindness, our humor, our fears, our history and how not to repeat it. We are regaining our knowledge as German Americans because of the internet which is where I discovered Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter and discovered more Volksmusik in iTunes. So it’s not just African American lives that matter it’s the lives of Immigrants too, and more stories need to be told about their struggles and not their stereotypes.