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German Americans in the United States during WWI and WWII; Where is their wall?


The decision to evacuate and intern Germans, Japanese & Italians in America began at least five years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. J. Edgar Hoover had begun to compile the notorious ABC list. This list was created with concerns over national security and was originally aimed at Communists, Fascists, and Nazis. By the end of 1939, it had evolved into wartime hysteria.



1. Key personalities
Charles J. Hexamer (1862-1921). An American-born son of a Forty-Eighter was an engineer from Philadelphia. He founded the National German-American Alliance in 1901 and served as its first president. Hexamer was an apologist for Wilhelmine Germany and a blunt critic of U.S. foreign policy, but nevertheless a proud American.
George Sylvester Viereck (1884-1962). Born in Germany, he came to the U.S. while in his teens and was a student at the City College of New York. A promising young poet in both German and English, he became a pro-German propagandist at the time of World War I. His weekly magazine, The Fatherland, eloquently argued the German point of view in English. He was imprisoned from 1943 to 1947 as an enemy agent.
Hugo Muensterberg (1863-1916). A German-born professor of psychology at Harvard, he was a pioneer in applied psychology. A prolific scholar, Muensterberg wrote for popular magazines as well as learned journals, thus becoming a national celebrity. But he found himself shunned and denounced when he emerged as a pro-German apologist following the outbreak of World War I. He collapsed and died while teaching a class at Radcliffe College.
Victor Berger (1860-1929). Austrian-born Socialist in Milwaukee. After editing a German-language newspaper he later became editor of the English-language Milwaukee Leader. Berger served in Congress from 1911 to 1913, the first Socialist to hold a congressional seat. He condemned American entrance into World War I. He was reelected to Congress in 1919 but was denied his seat in the House. Subsequently Berger was elected again and was a congressman from 1923 to 1929.

Anti-German Hysteria during WWI

When most Americans and West Europeans living today think of book burning, they think of May 20, 1933 in Berlin. Because it was filmed, the book burning has become part of every documentary about the Nazis. However, there were other book burnings that were not filmed. They happened not in Berlin, Germany, but in American cities from Cincinnati, Ohio to Lewistown, Montana. The German books were not fired by Nazis, but by patriotic Americans. The year was not 1933, but 1917 during World War I when the Constitution was temporarily shelved. Vigilantism was in, Constitutional rights were out. Loyalty to the flag and the English language were paramount.
Prior to and following America’s entry into the First World War, German Americans in many states became subject to ridicule, ostracism, and occasionally violent attacks. They were denied their civil and constitutional rights. Anything German was anathema. The names of streets and cities were changed from German to English. The teaching of German was halted in public schools. The citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, lost no time after war was declared. The city government changed the names of 13 German streets; the Board of Education halted the teaching of the German language, and the public library removed German books and periodicals from its shelves. These things were accomplished only three days after the declaration of war on the Central Powers on April 6, 1917.
Even colleges and universities succumbed to the pressure and discontinued teaching German. Patriotic groups got to the New York Metropolitan Opera Company; its German repertoire was replaced with Italian and French works. It became downright foolish to speak German in public. In places it became unlawful to speak German.  More

German American Internees in the United States during WWII
by Karen E. Ebel

Time Line

1918 Codification of Alien Enemy Act of 1798, 50 U.S.C 21-24, permitting apprehension and internment of aliens of “enemy ancestry” by U.S. government upon declaration of war or threat of invasion. The President is given blanket authority as to “enemy alien” treatment. Civil liberties may be completely ignored because enemy aliens have no protection under this 202- year-old law. Government oppression is likely during wartime.

1939-1941 Various governmental bodies, such as the FBI, special intelligence agencies of the Justice Department, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Army’s Military Intelligence Division compile lists of dangerous “enemy aliens” and citizens, including the FBI’s Custodial Detention Index (the “CDI”).

1940 The census includes specific listings and location of persons based on their ethnicity, which may have assisted the U.S. Government in later identification of “suspect” individuals of “enemy ancestry.”

1940 Alien Registration Act of 1940 passed requiring all aliens 14 and older to register with the U.S. government.

Dec. 7, 1941 Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Pursuant to the Alien Enemy Act of 1798, Roosevelt issued identical Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526 and 2527 branding German, Italian and Japanese nationals as enemy aliens, authorizing internment and travel and property ownership restrictions. A blanket presidential warrant authorized U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle to have the FBI arrest a large number of “dangerous enemy aliens” based on the CDI. Hundreds of German aliens were arrested by the end of the day. The FBI raids many homes and hundreds more are detained before war even declared on Germany.



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