Race & Ethnicity PDF Print E-mail

Race and Ethnicity



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Abendpost, Dec. 31, 1914.



We, are of German blood and heritage, but we are also citizens of the United States. We call ourselves German‑Americans.

And every day we become more proud of this name. To us, the designation German‑America seems proper and fitting. Nothing else would do.  But other people do not agree with us. They deny us that right. They scoff at the implication of Germanism contained in the expression and call all us "hyphenated Americans," which is to say, Americans with a mental reservation, or "grade B" Americans. Others pretend not to know us when we call ourselves German‑Americans.  They say there ain't no such animal.  We are prone to regard people in the first category as our enemies, and the others‑‑? Well, the German Kaiser made this remark some years ago: "I don't know any German‑Americans. I only know Americans".  And Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, former German minister [cabinet member], member and at present Representative of the German Red Cross—one may even say, of the German people‑‑when stopping in Chicago recently, remarked during a conversation in which the expression German‑American was mentioned, "I don't know any  German‑Americans; to me they are Americans.  At best call themselves Americans either with a German inclination or of German extraction".

We don't mention this as a criticism of Mr. Drenburg or anybody else. We just want to elucidate our own position. Neither friend nor foe cares to recognize us as “German‑Americans,” but here we are just the same; and not merely since today or  yesterday, but for generations. And we know what we are and remain what we always have been. It is only that we have become stronger and lately have developed more confidence and influence. We hope to acquire still more confidence and influence.  And the name “German‑American" will stick, too if we wish to remain what we are. Because if we should drop the “German” which stands in front of the “American,” we would also lose our characteristic nature, just as if we, were to abandon our German native tongue. And that is what we would have to do, if we just called ourselves Americans. Maybe we should, considering that even representatives of the German people speaking at a “German‑American" meeting, feel called upon to speak nothing but English, because they are guests of this nation. If hospitality granted to a guest obliges him to speak the language of the land, how much more so does the citizenship to which we were admitted?

Even this is not meant to be a reproach or a complaint. It merely explains the situation in which we find ourselves, and points to the difficulties which we have to overcome in order to preserve our ways and habits, and at the same time be regarded as good citizens, who intend to have greater influence in politics and the social development of our country than heretofore. This is what we want. It is our main objective. And in spite of the precariousness of our position we should be able to succeed by employing German courage and perseverance, efficiency and honesty, diligence and sincerity in words and actions, magnanimity and thoroughness in tackling all problems,  and, above all, unanimous determination!

These are the German character traits which people admire today, even though they don't admit it. These are the properties which already have secured a moral victory for our homeland over the enemy and which will be followed by a victory of arms if there is any justice in the world, and if mankind is to take progress instead of slipping back. Throughout our lives, in our speech and in our actions, we must express these [German] characteristics if we want to be successful in our efforts. That is why to retain “Germanism” along with our Americanism and earn the recognition and respect we are entitled to. It will not always be easy, but we must do it if we want to reach our goal. We believe in a final victory of the German arms, which will usher in a German era. But let us not delude ourselves by believing that we could participate in the harvest without having done our share. We have to do our part to gain respect and influence, otherwise, if the German Era should arrive, we would still be regarded as “hyphenated Americans” or at best, as “Americans of German descent.”

What to do? Our duty will be to prove ourselves model citizens; to fulfill diligently all duties and obligations of citizenship, and above all, to exercise our franchise at all times to our best knowledge and ability in order to take part in politics and maintain interest in all the great problems that confront our country. By demonstrating that we make the best citizens, we can command recognition and influence.

We German Americans




Sonntagpost (Sunday Edition of Abendpost),
Sept. 1, 1918.


From a special cable dispatch to the Chicago Tribune, with the date line:  “With the American Armies in France, August 29,”...[we learn that] Chris Nehmer of Ontonagon, Michigan, said to a group of (German) prisoners:  “Folks at home advised me to change my name, but my fighting here proves that isn’t necessary, because […] makes my Americanism clearly evident.”

An officer, replying to the question as to why the Americans were so active (at this particular sector of the front), said: “Forty-one percent of this division is of German descent.  All are volunteers.  Now draw your own  conclusions.”

What can this conclusion be?  What does it prove?  Nothing else but this:  This particular division fought so actively and courageously because it consisted –- to the amount of forty-one percent –- of men who were animated not only by a desire common to all American soldiers, but also by two special objectives which are peculiar to them, namely:  to give the lie to the foolish gossip that Americans of German blood should not and would not fight against the Germans—their blood relatives—and to prove by their actions that German blood is also keeping faith with America and is willing to do its duty.  Furthermore, [they wanted] to contribute everything possible to overthrow the German military autocracy and to see to it that the German people get what is theirs by right, by carrying the Stars and Strips-–the flag of righteous democracy--forward to victory.

In other words:  The special bravery in combat of American soldiers of German origin can be traced to the fact that their love for their people and their county, together with the loyalty of the true American, is coupled with their love for the German people.  Their earnest desire is to expose any expression of doubt as to the loyalty of American of German origin as an infamous slander, to secure for the German people a speedy liberation from an unworthy rule, and to secure for all progressive nations the right of self-determination.

For us, the most important fact is that the conduct of “our boys” proves conclusively that men of German origin are as willing to fight against their own blood for the maintenance and advancement of a great ideal as for the maintenance of the dynasties of the high and mighty despots at whose command Germans have fought for centuries.

The soil of Germany (and of neighboring countries) has been drenched with German blood, shed by Germans in the interests, and at the commands, of their masters.  That, in spite of this fact, it was claimed, here and there, that it was a great injustice to ask Americans of German origin to fight against German soldiers, is a mistake that can only be explained …[remainder of article missing]

Question and Activity


Compare and/or contrast how two different ethnic groups felt about their Americanization.  How do the two articles use specific stories, word choice, and persuasive techniques to show the groups’ feelings?  (Consider using La Lucha arnd Magyar Tribune, or the two Abendpost articles.)

Use specific articles to draw connections between how an ethnic groups feelings (positively or negatively) about their own nationality can be impacted by world, national, or local events.  This could probably work with many articles in the sourcebook, such as the two German articles, “We German-Americans” (1914) and “Change of Name?—Unnecessary!” (1918).  Write a personal narrative (journal, letter, etc.) describing from a personal point of view what it would feel like to be a German-American teenager living in Chicago during World War I.   Cite specific examples and real evidence based on knowledge gained in class combined with information from the FLPS articles.

“Becoming Americans in Chicago Reader” –Introduction

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