Transnational encounters with "Amerika" : German Jewish refugees' identity formation in Berlin and Shanghai, 1939-1949 / by Susanne Wiedemann.
This dissertation employs an American Studies trajectory to examine the exile and emigration experience of approximately 18,000 Jews who escaped from Germany via Shanghai to the United States in the late 1930s and 1940s. At the center of my dissertation is the construction and reconstruction of ethnic and national identities within drastically changing circumstances and geographies. Describing an exile and emigration experience from the midst of Western civilization to the new world via the Middle Kingdom, this study disrupts conventional notions of East and West, center and periphery, and of the assumed one-directional mobility between the two. Spanning three continents and transcending as many culture zones and language borders, the triangular exile and emigration experience of German Jews questions the seemingly fixed categories of national identity, cultural belonging, and citizenship, and complicates the binary Europe-US immigration paradigm by linking it to a transitional exile experience in Asia. This dissertation thus situates national identity within an international context and expands the parameters of modern trans-Atlantic history into the trans-Pacific sphere.Approaching the subject from an American Studies perspective, I trace the transformation of "Amerika" from an abstract image and idea among German Jews through its alteration by the concrete influences of American popular culture and American military presence in Shanghai to the arrival in San Francisco. I argue that various direct and indirect encounters and exchanges with "America" in Berlin and Shanghai initiated the German Jewish emigrants into American culture before they arrived in the United States after World War II, and thus that the formation of the American diasporic community was already in the making before the refugees reached American shores. I argue that Shanghai provided a "testing ground" for cultural change under difficult conditions, and that it served as an arena for preparing the final transition to the United States. This study thus sheds light on the implications of displacement, exile, emigration, and Americanization for these refugees' individual and collective identities as Jews, former German nationals, Shanghailanders, and future Americans.
Record last modified: 2018-05-18 16:19:00
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