The true spirit of the German people : German-Americans and national socialism, 1919-1955 / by Gregory J. Kupsky
Includes bibliographical references (p. 247-265)
Historians generally assume that the assimilative process was complete for German-Americans by 1930. This assumption, while generally valid, has precluded study of ethnic societies that operated in subsequent years, as Nazism created a new crisis in U.S.-German relations. The purpose of this dissertation is to fill that void by examining a range of German-American organizations and individuals who aspired to ethnic leadership in the interwar and post-World War II periods. It broadens our understanding of how ethnic institutions retained vitality and influence in a period when German-Americans as a whole were entering the mainstream of American society. This study shows that German-American organizations across a broad ideological spectrum saw the controversy over Nazism as a chance to reassert themselves in the public sphere and advance existing goals. At the same time, it shows that the political environment of the 1930s and 1940s necessitated a new understanding of ethnicity. The most successful institutions aligned themselves with the “conformist nationalism” of the era, as European ethnicities operated within state-sanctioned limits, celebrating both Americanism and whiteness. Finally, investigation reveals a considerable degree of negotiation in this process. The U.S. government, too, faced constraints as it promoted a celebration of American pluralism in wartime. It needed to display a loyal German America, a fact that many individuals and organizations used to their advantage. The dissertation comprises six cases. The first two deal with leaders who had espoused German ethnic nationalism during the First World War. The rise of Nazism created a divergence between them, as German-American Jews faced rejection by the Reich and began to distinguish between the German nation and the German state. Other nationalists, such as George Sylvester Viereck, stubbornly adhered to an existing model of German chauvinism through the 1930s. Viereck faced federal prosecution for working as a Nazi propagandist, becoming a popular symbol of disloyalty. Two cases deal with established German-American elites who sought a balance between enthusiasm for the “New Germany” and detachment from what they saw as its excesses. The aggressive Steuben Society cultivated ties to the Reich to establish its ethnic leadership, but retreated into a hyper-patriotic stance when these activities became a liability. Victor Ridder, publisher of the New Yorkers Staats-Zeitung, the nation's largest German newspaper, cultivated a constituency of both pro- and anti-Nazis. His equivocations and his dealings with Germany brought him under suspicion, but his prominence protected him from punishment. Groups on the German-American political left had consistently opposed Nazism, earning them greater credibility by the outbreak of the Second World War. German socialists used this position to forge links with the exiled Social Democratic Party and to advocate for a “soft peace” after the war. Finally, the Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation took an ostensibly apolitical stance, calling for the preservation of “pre-Hitler” German culture. Because it tied its programming tightly to American ideals—and American interests—it acquired a useful alliance with the state that lasted into the early Cold War.
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