Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Century of Melting Pot Frictions, Part Two

Part of a series exploring the prejudice each new immigrant group encountered when they arrived in this country.
New Immigrants

Just as the Irish were reviled during the 1850s, new groups from Europe were reviled during the early 1900s. In 1904, Rev. Joel S. Ives of Hartford preached against immigration ("Connecticut's Immigrant Problem," Boston Evening Transcript, 23 March 1904), declaring that the problem wasn't the large number of immigrants arriving from Europe, but the poor character of the immigrants. He claimed "I have seen no foreign country with worse appearing settlements of foreigners" than what he saw in New Haven. Ives targeted Catholics Italians and Poles, and Russian Jews.


During World War I, German immigrants, no matter how respectable they were, no matter how loyal they might be to the United States, were treated as likely enemies. Instead of being called German immigrants, or foreigners, they were called enemy aliens.

At the start of World War I, the U.S. government required all German immigrants to register as aliens, on the grounds that they might be spies for Germany. There were approximately 480,000 German Americans in the country at the time. In Waterbury, as well as in New Haven, Bridgeport, and Torrington, bureaus were opened for registering German immigrants. School teachers were asked to help identify and register German immigrants. They were photographed and documented by the U.S. District Attorney. No German immigrant could travel outside their town without a special permit. Approximately 4,000 Germans nationwide were arrested and interred during World War I, on suspicion of being spies.

Meriden Weekly Register, 10 May 1917

On November 21, 1917, Max Taschenberger, editor and publisher of a Waterbury German-language newspaper called the Waterbury Beobachter (Waterbury Observer), was arrested and charged with mailing copies of a foreign-language newspaper without filing an English translation with the postmaster (suggesting that the newspaper was printing radical content). Taschenberger was no random radical pamphleteer, as the news coverage of his arrest implied. He was a respected Connecticut newspaper publisher. The Beobachter began publication in 1900, was the only German language paper in Western Connecticut for many years, and was highly regarded by the German immigrant community. Anti-German fears, fanned by the war in Europe, led the public to suspect a respectable, cosmopolitan, and non-political newspaper publisher of subversive activity. In January of 1918, Taschenberger suspended publication of his newspaper fur the duration of the war, commenting that "times will be worse for everything German before they are better." ("Waterbury German Newspaper Decides to Suspend Publication," Hartford Courant, 4 January 1918).

Albert Schmidt, who worked as a cook at the Hotel Elton in Waterbury, was arrested in Hartford in December 1917. As a German immigrant, he was officially an "enemy alien" and was required to have a permit to travel out of town.

The Day, 29 December 1917

Otto Graff, a German immigrant living in Waterville, was arrested in 1918 for violating his enemy alien permit ("Waterbury German Arrested," Hartford Courant, 5 March 1918). His crime? He left the boundaries of Waterville to go into Waterbury.

A Polish immigrant, Joseph Zandrowski (or Zajranczny), was arrested for saying that "only foreign-born American soldiers were sent into a battle" while the rest "stayed at the rear and played baseball." (Hartford Courant, 28 July 1918). He was charged with being a German propagandist,  because he attempted to speak out about a perceived injustice.

Anti-German hysteria during World War I led the Waterbury Board of Education to ban any books depicting the German Kaiser and any books promoting a positive image of the German people ("Books Banned from Waterbury Schools," Hartford Courant, 23 March 1918). This was a dramatic shift from four years earlier, at the start of the war, when prominent German immigrants in Waterbury proudly spoke of their heritage and ties to Germany, including former Alderman W. P. Loeffler, Alderman Peter Hock, Henry Weyand, President of the Merchants Trust Company, Hans Saro, Director of the Concordia Singing Society, and many others. Turnverein clubs, German social and athletic groups, flourished in the decades prior to World War I. After the war, they all but vanished.

Henry Weyand, illustration from The Bankers Magazine, 1911

Even Waterbury's Italian immigrants joined the anti-German bandwagon. In March, 1918, the members of Loggia Regina Elena No. 222, Order Sons of Italy in Waterbury, issued a declaration that they would boycott all goods made in Germany and Austria, stating that "To buy Austrian or German products means to help said nations to pay their war debts, and not one penny of the Italians, from now on, shall ever be employed to pay for the ammunition which has killed their brothers."

Part One: Irish Immigrants 

Part Two: German Immigrants

Part Three: Italian Immigrants

Part Four: Russian Immigrants

Part Five: Chinese and Japanese Immigrants

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