Nach Amerika: Die Geschichte der Deutschen Auswanderung

By Bahr, Ehrhard | Shofar, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Nach Amerika: Die Geschichte der Deutschen Auswanderung


Bahr, Ehrhard, Shofar


Nach Amerika: Die Geschichte der deutschen Auswanderung, by Bernd Brunner. Becksche Reihe. Munich: Beck, 2009. 253 pp. euro12.95.

This is not a scholarly book, but a brief survey of the history of German immigration to the United States for the general reader. The author is known for his book Bears: A Brief History (Yale University Press, 2007) that was praised as "a little gem" by the New York Times in 2007. The first German-speaking group to come to America in 1683 was thirteen Quaker families from the city of Krefeld under the leadership of Franz Daniel Pastorius. They had been invited by William Penn and were the founders of Germantown in Pennsylvania. While seventeenth-century German immigration consisted mostly of Christian sects seeking freedom of religion, the motivation changed during the eighteenth century, when economic forces such as bad harvests, starvation, and lack of land became the prime reason. During the nineteenth century, it was politics that was the major factor of emigration: the failure of the 1848 revolution in Europe, the discrimination against Jews in many of the German principalities, and military conscription. By 1914, seven million Germans had left for the United States.

The author follows this chronology, including the history of Germanspeaking immigration after World Wars I and II, but he has also chapters that transcend the chronology, such as German perceptions of Americans and vice versa, immigrants and slavery, contact with other ethnic groups, and the growth and decline of the German language in the United States. A special chapter is devoted to the situation of German Jewish immigrants during the nineteenth century, but there is none for the twentieth century. The mass exodus of 150,000 German-speaking Jews due to Nazi persecution is presented under the chapter heading of "The American Exile." This title is misleading because they were immigrants and not exiles who wanted to return to Germany after World War II.

The statistics for German immigration during the 1950s were 580,000, for the 1960s 210,000, and for the 1970s 65,000. West German authorities have tried to combat the "brain drain" and persuade young scientists who emigrated to the U.S. to return.

The best chapters are on the early immigration, while the modern period shows some omissions and basic misunderstandings. …

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