Sankt Raphaels Verein and German-Catholic Emigration to Canada from 1919 to 1939

Article excerpt

By the 1860's members of the Catholic Church administration had observed German emigrants suffering in domestic harbors and paying exorbitant prices for basic goods. They became concerned about the health and welfare of these emigrants culminating in 1871 with the founding of Sankt Raphaels Verein zum Schutze katholischer deutscher Auswanderer (Saint Raphael's Society for the Protection of German-Catholic Emigrants-SRS). By the end of World War I this organization was firmly established in Germany. It played a role in the emigration movement in an advising and humanitarian capacity throughout the interwar time period. The SRS's goals were to provide a network of support and shelter in Germany's harbors for emigrants and to negotiate conditions of emigration between government officials, churches, and shipping companies. Most important were the contacts established overseas within foreign ports and the intended destinations abroad. This article will trace the observations and actions of the SRS within German immigration to Canada between the two World Wars; emphasis will be focused on the pre-Nazi time period. German emigration to other countries, German settlements, and emigration that occurred prior to World War I are not topics within this work.' This paper was written due to the lack of research on church-led organizations within German emigration history. Although the efforts of the Protestant church have been studied, specifically Dr. Hermann Wagner's work on behalf of the Lutheran Immigration Board (LIB) by Ulrike Treplin and Jonathan Wagner, the Catholic Church's labors on behalf of German-Catholics immigrating to Canada appears to be forgotten within the annals of history.2 After World War I the German government was so impressed with the support that German Catholics received, that some authorities remarked that the centralized efforts taken by the SRS was a role model for Protestant organizations to imitate in all emigration matters.3

Canadian immigration policy after World War I was geared to the needs of Canada as viewed by the federal authorities and was intended to increase the prosperity of the country.4 In the wake of the war German emigration to Canada was officially forbidden. However, by January, 1923, Germans wanting to emigrate were considered if relatives in Canada were farmers and ready to employ family members. On April 7,1923, by Order-in-Council the Canadian government eased restrictions against German nationals, allowing the entry of German bona-fide farmers, farm laborers, wife or children under eighteen years of age, and female domestic servants. However, Germany was still classified as a non-preferred country of immigration.5 The lands of preferred immigrants were countries deemed easily assimilated to Canadian life such as the United States or Great Britain with the non-preferred countries being the lands of central and eastern Europe.6 On November 15, 1925, the Canadian Railway Agreement was enacted, which allowed a united immigration effort in Europe. This agreement combined the influence and propaganda of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and the Canadian government. The immigration standards of the Canadian authorities remained unchanged, but European emigrants were now to be examined in Europe prior to departure. With the enactment of this agreement railway companies were authorized to recruit legitimate agriculturalists. This definition was open to interpretation by the railway officials. It did not take long for the terms "preferred" and "non-preferred" immigrants to become blurred, influencing the Canadian government to alter some of its immigration legislation. This resulted in restrictions on German emigrants wishing to enter Canada being lifted on January 8,1927.7 Germans were now classified as preferred immigrants and were under normal immigration requirements such as guaranteed employment or sufficient funds to support themselves until they found employment. Through this agreement 185,000 immigrants were allowed to immigrate to Canada. …

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