Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War

By Christopher M. Sterba | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Melting Pot Goes to War

Private Abraham Krotoshinsky was in serious trouble on the night of October 7, 1918. A member of the famous “Lost Battalion” surrounded in the Argonne Forest, Krotoshinsky had made his way through enemy positions in a desperate attempt to find relief for his starving and casualtyridden unit. By sprinting through machine-gun fire, inching along flat on his stomach, and even pretending to be a corpse, he had eluded capture for more than ten hours.“Then my real trouble began,” he recalled, as he neared American trenches.“I was coming from the German lines and my English is none too good. I was afraid they would shoot me for a German before I could explain who I was.” Deciding to call out “hello” several times, “since [the enemy] never used that expression when he tried to talk English,” the young Polish Jew was able to convince nearby doughboys that he too was a U.S. soldier. Despite the fact that he had gone through the same process of training and combat duty as his American-born comrades, his eastern European background nearly cost him his life. 1

The image of Krotoshinsky caught in the middle of No Man's Land suggests both the extent and the limits of the Great War as an acculturating experience for millions of southern and eastern European immigrants in the United States. These “New Immigrants,” as they were popularly known, arrived in America between the 1880s and the outbreak of the World War in 1914. Among them were approximately 6 million Italians and eastern European Jews, who, compelled by poverty at home and lured by the tremendous industrial growth of the United States, left the social and economic turmoil of their home countries. The poverty and exploitation they endured in America are well documented. So are the bigotry and nativism they confronted, which considered them incapable of assimilating the culture and mores of the United States. To much of the native born public, these newcomers were much less desirable than the British, Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants of the so-called Old Immigration from northern and

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Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents *
  • Good Americans *
  • Introduction - The Melting Pot Goes to War 3
  • 1 - The Heyday of the New Immigrant Enclave 9
  • I - Your Country Needs You 31
  • 2 - Raising Volunteers and the Italian Response in New Haven 34
  • 3 - The Draft and New York Jewry 53
  • II - Training the New Immigrant Soldier 83
  • 4 - Being Italian in the Yankee Division 86
  • 5 - Being Jewish in the National Army 105
  • III - The Home Front 131
  • 6 - More Than Ever, We Feel Proud to Be Italians 133
  • 7 - New York Jewry Must Do Its Duty 153
  • 8 - Survival and Victory on the Western Front 175
  • Epilogue - A New Voice in Politics 202
  • Notes 213
  • Selected Bibliography 251
  • Index 265
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