Tuesday, September 16, 2008

From Europe to North Dakota: North Dakota Germans. Part 1

Americans claim to have German heritage than any other national ancestry, according to the report for 2000 released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 43 million Americans — about 15% of respondents — listed German as their primary cultural heritage in 2000. The numbers highlight the strong sense of tradition among descendants of German immigrants who left their homeland to make a new life for their families in the United States.

Why they left
Many Germans were encouraged to immigrate through idealized depictions of life in the new world, like this illustration of happy farming life in Missouri.

By far the most Germans who immigrated to the United States left Germany in search of an improved standard of living. Religious freedom prompted many groups to immigrate, as did fear of compulsory service in the Prussian military. Today, it is impossible to quantify what motivated immigrants to set out for the new world, but it has been determined that knowledge about the American business cycles, wages, food prices, and standards of living were widely publicized in Germany beginning in the 18th century. Land and railroad companies as well, often overstated opportunities for settlers willing to try their hand in the colonies. Those who left in pursuit of their own land often did so to reject the rigidity of the German social structure in the authoritarian German states.

Both pious sects and state-recognized churches helped immigrants to the colonies, mostly in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Lutherans immigrated to evade the forced unification of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in 1839, while Catholics, stepped out of the power struggle towards the end of the 19th century between the church and the Prussian State incited by Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf.” Jews as well, fled social discrimination at several points in German history.

Political reasons were naturally tied to economic and reasons. The greatest wave of political asylum seekers left Germany in 1848 after the failed German Revolution. Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Law (1878-90) also motivated many activists to continue their class struggle in American metropoles. The last largest group of political refugees was made up of people persecuted by the Nazi Regime, primarily German and European Jews, Social Democrats, dissidents, and homosexuals.

But even more Germans left to pursue the “American Dream” of land ownership. Spurred on by an inheritance law which left many sons without income in southern Germany, many young Germans set out to the Midwest, where soil was fertile and space in abundance. By the end of the 19th century, most emigrants were unmarried industrial workers who came to the United States seeking seasonal work but never returned to Germany.



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