Anti-German sentiment in post-WW I America was raw enough that mobs burned German books, films, even the odd German-owned retail store. I do not know how widespread this practice was during that period, but some German families decided to Anglicize their surnames to escape possible retaliation.
That said, I don’t remember reading anything of the sort in post WW II America, despite Germany having inflicted far more casualties on the U.S. than in WW I.
Since racism was alive and well in circa 1945 America, had the Nuremberg Trials served as an effective catharsis or what other mechanism might explain the incongruity? Could America have been in a more forgiving mood after WW II, having (dubiously) learned the lessons of WW I?
Actually, anti-German sentiment may–or may not–have been as pronounced after WW II as in WW I, but I don’t recall reading about widespread retaliation against German-Americans during this period. Not so after WW I.
There was a fair amount of anti-German sentiment after World War II. Growing up in the 1950s, when the boys played war, the enemy was not the Russians but the Germans, as they had heard their fathers talk about fighting.
But what moderated it was a strong sense that the German people themselves were guilty only of having let the Nazis take control – that it was the Nazi leadership and their lackeys, which we’d tried and locked up if they weren’t already dead, not the Germans themselves, who were responsible. Adenauer and later Brandt were regarded as a renascence of basically decent Germany returning to its proper place. The anti-Nazi pastors who were killed in the war were made much of.
According to the the 2000 U.S. Census, German Americans are the largest self-reported ethnic group in the United States, numbering almost 43 million. That’s 1 in 6 Americans. (I grew up in America’s most German city, Milwaukee, where it seemed half the white people had German surnames.)
Followed by Irish Americans (30.5 million) and African Americans (24.9 million).
Another factor, I think, was that the bloom was pretty well off the rose of the Soviet-US alliance by the time the war ended. Patton was hardly the only one who thought that our best course of action would be to join with what was left of the Wehrmacht and push the Godless Commies out of western Europe. This was balanced, of course, by the strong “war’s over, bring 'em home!” sentiment.
Looking over some old newspapers my parents saved from around the time I was born (1947), my impression is that the US wanted to return to the relative isolation that followed WWI, but realized that its status as a superpower didn’t allow that. Given the circumstances, a strong West Germany was seen as a bulwark against Communist aggression, so a less-vengeful attitude toward Germany (and Germans) was a logical consequence.
First, I think there was much less anti-German action after WWI than the OP suggests.
But what there was may be accounted for by the fact that most Germans in America were highly supportive of the Kaiser until the U.S. itself entered the war, and even afterward. The German community was one of the first major non-British ethnic groups but were much more recently and less assimilatedly immigrant at the time. While the U.S. was officially neutral for the first three years of the war, there were loud pro-English and pro-German factions. German atrocities were propagandized by the British, even if many of them had to be totally made up. By the time the Germans became the enemy they seemed like traitors and monsters.
There was also the odd but overlapping issue that Germans were heavily on the wet side of the temperance controversy - their stereotype as brewers wasn’t undeserved - and that put them at odds with the predominantly dry American heartland protestants.
By contrast, Germans were overshadowed by later ethnic immigrants by the time WWII rolled around and pro-Nazi sentiment was much less pronounced. The false propaganda against the Huns also made it much harder for anyone to believe the Nazi atrocities. The U.S. also conveniently had the Japs to bear the brunt of racist hatred rather than Germans who looked too much like everybody else.
WWI was pre-modern, and WWII was modern. That quarter-century made an amazing difference in history.
That’s a valid distinction, although I’ve read of a post-WW I spillover.
Interesting passage from Wikipedia, which addresses wartime sentiment:
"Upon the outbreak of World War I, anti-German sentiment quickly reached a fever pitch. Many Germans supported their (former) homeland’s side in the war, in which America long remained officially neutral. The portrayal of Germany as “The Hun” in British pro-war propaganda inflamed existing tensions. The situation came to a crisis with America’s entry into the war in 1917. The period from 1917 to 1919 is regarded as the time when German-American ethnic identity came to an end. Anti-German rioting was widespread. Most German-language periodicals, which had numbered in the hundreds, ceased operation (many were destroyed). However, there are cases of towns where the residents spoke German on a daily basis and the local newspaper was in German at least as late as the 1950s. These towns were primarily in the Midwestern region of the United States. Many German-Americans translated their names or altered them to resemble English names (a trend which had begun in the 19th century, eg. Gustave Whitehead). By the time the US troops returned from Europe, the German community had ceased to be a major force in American culture, or was no more perceived as German (see Groucho Marx).
Today, many argue that the Germans are the one ethnic group that has been assimilated into American society. Largely for this reason, although some persecution of ethnic Germans did occur during World War II, it was not widespread. Most of the German-American population no longer identified themselves as German, nor were they identified with the Nazis in the popular mind. Despite this, the US government interned as dangerous nearly 11,000 persons of German ancestry. Only enemy aliens were supposed to be interned, but family members, many of them American citizens, often joined them in the camps."
Mods: I hope that passage isn’t too long.
I agree with this. In 1917, Germans were considered to be strange, ethnic, recent immigrants. Many still spoke German. They had direct ties to the Old Country. They were Catholic or Lutheran, rather than Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist. They drank lots of beer, in bars and beer gardens where they associated with other Germans.
All of this was outside the mainstream, and somewhat threatening, in 1917.
It wasn’t so much that German-Americans were considered strange recent immigrants during World War I. They weren’t recent, since largely they had arrived by the middle nineteenth century. They weren’t rare. Already by World War I Germans were the largest ethnic group in the U.S. It was more that they were often considered unassimilated. Before World War I, it was much more common for all ethnic groups to remain largely unassimilated. It was much more common to have neighborhoods and towns with heavy concentrations of one ethnic group. It was much more common for them to keep to themselves and run their own social events. It was much more common to speak their own language at home.
A lot of Irish-Americans were also reluctant for the U.S. to get into World War I. In those days, before Irish independence, many of them didn’t like the idea of getting into a war where we were defending the British. Since the Irish were and are the second largest ethnic group in the U.S., this means that there were a lot of Americans who didn’t want the U.S. to get into the war.
There was a little bit of resentment of German-Americans during World War II too. Roosevelt went out of his way to see that many high-level American officers were of German descent, and this may be part of why Eisenhower was the highest-ranking general. On a lower level, my father (whose name, like mine, is Wendell Wagner) told me that in World War II his Marine buddies nicknamed him “Von.” This sort of pseudo-funny, heavy-handed ethnic joshing was apparently typical in World War II.
This is not true. Peak German immigration was between 1870 and 1900. Although there were Germans who immigrated before 1850, their numbers were far exceeded by those who came after that date.
Cite: http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/KADE/adams/chap1.html (see the bar chart)