World War I: When Wurst Came to Worst

(The following post is by Jennifer Gavin, senior public affairs specialist at the Library of Congress.)

In the United States, a century ago, there were more than 8 million citizens of German origin or with German ancestry – the largest single group among those of foreign birth or ancestry, but still less than 10 percent of the total U.S. population of over 102 million. Like other immigrant groups, they were scattered all over the country, with concentrations in many big cities, and like other immigrant groups, they “had their ups and downs” as they interacted with neighbors of different backgrounds.

Destroy this mad brute Enlist - U.S. Army. Prints and Photographs Division.

Destroy this mad brute Enlist – U.S. Army. Prints and Photographs Division.

One of the bigger “downs” followed the opening of World War I (the art of that war is the subject of a current Library of Congress exhibition). It was a German war of aggression, and much U.S. public sentiment turned against Germany and Germans, even as then-President Woodrow Wilson tried to keep the U.S. out of the war. This reached a fever pitch with the German U-boat sinking of the British luxury liner “Lusitania,” causing the loss of 1,198 lives including those of 123 Americans. The public – both in England and the U.S. – was shocked that the German war machine would torpedo a passenger ship rather than sticking to warships or merchant-marine vessels.

When that sentiment turned, and particularly after the U.S. got into WWI, it suddenly became difficult to be German. Schools stopped offering classes in the language, once common. Music by German composers such as Mendelssohn and Wagner ceased to be performed. Many Americans with German surnames anglicized them. There were even efforts to rename foods of German origin – sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage,” for example.

The anti-German feeling increased stateside, where former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt denounced “hyphenated Americans,” meaning German-Americans and Irish-Americans, the two largest groups of immigrants in the country. President Wilson shared that view, saying “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.”3g11355r

Many German-Americans proved their loyalty by joining U.S. military service and fighting “the Huns” in Europe. Among them was my grandfather, Phil Oberhauser. He was a corporal in the U.S. Army in France during the American engagement there, seeing service in the battles of Chateau Thierry, Verdun, and the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. He was mustard-gassed and suffered from problems with his lungs and teeth for the rest of his life. But he made it out alive, became a traveling paper-products salesman and married a girl who first approached him on roller-skates. She was working at a telegraph office in Omaha – an office so large the staff skated from the telegraph operators on one end of the building to the public counters at the other.

Albert Einstein, Washington, D.C. Prints and Photographs Division.

Albert Einstein, Washington, D.C. Prints and Photographs Division.

After the war ended, anti-German sentiment settled down, until the return of German militarism under Hitler. However, Germans fleeing the Third Reich were welcomed into the U.S., and many became celebrated (if sometimes controversial) new U.S. citizens, including many scientists – physicist Albert Einstein, rocket scientist Werner von Braun and chemists Otto Loewi and Max Bergmann – and other celebrated artists and intellectuals.

World War I Centennial, 2017-2018: With the most comprehensive collection of multi-format World War I holdings in the nation, the Library of Congress is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about The Great War including exhibits, symposia and book talks.

Pic of the Week: Final Projects

On Wednesday, the Library of Congress Junior Fellows Summer Interns presented more than 100 rare and unique items from 17 Library divisions. The display provided the opportunity for fellows to discuss the historic significance of the collection items they have researched and processed during their 10-week internships. Some highlights included: an Olmec ceramic figurine (900-1200 […]

Pic of the Week: Teacher Institutes

(The following was written by Stephen Wesson, Educational Resource Specialist at the Library of Congress.) This June and July, teachers and school librarians from more than 40 states have gathered in Washington for the Library of Congress Summer Teacher Institutes. These intensive, week-long professional development sessions, which are organized by the Library’s Educational Outreach division, […]

Pic of the Week: Familiar Faces on Display in Atlanta

The following is a guest post by Lisa A. Taylor, Liaison Specialist for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP). One of the many joys of working at the Veterans History Project is discovering all of the out-of-the-box ways researchers find to use the collections. VHP’s congressional mandate is to collect, preserve and make […]

Pic of the Week: Country Crooners

The Country Music Association and Library of Congress Music Division joined forces again to bring the CMA Songwriters Series to the Library’s historic Coolidge Auditorium. This year’s concert featured Kristian Bush of the hit country duo Sugarland, along with Jim Collins and Charlie Worsham. Launched in 2005 at Joe’s Pub in New York City, the CMA Songwriters Series gives […]

Pic of the Read: America Reads

“America Reads,” which opened yesterday in the Southwest Gallery of the Jefferson Building, is possibly the first sequel exhibition at the Library of Congress. It follows the institution’s popular 2012 exhibition “Books That Shaped America,” which displayed 88 books by American authors “that had a profound effect on American life.” For this exhibition, the books were chosen […]

Diversity of the American Library

(The following is a story from the May/June 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.) Inspired by the nation’s long history of photographic survey projects, photographer Robert Dawson decided to focus his camera on America’s public libraries at the turn of the 21st century. “Since […]

Pic of the Week: Eskin Lecture Recognizes Military Service

Dr. Jill Biden joined young-adult author Michael Grant and two female combat soldiers in conversation, comparing and contrasting real and imagined events in World War II with 21st-century combat and military life, in the Library of Congress’ annual Jonah Solkoff Eskin Memorial program on Monday. Monday was also the 72nd anniversary of WWII’s D-Day landing […]

Library in the News: May 2016 Edition

The month of May saw the Library of Congress in a variety of headlines. In April, the Library announced that THOMAS.gov, the online legislative information system, will officially retire July 5, completing the multi-year transition to Congress.gov. David Gewirtz for ZDNet Government wrote, “You have to wonder what Thomas Jefferson would have made of the […]

Pic of the Week: Welcome to the Class

Thirty-eight undergraduate and graduate students convened on the Library this week to participate in the Library’s 2016 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program. Nearly 800 applicants vied for a spot in the program. This year’s group hails from 20 states, the District of Columbia and the African country of Chad. For the next 10 weeks, the students will be […]