The Minnesota Umlaut Wär

In which soulless bureaucrats try to strip 'Little Sweden' of its proud Nordic heritage:

[T]here is a city in Minnesota that had been known as Lindström — or, if you saw the signs greeting you on the way in or out of town in recent years, Lindstrom.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation replaced the signs welcoming people a few years back. These signs are generally replaced every decade or so after the U.S. Census takes place, and after the last such survey, new signs were brought to Lindström.

The state transportation authority relies on federal guidelines that outline what it can put on signs, and these rules say signs must use only “standard English characters,” said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

“So when we replaced the sign, we didn’t put the umlaut in,” Gutknecht said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

And that was that for a few years, with little notice since the signs were first put into place in 2012, he says. However, a few days ago, the Star Tribune noted that some people in Lindström were — politely — wondering where the umlauts went.

“It’s a big deal to us,” John Olinger, the city administrator, told the newspaper. (Olinger did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.)

On Wednesday, the state’s governor put his foot down: The dots were coming back.

Gov. Mark Dayton (D) announced that he would be signing an executive order demanding that state transportation officials put the umlauts back on the roadway signs.

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” Dayton, who grew up in Long Lake, about an hour southwest of Lindström, said in a statement. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.

That probably won’t be necessary, according to the Department of Transportation.

“We will certainly add umlauts to the signs in Lindström,” Gutknecht said Wednesday. “We’ll probably get that done within the next few days. It’ll be a fairly simple process.”

Lindström calls itself “America’s Little Sweden” on the city’s official site and states that the city was founded in the mid-19th century by a Swedish immigrant. Its sister city is Tingsryd, an area in southern Sweden.

...“The Swedish heritage in the Lindström area and the rest of our state should be celebrated,” state Rep. Laurie Halverson, who grew up in the city, said in a statement. She added that Lindström is a tourist hub for international visitors.

I confess to tearing up just a little but when I read what Governor Dayton's promise.

 


The Economist on German-Americans

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The Economist gives us German-Americans some respect:

German-Americans are America’s largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m). In whole swathes of the northern United States, German-Americans outnumber any other group (see map). Some 41% of the people in Wisconsin are of Teutonic stock.

Yet despite their numbers, they are barely visible. Everyone knows that Michael Dukakis is Greek-American, the Kennedy clan hail from Ireland and Mario Cuomo was an Italian-American. Fewer notice that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Rand Paul, a senator from Kentucky with presidential ambitions, are of German origin.

...

German immigrants have flavoured American culture like cinnamon in an Apfelkuchen. They imported Christmas trees and Easter bunnies and gave America a taste for pretzels, hot dogs, bratwursts and sauerkraut. They built big Lutheran churches wherever they went. Germans in Wisconsin launched America’s first kindergarten and set up Turnvereine, or gymnastics clubs, in Milwaukee, Cincinnati and other cities.

After a failed revolution in Germany in 1848, disillusioned revolutionaries decamped to America and spread progressive ideas. “Germanism, socialism and beer makes Milwaukee different,” says John Gurda, a historian. Milwaukee is the only big American city that had Socialist mayors for several decades, of whom two, Emil Seidel and Frank Zeidler, were of German stock. As in so many other countries where Germans have settled, they have dominated the brewing trade. Beer barons such as Jacob Best, Joseph Schlitz, Frederick Pabst and Frederick Miller made Milwaukee the kind of city that more or less had to call its baseball team the Brewers.

Today German-Americans are quietly successful. Their median household income, at $61,500, is 18% above the national norm. They are more likely to have college degrees than other Americans, and less likely to be unemployed. A whopping 97% of them speak only English at home.

They have assimilated and prospered without any political help specially tailored for their ethnic group. “The Greeks and the Irish have a far stronger support network and lobby groups than we do,” says Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador in America. There was no German-American congressional caucus until 2010, though there were caucuses for potatoes, bicycles and Albanian affairs. The German caucus has quickly grown to about 100 members, who lobby for trade and investment as well as the preservation of their common cultural heritage.


New Documentary on Jens Soering

This is a new German documentary about Jens Soering, the German national who was convicted of a 1985 double-murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Virginia, where he still is. Here are two trailers, the first in German, the second in English.

Soering's case has a long and complex history. While in England, he fought extradition to the state of Virginia on the grounds that it would violate European human rights law for Britain to extradite Soering to Virginia to face the possibility of capital punishment. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in Soering v. UK. Virginia dropped its demand for the death penalty, Soering was returned, convicted, and now is in prison for life.

He initially confessed to the crime and fled the country. He now claims he's innocent of the crime, but I haven't really been convinced by anything I've read so far. The documentary looks intriguing, I'll post any thoughts as soon as I've seen it.

This is the first and last time I will ever put a trigger warning on this blog, but these videos contain brief shots of crime scene photos with mutilated human bodies, so be advised. 


Freude, Zucht, Glaube in the USA

As a proud owner of a copy of the official National Socialist guide to summer camping (Freude, Zucht, Glaube -- Joy, Discipline, Faith), I was intrigued by this film, recently restored by the National Archives of the USA:

The curator notes

I have one great party trick. Anytime someone asks me if I’ve ever come across something really cool while working in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab, I tell them about the time we had what looked like footage of a Boy Scout camp and then the Boy Scouts raised a Nazi flag along with the red, white, and blue. Without fail, I get the attention of anyone in within earshot. Then, I tell the assembled crowd that in the late 1930s the East Coast was home to many summer camps for the junior Nazis of America and the National Archives holds the film evidence. They might have been hoping that I would tell them about footage of the Roswell aliens, but the reaction to “American Nazi summer camps” is just about the same.

Volks-Deutsche Jungen in U.S.A. (German Youth in the U.S.A) you’ll see what first appears to be an unremarkable story of a boys’ summer camp. The film starts with the camp under construction and excited children piling onto chartered buses to make the journey from New York City to Windham, New York in the summer of 1937. The boys pitch tents, unload crates of baked beans, and perform physical fitness drills. If you pay close attention, you might notice that some of the boys are wearing shorts bearing the single lightning bolt insignia that marked the younger contingent of the Hitler Youth, but it’s not until the “Flaggenappell” (flag roll call) at 13:47 that the affiliation becomes clear.

...

Less well-known is that the DAB also operated as somewhat of a cultural indoctrination organization for German-American children, with activities that are depicted in several of the films we hold. The summer camps, complete with the official uniforms and banners of the Hitler Youth, might be the most visual and chilling example of the DAB’s attempts to instill Nazi sympathies in German-American children. Another film, intended to encourage boys to attend the camp, includes a perhaps unintentionally ominous intertitle that translates to “German boy you also belong to us.”


The Story of Germanic Ashkenazi Names

I occasionally encounter Germans who seem a bit shocked when I, or some other American, confidently assume that an American named 'Goldstein' or 'Feldman' or 'Rosenthal' is Jewish. (Generally, these are Germans who haven't spent much time in the USA). To them, these just seem like unusual German names, meaning the people who carry them could just as easily be Protestant or Catholic. I then explain that  -- all stereotyping aside, not that it matters, etc. etc. -- the chance that an American with one of these names isn't Jewish is vanishingly small.

That's because these are names were imposed on Ashkenazi Jewish communities by German-speaking bureaucrats in the 18th and 19th centuries. Over at Slate, Bennett Muraskin has an article on the eubject:

Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance).

These Jews then emigrated to the United States, carrying their names with them. For obvious reasons, very few Jews with these names are left in Germany. Muraskin provides a fairly exhaustive list of the names, many of which are instantly recognizable to any German-speaker. One of them many life-changing benefits of learning German is the ability to impress your Jewish -- and even Gentile! -- friends by telling them what their names mean. Muraskin provides a list, allowing you non-speakers to play yourself:

Ackerman — plowman; Baker/Boker — baker; Blecher — tinsmith; Fleisher/Fleishman/Katzoff/Metger — butcher; Cooperman — coppersmith; Drucker — printer; Einstein — mason; Farber — painter/dyer; Feinstein — jeweler; Fisher — fisherman; Forman — driver/teamster; Garber/Gerber — tanner; Glazer/Glass/Sklar — glazier; Goldstein — goldsmith; Graber — engraver; Kastner — cabinetmaker; Kunstler — artist; Kramer — storekeeper; Miller — miller; Nagler — nailmaker; Plotnick — carpenter; Sandler/Shuster — shoemaker; Schmidt/Kovalsky — blacksmith; Shnitzer — carver; Silverstein — jeweler; Spielman — player (musician?); Stein/Steiner/Stone — jeweler; Wasserman — water carrier.

Merchants

Garfinkel/Garfunkel — diamond dealer; Holzman/Holtz/Waldman — timber dealer; Kaufman — merchant; Rokeach — spice merchant; Salzman — salt merchant; Seid/Seidman—silk merchant; Tabachnik — snuff seller; Tuchman — cloth merchant; Wachsman — wax dealer; Wechsler/Halphan — money changer; Wollman — wool merchant; Zucker/Zuckerman — sugar merchant.

Related to tailoring

Kravitz/Portnoy/Schneider/Snyder — tailor; Nadelman/Nudelman — also tailor, but from "needle"; Sher/Sherman — also tailor, but from "scissors" or "shears"; Presser/Pressman — clothing presser; Futterman/Kirshner/Kushner/Peltz — furrier; Weber — weaver.

...

Alter/Alterman — old; Dreyfus—three legged, perhaps referring to someone who walked with a cane; Erlich — honest; Frum — devout ; Gottleib — God lover, perhaps referring to someone very devout; Geller/Gelber — yellow, perhaps referring to someone with blond hair; Gross/Grossman — big; Gruber — coarse or vulgar; Feifer/Pfeifer — whistler; Fried/Friedman—happy; Hoch/Hochman/Langer/Langerman — tall; Klein/Kleinman — small; Koenig — king, perhaps someone who was chosen as a “Purim King,” in reality a poor wretch; Krauss — curly, as in curly hair; Kurtz/Kurtzman — short; Reich/Reichman — rich; Reisser — giant; Roth/Rothman — red head; Roth/Rothbard — red beard; Shein/Schoen/Schoenman — pretty, handsome; Schwartz/Shwartzman/Charney — black hair or dark complexion; Scharf/Scharfman — sharp, i.e  intelligent; Stark — strong, from the Yiddish shtark ; Springer — lively person, from the Yiddish springen for jump.

When Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were required to assume last names, some chose the nicest ones they could think of and may have been charged a registration fee by the authorities. According to the YIVO Encyclopedia, "The resulting names often are associated with nature and beauty. It is very plausible that the choices were influenced by the general romantic tendencies of German culture at that time." These names include: Applebaum — apple tree; Birnbaum — pear tree; Buchsbaum — box tree; Kestenbaum — chestnut tree; Kirschenbaum — cherry tree; Mandelbaum — almond tree; Nussbaum — nut tree; Tannenbaum — fir tree; Teitelbaum — palm tree.

...

Other names, chosen or purchased, were combinations with these roots:Blumen (flower), Fein (fine), Gold, Green, Lowen (lion), Rosen (rose), Schoen/Schein (pretty) — combined with berg (hill or mountain), thal (valley), bloom (flower), zweig (wreath), blatt (leaf), vald or wald (woods), feld (field).

Miscellaneous other names included Diamond; Glick/Gluck — luck; Hoffman — hopeful; Fried/Friedman — happiness; Lieber/Lieberman — lover.


Gerhart Hauptmann Haus, the Other Ostalgie, and the Origins of Becherovka

I recently gave a seminar in the Gerhart Hauptmann House in Düsseldorf (on a subject totally unrelated to him). The whole place seemed to be a kind of shrine to the former German populations in Eastern Europe, who were unceremoniously yet understandably kicked out of Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations in the wake of World War II. This was the fate the befell Hauptmann (g), a German writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1912, himself. In fact the Hauptmann Haus in Düsseldorf is also the headquarters of the Bund der Vertriebenen for Northern Rhine - Westphalia (g). For those of you who don't know, this 'League of the Expelled' represents the interests of those millions of ethnic Germans who were expelled from historical areas of German settlement (as well as areas conquered and brutally occupied by the Nazis) east of the Oder/Neisse river, which was roughly the Eastern border of East Germany.

Somewhere between 12 and 16 million Germans were expelled from the East immediately after the war:

Vertreibung

The expulsion was often brutal, accompanied by abuse and massacres, and most of the expellees were forced to leave their land and possessions behind. The human suffering was enormous, but, to put it bluntly, nobody cared much about German suffering in the immediate aftermath of World War II. After the collapse of Communism, the idea of compensation for the expropriated property was bruited in some German circles, but was met with incredulousness verging on hostility by Eastern European governments.

The survivors of the expellees are still well-organized today, and are a moderately powerful lobby in Germany. They're considered pretty right-wing, and their actions are often a thorn in the side of the German government. To say the issue of compensation for expelled ethnic Germans is a sensitive issue in Eastern capitals is quite the understatement.

Here are a few photographs from the dusty displays in the Haus, featuring typical toys, pastries, and even bitters from the German Sudetenland:

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I had no idea that Becherovka was originally created by Germans. 

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Finally, a charming nativity scene. Well, except for the giant, flaccid penises pointing directly at the Christ Child. Oh wait, those are candles. Yet another embarrassing situation that could have been prevented by air-conditioning.

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Germans Are the Biggest, And Quietest, Ethnic Group in the U.S.

German Heritage in US

Bloomberg reports that people of German ancestry are still the dominant ethnic group in the United States:

The U.S., first populated by Native Americans, rediscovered by Europeans and colonized under the flags of the Spanish, English and French, is now filled with Germans.

More than half of the nation’s 3,143 counties contain a plurality of people who describe themselves as German-American, according to a Bloomberg compilation of data from the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey. The number of German- Americans rose by 6 million during the last decade to 49.8 million, almost as much as the nation’s 50.5 million Hispanics. (Click here to explore an interactive county-by-county map of U.S. ethnic groups.)

...

Germans have been immigrating in significant numbers to the U.S. since the 1680s, when they settled in New York and Pennsylvania. The bulk of German immigrants arrived in the mid- 19th century; they’ve been the nation’s predominant ethnic group since at least the 1980 census.

The increased identification with German culture contrasts with earlier eras in U.S. history -- during both world wars -- when many kept those ties quiet. The passage of time has replaced that impulse with a search for enduring traditions, said J. Gregory Redding, a professor of modern languages and literature at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The 49.8 million German-Americans are more than triple the 14.7 million Asians counted in the 2010 census. Bloomberg’s county-by-county analysis broke down the Hispanic and Asian populations into subgroups by national origin, with Mexican- Americans and Chinese-Americans making up the largest share of their respective groups.

Americans of German descent top the list of U.S. ethnic groups, followed by Irish, 35.8 million; Mexican, 31.8 million; English, 27.4 million; and Italian, 17.6 million, the census shows.

Yes, there are millions of us. But you've never heard of us. Why? Because we stay in the background. We learned that from two world wars. We German-Americans are doing those well-paid but kind of boring jobs that form the backbone of American industry. We're managing your hardware stores, mixing your new industrial sealants, and overseeing your supply and distribution chains. Unlike more flamboyant ethnicities -- you know, the ones with lots of vowels in their names and/or dark, curly hair -- we don't call attention to our cute customs. That would be totally un-Lutheran.

Perhaps that should change. We German-Americans should begin flexing our cultural muscles. You want to invite me to drink green beer for St. Patrick's Day or eat matzohs at your seder or roast suckling pig at your Vietnamese wedding? Fine, I'll go! But then you have to come eat Käsespätzle and drink Weizenbier at my house. And then we're going to schunkeln. And you're going to like it!


When Your German Surname Mocks You

One of the many advantages of learning German is that I can return to the United States and inform the 50 million Americans of German ancestry what their last names mean. All these Totenbergs, Fickens, Himmelfarbs, Rosenthals, Koenigs, Knapps, Wagenknechts, Sensenbrenners, Schwarzkopfs, and Schoenemanns are usually blissfully unaware that their last names mean something (or at least imply something) in German.

Sometimes, the results are shock and dismay, other times bemusement. Heck, I could probably turn a profit from offfering this service.What made me think of this was an article in the American online magazine Salon about celebrities who are atheists, a group which apparently includes Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Keira Knightley, and Julianne Moore. (Almost all the celebrities mentioned in the article are American, by the way).

The author, apparently an atheist herself, says 'As I watch the Academy Awards each year, I’m always left wondering: Aren’t there any atheist celebrities? ... Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s awards ... the presence of many of these performers on the red carpet is certainly something to celebrate.'

The author's name: Laura ... Gottesdiener.*

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Where German-Jewish Surnames Came From

One thing I've noticed about Germans is that they are often surprised when I assume that an American named Goldberg, Rosenthal, Friedman or Rosenbaum is Jewish. I don't know any precise statistics, but I'd be willing to bet that 95% of Americans named Goldberg are probably Jewish.* Yet many Germans, even fairly worldly ones, don't associate these names with Judaism.

I've had to explain the 'Jewish names phenomenon' over and over to Germans. My explanation, which I've given a couple dozen times, was based on a hazy recollection of something I once read in one of those things that consists of a bunch of pieces of paper glued together inside a cardboard cover. I decided recently to try to see whether I was right, and came across this informative website:

Before the 1800s most German Jews who lived in cities had already either a fixed surname, or a double name (examples for such double names: Amsel Abraham, Löw Baruch, Ascher Simon). On the country side, Jews were often recorded in German documents solely by their given name (examples: Abraham, David, Jakob, Seligmann). In older documents one may find references to “Jacob Jude”, “Isaac Jude”, “Abraham Jude”, Jude simply meaning “Jacob Jew”, “Isaac Jew”, “Abraham Jew”.

During the Emancipation, some government officials misunderstood the legislation, and demanded that even previously appropriate surnames should be changed. A number of such examples can be found in the Duchy of Baden: In the District Administration of Lörrach (Rötteln), even the “acceptable” surnames Bloch and Braunschweig were changed. There had been 14 families with the Bloch surname, and 7 by the surname of Braunschweig. None of them kept their old surname. The Braunschweigs changed their names to: Beck, Braun, Dornacher, Graf, and Keller. The Blochs adopted the following family names: Dietersheimer, Dornacher, Dreher, Geißmann/Geißmar, Kaufmann, Kirchheimer, Mock, and Weil.

A number of the official name change lists still exist in Germany, as well as other documents that can help clarify what a family’s surname was before the official name change, and reveal if they actually changed their surname or were able to hold on to the family’s original name. Birth registrations in Naugard, Prussia, for example, list a Nathan Friedländer with the added remark: “by the name Silberstein”. Some records show him as Nathan Friedländer Silberstein, while he only appears as Silberstein after 1821. Between 1800 and the 1820s many “double names” can be found in documents – usually they reveal the family's surname before the name change, however in a few cases the families had adopted a new surname they didn’t care for after a while, so they changed again...

Please note: Jewish families were required change their names everywhere in Germany. Subsequently many families who were not related at all chose the exact same surnames: if your family came from the same town as another family with the exact surname as yours, it does therefore not necessarily mean that you are related to that family! ...

While some of the newly chosen surnames are the same as the surnames of their Christian neighbors, others reflect the sensitivities of Romanticism, leading many to think of such names as “typical Jewish names”. Plant names such as Mandelbaum, Rosenbusch, Rosenbaum, Rosenstihl, Rosenstock, Rosenberg, Weinstock, or professional names such as Goldschmidt, Krämer, Mahler, Eisenhändler, may come to mind.

There were however numerous German Christian families, especially so in East and West Prussia, who had carried the surnames of Rosenberg, Rosenbaum, Rosenkranz, Goldschmidt, Goldberg, etc. already for many centuries. It is therefore extremely important to research one’s family history carefully, and once again, not to jump to any conclusions simply based on a surname.

In other words: a “Jewish sounding German surname” does not necessarily mean that ones ancestors were Jewish if one’s parents and grandparents were Christians! The same applies to German surnames mentioned in Jewish surname databases. When entering those same names into a regular database, one will very likely come across the same names among Christian families.

To prove this point, here is another example of Jewish name changes in the early 1800s from the District Administration of Durlach, in the Duchy of Baden: 17 Jewish families lived in the village of Weingarten (plus 6 individuals who were not married). Before the name change there were 3 families with the surname Esaias, obviously relatives or brothers, however each of them changed to a different surname! Among the 17 families the following names were chosen: Bachmann, Bär, Baum, Blum, Fuchs, Hirsch, Holz, Klein, Krieger, Löwenstein (previously Löw), Meerapfel, Rose, Rothschild, Schmidt, Schwarz, Sommer, Stahl, Stein, Stengel, Weidenreich, Winter. While Löwenstein, Meerapfel, Rose, Rothschild, indeed sound like “typical Jewish surnames”, all of the other surnames are in most cases not “Jewish names”, with a large number of German families who already had carried those surnames for centuries.

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