February 15, 2017

If Only I Could Ask Him

(This post was originally published on my other blog, A Face to the Sun, on May 1, 2012.)

I've often wondered how it was for my great-grandparents and grandparents during World War I, when such an anti-German sentiment existed in the U.S.  Grandpa Albert once gave me a box of books, and in it was a complete history of World War I.  He was not mentally able at the time to talk about his experiences, but I did wonder if it was hard to be a German speaking person during that period of history.  His family spoke German exclusively in their home, and they attended German church services and schools.  Maybe they even knew family members still living in Germany.

Grandpa Albert registered for the draft, along with several of his brothers, in 1918, and one of Grandma Ida Spoering's brothers served in the American Expeditionary Forces from 1918-1919.  Could there ever have been any question about their loyalty (or his parents) to the U.S. or did he ever experience any prejudice because of his background?  After all, Henry County was full of the descendants of German immigrants.

I was excited to pick up a book a few weeks ago entitled: Henry County in the Great War: German-Americans, Patriots, and Loyalty, 1914-1918 by Michael R. McMaster, a native of Henry County, which speaks to some of my questions.  Using largely research done in local newspapers, he has pieced together the story of how the war affected the citizenry of Henry County.  A League of Henry County Patriots was formed in Henry County and their goal was to seek out any who they thought were disloyal to their country, or in essence, supportive of Germany, the Huns.  They became particularly active after Henry County failed to raise their quota of money for several Liberty Bond campaigns.  A "Go and Get Um" committee would seek out and apprehend anyone accused of traitorous talk.

They actually held trials against the accused disloyal
citizens.  Maybe one of them was your ancestor:
Gus Plassman, Mat Reiser, Fred Albrink, Ted Daman, L. W. Schultz, William Rohrs, John Mehring, Fred Groschmer of Napoleon; Charles Krauss of McClure, Bert Sharp of Liberty Center, Julius Rohrbaugh near Malinta, among others.  I was glad that my family had not been persecuted this way, but some of these men were indicted in Federal courts, some lost their jobs and all, I'm sure, suffered public humiliation.

I was very interested in the League's goal to ban the German language from all schools and churches.  They succeeded in the public schools, but the German Lutherans stood firm.  After all, their whole congregations relied on those German services.  I think of the thick accent of my Aunt Kate even forty or more years later, and I wonder how she would have handled all English services.  McMaster noted that some German books were burned in Henry County. 

I imagine how the Germans in Henry County would have tried to "lay low" and not speak German in public, perhaps.  To show their loyalty to America, they even had a huge, patriotic rally in Napoleon. 

You can read more about the book at this site.   

By the way, my next post has to do with this topic and how it relates to the man who signed my dad's baptismal certificate.  Take a look.

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