Book Launch: “Being German Canadian: History, Memory, Generations”

Edited by Alexander Freund, the Chair in German Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg.

Being German Canadian explores how multi-generational families and groups have interacted and shaped each other’s integration and adaptation in Canadian society, focusing on the experiences, histories, and memories of German immigrants and their descendants.

As one of Canada’s largest ethnic groups, German Canadians allow for a variety of longitudinal and multi-generational studies that explore how different generations have negotiated and transmitted diverse individual experiences, collective memories, and national narratives. Drawing on recent research in memory and migration studies, this volume studies how twentieth-century violence shaped the integration of immigrants and their descendants. More broadly, the collection seeks to document the state of the field in German-Canadian history.

Being German Canadian brings together senior and junior scholars from History and related disciplines to investigate the relationship between, and significance of, the concepts of generation and memory for the study of immigration and ethnic history. It aims to move immigration historiography towards exploring the often fraught relationship among different immigrant generations—whether generation is defined according to age cohort or era of arrival.

More information here:

Robert Teigrob, “Four Days in Hitler’s Germany”

Robert Teigrob, Four Days in Hitler’s Germany: Mackenzie King’s Mission to Avert a Second World War. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Robert Teigrob

On the blog today, Robert Teigrob, professor in History at Ryerson University, discusses his latest book, Four Days in Hitler’s Germany: Mackenzie King’s Mission to Avert a Second World War, a fascinating read on Canadian diplomacy with Nazi Germany.

Tell us about your book.

This is an account of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s peace mission to Germany in June 1937. Like many global leaders and average citizens from that era, King worried that Nazi Germany was preparing for war; unlike most others, he considered himself a divinely-inspired agent of world peace, one destined to shepherd humanity into a new era of international accord. His face-to-face interactions with top Nazi officials that summer left him greatly relieved: on the one hand, they had assured him that Germany did not want war; on the other, King believed that his own counsel to Hitler – that Britain and other members of the League of Nations were sympathetic to German demands for redress from Treaty of Versailles obligations, and that the Fuhrer should do nothing to hinder the wonderful transformation of Germany King had witnessed on his visit – further reduced any inclinations among Third Reich leaders to take up arms. Obviously, there are a host of troubling misapprehensions and miscalculations in the preceding sentences, and the book tries to explain how a prime minister otherwise lauded for his caution and judgment could so dreadfully miss the mark about the nature and intent of Nazism. While I have tried to be as sympathetic to King as is reasonable, in the end it is not a very flattering portrait of Canadian statesmanship.

What drew you to this research topic?

Most summers (COVID lockdowns notwithstanding) I teach a course at Freie Universität Berlin, and I have grown very fond of the city, including its quite admirable efforts to acknowledge and atone for its former status as the capital of the Nazi empire. I had seen pictures of King touring the city and interacting (cheerfully) with Reich officials, and a couple of years ago I made a point of retracing his steps to observe the vestiges (very little) of prewar Berlin. The transformation of the built environment – necessitated by its near-total annihilation through aerial bombardment, and then the postwar demolition of what Germans call “historically burdened buildings” – only compounded the sense of the depth of King’s error, his misplaced confidence that his peace mission had succeeded. And seemingly on every block, I came across a memorial to the events and people that make up Berlin’s tumultuous history, with a special emphasis on the period from 1933-1945. The discrepancy between this forthright German admission of wrongdoing and Canadian history’s relative glossing over of our prime minister’s Nazi sympathies suggested that a sustained and critical accounting of King’s visit and his wider approach to Hitler’s regime was warranted.

What other books is your work in conversation with?

There are several good books on Mackenzie King, and I found Allan Levine’s King: William Lyon Mackenzie King: A Life Guide by the Hand of Destiny, and Christopher Dummitt’s Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life particularly helpful in understanding King and the ways in which he is remembered. Dispatches from the Front: The Life of Matthew Halton, Canada’s Voice at War is the story of a reporter covering the growth of fascism and the war that followed, written by his son David, also a journalist. That book is required reading for those who would suggest that King couldn’t have fully appreciated what Nazism was about or where it was headed; Halton raised alarms from day one of Hitler’s acquisition of power by simply observing what he saw and heard – unambiguous portends of trouble, he warned, to any objective eyewitness. Ditto for William Shirer’s Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934–1941. Ruth Klein’s superb edited volume Nazi Germany, Canadian Responses: Confronting Antisemitism in the Shadow of War is indispensable for understanding the cultural and political context through which interwar Canadians – King included – sought to make sense of the Third Reich. Another great book along these lines is Richard Menkis and Harold Troper, More than Just Games: Canada and the 1936 Olympics – particularly apt in this context, as King visited and enthused about the Olympic grounds in apparent amnesia about the intensive controversies over whether to participate in the games that had gripped his country a year earlier. Abraham Ascher’s Was Hitler a Riddle?: Western Democracies and National Socialism helps place King’s response to Hitler in international context (and does little to redeem the prime minister).

There are a number of books that, like mine, look at the ways in which Nazism and the war transformed Berlin and Germany, and the public debates over how to properly commemorate the era: Brian Ladd, The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape; Donna Brett, Photography and Place: Seeing and Not Seeing Germany after 1945; Brett Kaplan, Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory; Colin Philpott, Relics of the Reich: The Buildings the Nazis Left Behind. And about two weeks before my book was released, Roy MacLaren, former Canadian Liberal politician and diplomat, came out with Mackenzie King in the Age of Dictators. It covers some of the same ground as Four Days, though my study is more tightly focused on the visit to Germany, as both titles suggest. And although MacLaren and I were unaware of the overlap in our projects until the very end, we are pretty much in agreement on the sources of King’s discouraging response to fascism and the ways it might help us rethink his legacy.

Did you travel for your research? Where did you go?

The book is part chronicle of King’s visit, and part contemporary attempt to retrace his steps, so walking around Berlin and snapping photos was an integral part of the study. Germany’s Bundesarchiv (Koblenz and Berlin chapters) also provided some documentation, although much of the Nazi material was lost during the war. The Bundesarchiv does, however, have a great collection of photographs, which I used to juxtapose prewar Berlin to the current version. Library and Archives Canada holds a mountain of material on King and his government, so a few trips to Ottawa were in order.

What is something that surprised you in the creating and publishing of this work?

By far the most surprising was Canadians’ ignorance about the trip. I assumed that most people would at least know about it, even if they held an overly-sanguine impression of King’s peace mission based on the ways it was represented in more general surveys of the era. (In many previous accounts, King’s visit was simply portrayed as a stern warning to the Hitler regime that any Nazi aggression would stimulate a powerful and unified response from the Western powers.) However, the existence of the trip itself was news to a lot of people I met, including a historian from Canada who specializes in Nazi Germany, many in the audience at a book talk I gave in King’s birthplace of Kitchener (a city where, as I was gently reminded, the prime minister remains something of a hometown hero), and journalists who contacted me about the book. Given the wider fascination with war and Hitler, this, I think, points to a disinclination to shine light on certain unflattering aspects of Canada’s past. It is common knowledge, for instance, that Chamberlain went to Munich in 1938 and got hoodwinked; our own prime minister played a similar role, but has somehow been spared derision for an analogous bout of naiveté.

What are you working on next?

The tumultuous relationship between German Chancellor Willy Brandt and US President Richard Nixon as they sought, sometimes in cooperation and often not, to break down the Cold War divide. I’ve become hooked on German history, and apparently, political odd couples.

German-Canadians and Settler Colonialism

William Wagner (1820-1901)

This September, I had the privilege to present some of my latest research at Intersections and Crossings: Northern Great Plains History Conference and the Western Canadian Studies Conference in Brandon, Manitoba. The conference invited scholars studying all aspects of Western Canada’s past from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Scholars gathered in Brandon to discuss particularly the issues of Indigenous and settler colonialism experiences throughout prairie history.

My work focused on the case of William Wagner, a German immigrant from Prussia, who was employed as a Dominion Land Surveyor in Canada’s West in the late nineteenth century. Wagner initially immigrated to Ottawa in 1850 and found work as a certified land surveyor. He was responsible for surveying several massive land projects in Upper Canada. Canadian officials wanted to increase the amount of immigrants to the Ottawa Valley, and Wagner convinced the government that Germans from Prussia would be interested in land ownership and agricultural opportunities. He was hired in 1860 as an immigration commissioner and moved to Berlin that same year. Wagner was successful in increasing the amount of German immigrants to Canada, yet the government was disorganized in its commitment to maintain his position and by 1863 Wagner was released from his duties where he returned to Ottawa to resume his surveying career.

In 1871 he was recruited by Surveyor General J.S. Dennis to come to the Canadian prairies to begin the surveying of Manitoba lands. Wagner, the only German-Canadian recruit arrived on September 1 to begin his new assignment. Over the next several years, Wagner traversed Manitoba and the Northwest surveying township land, Metis communities, and close to twenty different Indigenous reserves. Wagner’s surveying was marked with significant tensions. He was in repeated conflict with the Indigenous and Metis people over how the land should be partitioned and utilized. In addition to his surveying work, he operated as a German immigration spokesperson in Manitoba. He was an important contact for newly arriving German immigrants and he worked to establish a German immigrant settler reserve in the province. Wagner sought to remake the land for arriving European settlers. He had little sympathy for the commodity producing Metis communities and the Indigenous people of the prairies. Instead, his geography was driven by state interests that sought to ready the landscape for settler needs. My research on Wagner begins to unpack the complex topic of German and Indigenous relations on the Canadian prairies. Little has been written on German-Canadians and Indigenous people in Canadian history. My work on William Wagner intends to begin this dialogue and challenge the ways in which German settlers have been conceptualized in Canada’s West.

Karen Brglez, M.A., is the program assistant for German-Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg. She is the recipient of a 2016 German-Canadian Studies Research Grant and has a chapter in the forthcoming book (spring 2020) “History, Memory, and Generation: German-Canadian Experiences in the Twentieth Century.” She can be reached at

Review: Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home

Nora Krug, Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home. New York: Scribner, 2018.belonging

“How do you know who you are, if you don’t understand where you come from?” Nora Krug asks in “Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home.” This question is at the heart of this beautifully illustrated and heart-rending graphic memoir. Wrestling with her place of origin, Krug tries to make sense of where she comes from. In German Heimat, translated loosely as home, represents much more than just a physical place, but conjures up feelings of nostalgia, familiarity, and connection to one’s past — concepts with which Krug has struggled to identify. As a German living in America, her idea of home is laden with complicated feelings, as being “German” has always meant bearing the shame for the crimes of the Second World War and the Holocaust. This uneasiness with her national identity is what pulls Krug into the investigation of her past. Wanting to know more about her family’s personal history with the Nazi period, and the places where they are from, Krug masterfully weaves together drawings, photographs, personal letters, and copies of archival records with her own moving storytelling in the search to find answers to her many questions.

Born in West Germany in 1977, Krug was raised in a generation that was willing to confront the sins of the past. Germany’s criminal history was something that needed to be atoned for and the concept of inherited guilt became part of her identity. As a young adult, she learned about Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means “coming to terms with the past,” and for Krug, this meant things like visiting concentration camps as an adolescent, deconstructing Hitler’s speeches in high school, learning to deeply distrust the word “race,” and ridding national pride from her vernacular. She writes that “history was in our blood and shame in our genes.” From early on she realized that being German was not something to be proud of.

Even after leaving Germany to study in the United States, this sense of shame stayed with her. When speaking with strangers, she tried to hide her German accent for fear of unknowingly offending someone. Though her connections to Germany lessened, her feelings of guilt never abated, particularly in her relationship to Jews. She writes: “Not even marrying a Jewish man has lessened my German shame.” In the US, her Germanness was reduced to either Nazi stereotypes or rather something to be celebrated with bratwurst and lederhosen by ethnic Germans who had been in America since the nineteenth century.

Although she had been raised to feel collectively responsible for Germany’s actions, Krug understood very little of her own family’s experiences during the war years. Her parents, both born in 1946, grew up in the immediate postwar period where memories of the war were quietly swept under the rug. Reflecting on her own grandparents, Krug explained, “my mother didn’t talk about them much, and when she did, it was the kind of weariness one feels when having to revisit a subject thought or talked about too many times before.” Difficult memories were silenced, and family narratives blended fact with fiction to help cope with the guilt of the past.

Peering into the lives of her family members, Krug begins to dismantle the narratives that had been built around each individual. She writes about her father’s brother, Franz-Karl, who wrote a poem in 1939, when he was in sixth grade. Titled “The Jew, a Poisonous Mushroom,” the young storyteller wrote: “Just like the poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, the Jew can kill a whole people.” Placing her young uncle’s story in a broader historical context, Krug cleverly includes drawings that depict other events from 1939 on the same day that her uncle penned the poem, such as the mayor of Dachau reporting that his town is “now cleared of all Jews” and that Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that Hitler “is so good and humane to me. One has to love him.” Yet this indoctrinated child was the same uncle who died at the age of eighteen fighting as an SS soldier in Italy. His loss of life at such a young age made him a revered figure in his family. Losing him created irreparable hurts and never-mended family fractures. In an attempt to understand who this young man was, Krug addresses the complex issues of guilt, complicity, and asks the difficult question, “are the guilty allowed to grieve?”

On the other side of her family, she digs into the history of her mother’s father, Willi, who worked as a driving instructor during the war. Krug describes how postwar fantasies emerged about her grandfather’s war years — that his mother had been Jewish and that he had hid his Jewish employer in the shed of his mother-in-law’s backyard. Had Willi been a resistor to the Nazi regime? As she begins to unpack the truths, Krug is sure of one thing, he could not have been ignorant to the treatment of the Jews in his own city of Karlsruhe. In her search to find out more details about her grandfather’s life, she discovers that his driving school was located directly across the street from the city’s Jewish synagogue, which had been set on fire and destroyed by local police forces during Kristallnacht. Using a map to show the proximity between the two locations, she writes: “Even without reading the paper, Willi would have known what was going on the night of November 9 and 10, 1938, Reichskristallnacht.”  Trying to further ascertain who this man was, she sifts through the US military file on her grandfather’s wartime past, comparing the anticipation of reading the file to the experience of waiting for the results of a rare genetic disease: “I have to wait to find out if it’s malignant or not.” By opening herself up to the painful past, Krug is finally able to form connections with her ancestors. Questions of guilt and complicity remain, but a more truthful, and therefore intimate understanding of her history is allowed to develop.

Throughout the memoir, Krug includes illustrations of material objects that represent “Germanness” to her. One of the objects, Gallseife, a soap made of ox gallbladder combined with Persil, a German laundry detergent, is described as the best method for removing stains. She writes how after the war, letters written in defense of family and friends who were suspected to be Nazi collaborators were called “Persil Certificates,” as they intended to exonerate one’s character making them “white as snow.” Skillfully using symbolism from the German Christian tradition, Krug describes an attack on the Jews of Külsheim, her father’s town, once the Nazis had come to power. Some Jewish men were forcibly held under the water in the town’s fountain as the residents watched on. As she revisits the town and looks at the same fountain eighty years later she notes how “a crucified Jesus is watching, just as he watched that day in 1939. It says in chiseled letters beneath his bleeding feet, Es ist vollbracht (It is done).”

This stunning and suspenseful graphic memoir is an exploration into Krug’s family lore that has been passed down to her, and like most family histories has become a blend of memory and myth. Through the process of sorting through the memories, Krug feels more than ever personally bound to her history, and through her confrontation with the past is able to come to a place of moral accounting for her family’s role in National Socialism. A difficult process, but a necessary one nonetheless. Krug closes with the warning that in 2017 the far-right in Germany gained seats in parliament for the first time in almost six decades. This unsettling thought serves as a reminder that there is a responsibility to not forget the past, but to delve into it, untangle the memories, and come to terms with what that means for us today.

Karen Brglez, University of Winnipeg

Recipients of the 2018 German-Canadian Studies Fellowship Competition

In 2018, the German-Canadian Studies Fellowship program awarded two German-Canadian Studies Research Grants and the German-Canadian Studies Undergraduate Essay Prize.

Melanie Carina Schmoll from the University of Hamburg received a Research Grant for her study entitled “History and Memory: Holocaust education in Canada and Germany or Does Canada do a better job than the country of perpetrators?” Schmoll questions why more institutions and programs in Canada teach about the Holocaust compared to Germany. Specifically, she looks to compare the province of Alberta, Canada and the State of Hamburg in Germany and is concerned with notions of guilt and trivialization, as her project aims to show that Holocaust education is insufficient in Germany.

Carmen Ponto, from Winnipeg, Manitoba received a Research Grant for her project “A German-Canadian family’s experience growing up in Europe during world war two, and their subsequent immigration to Canada.” The objective of her project is to interview her father, who grew up in Germany, about his life as the son of a Nazi party member. This will be done to gain insight into the experiences of German children in Nazi Germany and how they reconciled their upbringing after immigrating to Canada following the events of the Second World War. The final product will include recorded interviews, transcripts, photographs and research in the form of a book.

Aleksandra Manzura from the University of Winnipeg received the Undergraduate Essay Prize for her essay entitled “Women’s Woes: Experiences of German-Canadian Women during Their Husband’s Internment in the Second World War, 1939-1945.” Her paper explores the experiences and hardships of women left behind by the internment of their husbands during the Second World War. She uses the case study of the Schneider family of Little Britain, Manitoba to investigate six areas of experience: the hardship of mandatory registration and regulation of “enemy aliens,” the stress and uncertainty of early internment operations, censorship, overcoming financial loss, the division of household responsibilities, and the form of moral support and advocating for interned husbands by their wives.

Read more about the fellowship and award recipients’ research below.


Undergraduate Essay Prize

Between growing up in Israel, spending my summers in Ukraine, and eventually moving to Canada I have experienced a variety of cultures and languages peaking my curiosity for others. This curiosity drove me to take a German course as a personal elective which eventually spiraled into a minor and led me to take a German-Canadian history class in my final year. As a part of this class we were required to examine archives from a German settlement in Little Britain, Manitoba and choose a primary source to construct a final paper.

I chose to centre my final project on the letters Thilde Schneider wrote to her husband Fritz Schneider—who had established the Little Britain colony—during his internment at the beginning of the Second World War. While most letters were written in German, the few letters that were written in English reflected on some of Thilde’s struggles during her husband’s interment. I compared Thilde’s struggles to those felt by other wives and families of internees as documented in secondary literature, in order to draw some generalization about the experiences of women, which have been often overlooked historically. These struggles included bearing the responsibilities for farms and businesses left behind, being the primary caretakers of the children and households, as well as dealing with legal issues and the emotional distress of their husbands’ interment. This project was quite a venture from my regular school work and provided for a very fascinating opportunity to work with primary sources and archives.

Aleksandra Manzhura, University of Winnipeg


Research Grant

Carmen is a mother, social worker, and filmmaker living in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is the daughter of a German immigrant, and niece and granddaughter to several strong German women whose strength and perseverance after World War Two continue to inspire Carmen to this day. Her work drives her to be continually fascinated by regular people’s stories. She lives according to the belief that everybody has a story that deserves to be told and heard.

Carmen was raised as an only child by her single father, and recalls hearing numerous stories through her childhood about his father’s questionable death as a Nazi official, his family’s subsequent fall into poverty, and the day-to-day life of him and his six siblings as they aimed to keep each other and their single mother alive in postwar Germany.

In an open-ended interview process, Carmen will visit with as many of her father’s siblings as possible, encouraging them to recount their family history—memories of their previous lives in Germany and Czechoslovakia, as wealthy Nazis, and, subsequently, as impoverished exiles; as children who acted as adults to support one another; their journey by foot from Czechoslovakia to Germany; and life in Canada after their immigration. She will archive her findings at the University of Winnipeg’s Oral History Centre in the hopes that these stories will continue to live on in a more permanent format.

Carmen Ponto, Winnipeg


Research Grant

It is a great honor and opportunity for me to receive the University of Winnipeg’s Research Grant in German-Canadian Studies. The grant supports my research on the comparative pilot study “Holocaust education in Canada and Germany—Does Canada do a better job than the country of perpetrators?”

Being a political scientist and lecturer in political sciences as well as a high school teacher for European history and politics, I recently finished a study entitled “’Holo… What?!’ Teaching the Holocaust in Germany—against all obstacles.” The study showed that teachers are confronted with barriers, incomprehension, and headwinds on a daily basis, but it is their task to ensure teaching the Holocaust against all obstacles.

Based on the bare figures of, for example, the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as well as a first estimation, Canada prepares teachers and educators better than Germany due to the Holocaust and Holocaust education. “Better” is defined as the ability of teachers and educators to fulfill their mandatory task to teach the Holocaust against all obstacles.

Consistent with this finding, the main research question is: Does Canada do a better job than Germany when it comes to Holocaust education?

To answer this question the project seeks to develop a comparative pilot study on Holocaust education and the education and training of the teachers and educators in the province of Alberta in Canada and the State of Hamburg in Germany. The project seeks to explain the uniqueness of a very complex phenomenon, present a profound insight, and generate a hypothesis for a broader comparative study on Holocaust education in Canada and Germany.

Melanie Schmoll, University of Hamburg

Gusse, Gussie, Guse – My Family’s History in the Provincial Archives

While most people will never leave much of a global or historically significant legacy, for many there is a hope that you as an individual might be remembered when you’re gone, even if for a few generations. My own family has had success in our little Winnipeg suburb; voted “The Greatest Transconian,” Paul Martin was a local celebrity revered for his incredible service to the public. As war veteran, city councilor, town mayor, speaker, founder of The Transcona Museum, he was involved in almost every aspect of life in Transcona. When he died, hundreds attended his funeral offering stories of the impact he made on their lives. His son, Peter Martin, equally dedicated to the legacy of his father, is my mother’s cousin by marriage and we see Peter frequently at major family gatherings. While my own life is insignificant by comparison, pride in being a part of this familial legacy has encouraged me to participate in it by volunteering with my grandparents at the Transcona Museum. This steeps me in my own families narrative, always hoping to learn a little bit more each time I go in.

As of September of 2017, my studies have gained me the position of program assistant for the University of Winnipeg’s German-Canadian Studies department and while assigned to surveying the Provincial Archives for anything on German-Canadians and German immigration to Canada, my hopes of uncovering even more about my family came true in an unexpected way.

While I knew that part of my family had a significant history in Transcona, I also knew that my grandmother’s side of the family actually came from German ancestry; once or twice removed, I was never really sure, and my Grandma was never clear about it, because her parents had died when she was sixteen years old. But I knew I was German in some way, so I was excited to know that I had some general relevance within the scope of the research I was going to be doing for the Chair in German-Canadian Studies.

Bringing me even closer to my research, I had the unexpected surprise of finding a copy of “The Gussie Family Reunion August 1995” in the Provincial Archives’ Library while there on assignment. It is an unpublished, coil-bound book that was probably donated by my grandmother’s own late sister, Joyce Gussie, detailing the lives and history of my grandmother’s family. It includes histories, autobiographical pieces (including, in a nice bit of symmetry, Peter Martin), poems and photographs—even including a very young me! The opening pages tell a story of August Gusse, married to Adela, whose parents “were of pure German ancestry” despite their own birth in Russia. Because of political turmoil during this time, they decided to follow thousands of other German nationals to Canada. In 1909 they left Russia seeking freedom promised in Canada on the S.S. Ottawa and came to settle in what is now Beausejour, Manitoba.

What I found most interesting about this are some of the missing pieces of history regarding my own family; my grandma’s parents are so elusive my mother couldn’t even recall their names. They and their German ancestry have seemingly been lost to distant memory. But there, on a ship ticket, is great-grandfather Edward Gusse. This archival find was an emotional moment. It is incredible to consider my family ancestry to be of historical significance located in my own city’s provincial archives.

Alexandra Granke, German-Canadian Studies, The University of Winnipeg

History and Mystery: Students Investigate History of a German Settlement in Manitoba

During a spring blizzard in March 1927, ninety-eight men, women, and children from Germany’s Southwest arrived at the deserted train station “Little Britain,” north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, to start a new life. They moved their belongings across a snow covered field to the one community house standing on the land. They were ready to overcome hardships in Canada’s prairie west, a place that seemed to promise more stability than the Weimar Republic, Germany’s first, shaky attempt at democracy. All settlers were Catholics and most were young and single.

The group leader, lawyer and businessman Fritz Schneider, said that “Little Britain,” as the settlement came to be known, was neither an ethno-religious colony nor a utopian commune. Instead, so he claimed, he just helped people pool their resources so that everyone could become a successful settler. Yet, within a few years, disagreements about finances, a revolt against the leader, and perhaps the onset of the Great Depression had left the settlement in shambles. The group was divided, and many settlers had either returned to Germany or moved elsewhere in North America. No one really knows what happened, although some of the original settlers are still alive.

There were other unsolved mysteries: The black smith’s house and workshop burned down and he returned with his family to Nazi Germany. Was it an accident, arson, or insurance fraud? By 1940, some of the male settlers had been interned as “enemy aliens”; were they spies and saboteurs or were they wrongfully imprisoned?

This fall, history students at the University of Winnipeg will dig through boxes full of old files and photographs and listen to interviews with Fritz Schneider and other settlers to find some answers. In the third-year seminar “German-Canadian Identity: Historical Perspectives,” they will learn about the history of European and German immigration to Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; they will also learn some of the tricks of the trade that historians use to solve some of our past’s unsolved mysteries. Next to books and computers, white cotton gloves, safety glasses, and face masks will be their research tools.

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg

Reading in Troubling Times: The Memoirs of Winnipeg’s Relentless Rebel

Nick Ternette, Rebel Without a Pause: A Memoir. Halifax: Roseway Publishing, 2013.

From his student days in the late 1960s until his death in 2013, Nick Ternette was known in Winnipeg as a tireless advocate for the poor and homeless, an activist for civil and human rights, and a campaigner for improving life for all Winnipeggers. While he knew his Marx and Engels, he was not driven by ideology. Rather than changing the world through revolution, he set himself the task of addressing the small, everyday concerns of ordinary people in Manitoba. This required gritty work: he applied for police permits, invited speakers, and, rain or shine, he was out on the streets protesting; he attended countless city council meetings, wrote hundreds of letters-to-the-editor and opinion pieces to local newspapers, gave hundreds of interviews on local media, had his own newspaper column, and hosted his own radio and television shows. Democracy, to him, meant providing alternatives. From 1971 until 2002, he ran for mayor, city councilor, and school trustee twenty times. Given his Marxist views, he never expected to win and indeed he never did, but he succeeded in giving Winnipeggers a choice.

Nick was born in Berlin, Germany in January 1945, just as the city was suffering from Allied bombings, the Red Army offense, and, after Nazi Germany’s capitulation in May 1945, Allied occupation. He grew up amid bombs and violence, suffering and poverty, injustice and ideology. In his memoirs, he writes little about his family. He was the only child of Georg and Seraphine Ternette. They were born in St. Petersburg, members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and ethnic Russians. Seraphine came from an aristocratic family and studied art in Turkey before moving to Berlin. How Georg came to Berlin and ended up fighting for the German army in the Second World War is unclear. Nor do we know how, as an ethnic Russian, he survived imprisonment in the Soviet Union except that he served as a German-Russian interpreter, first for the German army and then for the Soviets. Nick grew up in postwar West Berlin as a Russian, speaking Russian, and attending the Russian Orthodox Church. He also spoke and learned German and attended public German school until he was ten years old, but being a Russian in postwar Germany was a challenge.

Around 1954, Georg immigrated to Winnipeg with the help of the Baptist church. His wife and son followed a year later. For Nick, this was a big change: “I went from being hated by Germans to being seen as a German in post-war Canada” (23). It is not clear from his memoirs why Nick was perceived as a German (rather than a Russia) in postwar Winnipeg; nor is it clear why he came to self-identify as a German rather than a Russian. Ten-year-old Nick “knew nothing about German history, especially about the Nazi period, because my parents didn’t tell me anything. Then I experience anti-German racism, when children began to bully me by calling me a squarehead and a Nazi. I had to learn my history and background quickly” (24). His father began telling him stories about the war when Nick was in his teens. Nick felt that even though he “had to deal with the issue of German guilt” through his life, he and his parents had not been Nazis and his father had suffered in a Soviet “concentration camp” after the war (25).

After high school, Nick attended the University of Winnipeg and received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. He also became involved in local political youth groups and in the YMCA. His early career hopes of becoming a sports reporter on the radio were quashed by the national radio school in Winnipeg, where he was told he needed to get rid of his accent. Later careers were stifled by prospective employers’ fears of his left political views. In 1987, Nick got access to his RCMP files, proving that he had been under surveillance for decades. Yet, Nick’s demands were hardly subversive: he wanted better bus service, safe bike lanes, a vibrant downtown, support for the poor (instead of their policing and criminalization), a thoughtful (rather than a heavy-handed but ineffective) approach to panhandling, and greater care of the environment. For over four decades, he took on everyday issues and proposed solutions that had been accepted as common sense in other cities around the country.

Throughout his political life, the connection to Europe and especially to Berlin played an important role. In 1967 Nick traveled to visit a friend in Switzerland and aunts in Turkey and Greece. He then spent seven months in West Berlin, during the heady student protest days of 1968. The May Day demonstration in 1968 radicalized him politically. He drew on this experience for the rest of his political life. When he returned to Winnipeg, he organized his first public protest, against the Vietnam War, and he joined the peace movement. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as he deeply immersed himself in local politics and community organizing, he also followed with great interest the West German Green Party, which had come out of the peace movement, and he introduced Green thinking to Winnipeg civic politics.

Although he was considered by many of his opponents a communist, socialist, or leftist agitator, his ideas for improving city life were far from radical. As he points out in his memoirs, most ideas had not only been implemented in Western European cities or in Canada’s big cities, but even in places like Calgary, where Nick lived for five years in the 1980s and learned to appreciate the city’s environmental policies, including those implemented by mayor Ralph Klein. By playing on his political identity and outsider status, he skillfully used the local media to publicize his ideas.

How much his ethnic identity played a role in his political life is difficult to assess from his memoirs; there are only hints. About his time in Calgary, he writes, for example: “Being a Russian German was never an issue there [Calgary] the way it mattered in Winnipeg” (128). But he seldom gets around to telling us how his ethnic identity actually mattered in Winnipeg. We learn, however, that he was involved in the local German-Canadian club, where he enjoyed socializing with other German-Canadians. Eventually, however, the club “banned” him because of his political views. He also argued against the plan to display a piece of the Berlin Wall at the Forks (98).

Throughout his political life, Nick became active in a great range of causes and organizations. In 1968, he participated in the Free University of Winnipeg and the Festival of Life and Learning to improve higher education; he became involved in Klinic and the Community Representing Youth Problems of Today (CRYPT) to improve public health care; and he helped set up the Community Income Tax Service to protect poor people from being massively overcharged for filling out tax returns. These activities brought real improvements to people’s lives.

Rebel Without a Pause is an inspirational story of someone who devoted his life to everyday politics, the gritty, time-consuming, and drab work of organizing protests, attending city council meetings, making his opinion heard, taking abuse for it (including physical abuse from the police), and moving on, one day after the next, while also trying to make a living and enjoying life. Politics was not all-consuming. As he notes, he spent much more time coaching children in football, hockey, and baseball than demonstrating on Winnipeg’s streets (although he may hold the record of rallies attended and organized).

Rebel Without a Pause is not a manifesto, but a plain spoken narrative that clearly and convincingly lays out Nick’s life and ideas. It is a most timely book at a time when millions of people are trying to find ways to protect and improve their fellow citizens’ lives. Here is an action guide by someone who knows, because he was there and did it for over forty years: it is everyday labour, courageous, exhausting, tenacious, and hard. Nick described himself as a “professional rebel,” but more than that, he was a relentless rebel. Even though he was relentless and encountered much opposition, he never let politics ruin a relationship. He enjoyed discussions with his political foes. He could agree to disagree without taking recourse to the hatred and venom that increasingly infuses national politics. In local politics, your political opponent may be your co-worker, your kid’s soccer coach, or your neighbour. That was true of Nick, who enjoyed talking with everyone, whether he agreed with him or not. In the end, it was always an opportunity for Nick to make a point, to make his point. For this broad vision, marginalized as it may be in Western politics, this slim book should appeal not just to Manitobans and Canadians, but to everyone who wants to know what it means to be a relentless rebel.

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg

2016 German-Canadian Studies Research Grants and Prizes

In the following posts, the recipients of the 2016 German-Canadian Studies Fellowship competition present their research.

GCS Dissertation Prize

Now Too Much for Us: German and Mennonite Transnationalism, 1874-1944

Dr. John Eicher

John Eicher is the Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of Migration at the German Historical Institute in Washington D.C.  His 2015 dissertation posed the question: How do groups of people fashion collective narratives as nations, religions, and diasporas? He found answers to this question through a comparative study of two German-speaking Mennonite colonies. One group was composed of voluntary migrants and the other was composed of refugees. Both lived on the Russian steppe until 1874 when the Tsar’s nationalizing reforms prompted 7,000 voluntary migrants to move to Canada and colonize the prairie. In 1926, Canadian nationalism prompted 1,800 of these migrants to relocate to Paraguay and colonize the Gran Chaco. Meanwhile, in 1929, Stalinist persecution prompted thousands of Russia’s remaining Mennonites to use their status as ethnic Germans as a way to flee to Germany. In 1930, the Paraguayan government welcomed 1,500 of these refugees to the Chaco. Both colonies used their identifications as “civilized” Germans to secure safe territories. They also shared a common German culture, language, and religion. Nevertheless, the groups negotiated radically different relationships with the Paraguayan and German governments. Whereas the voluntary migrants moved from frontier to frontier to preserve their local expressions of Germanness, the refugees viewed their Germanness as a transnational alliance that saved them from destruction. Consequently, the voluntary migrants sought exemptions from Paraguayan citizenship and rejected German (trans)National Socialism, while the refugees helped the Paraguayans win the Chaco War (1932-1935) and collaborated with Nazis. Like other German-speaking migrants and refugees, their different narratives of German history and interpretations of scripture led to vastly different views of Germanness and divergent relationships with coreligionists, host governments, and Germany.

Research for this project led him to archives in five countries–England, Germany, Paraguay, the United States, and Canada–including Winnipeg’s Mennonite Heritage Centre and the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies.


GCS Research Grants

The Concept of ‘Skills’ in Labor Migration Policies: A German-Canadian Comparison

Dr. Holger Kolb

There is probably barely any other political area in which Canada and Germany are commonly perceived as being more different than the field of labor migration policy. Whereas Canada have been enjoying an excellent reputation of having one of the most effective attraction schemes worldwide for a long time Germany still is considered as a country with a reluctant stance towards labor migration and corresponding complicated and restrictive regulations.

Against the background of major reforms of the respective labor migration systems in both countries in the last years I became interested in challenging the conventional wisdom of Germany and Canada still being classic antagonists in this field and started to systematically compare the policy developments in both countries. I began by specifically looking at the changes recent reforms implied for the screening and selecting process; then I analyzed the ‘temporal dimension’ of labor migration policy delving into the question to what extent the labor migration policies in both countries are used as short-term cure against acute shortages on the respective national labor markets or rather as a way of a demographically inspired population policy followed by a specific investigation into the ways the recognition of skills earned abroad legally and politically are used as means to organize the admission process .

In this way my recent work on the concept of ‘skills’ in labor migration policies is actually part IV of an ongoing series of German-Canadian comparisons. Methodologically it is placed at the interface between comparative law analysis and comparative policy analysis and seeks to retrace substantial changes in the way the target group of the labor migration polices of both countries is perceived and defined. The GCS research grant allows me to systematically incorporate parts of my previous work into a more general comparative framework and at the same to add time more empirical material to this comparative long-term project.

Refugee Stories: The Immigration and Resettlement of Germans in Western Canada, 1947-1960.

Dr. Kyle Jantzen

“Refugee Stories: The Immigration and Resettlement of Germans in Western Canada, 1947-1960” is a research project being undertaken by Kyle Jantzen, Professor of History, Ambrose University, along with History undergraduates and community volunteers. Our goal is to discover the history and memory of the postwar immigration of people from a variety of regional, social, and religious backgrounds from Germany and Eastern Europe and their resettlement in Canada. The project is funded in part by the University of Winnipeg’s Chair in German-Canadian Studies and Canadian Lutheran World Relief.

To date, we have engaged in three kinds of project work:

Networking: We have made contact with the Calgary chapter of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia and various Lutheran officials, including Canadian Lutheran World Relief, resulting in a list of 200 potential interview participants and project volunteers, to be supplemented with contacts in Baptist, Mennonite, Catholic, and Church of God communities.

Compiling Resources: Based on input from scholars in the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 (Halifax), the Lutheran Historical Institute (Edmonton), the University of Winnipeg Chair in German-Canadian Studies, and the Mennonite Historical Society of Alberta, we have compiled an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and an interview guide.

Preparing Students: Eight third-year history students will be working with me on this project in the fall 2016 semester, with another 10 to 15 second-year students participating in the winter 2017 semester. Students are currently engaged in background reading, and will soon receive training in oral history interviewing and begin archival research and oral history interviewing.

In the coming months, I plan to work with these students and volunteers from the German-Canadian community to organize and conduct oral history interviews, and a reunion event for German-Canadians who immigrated in the 1940s and 1950s, along with their families.

Kyle Jantzen, Ambrose University,

Another Kind of Immigrants

Dr. Ursula Baer

19th and early 20th century German and Swiss emigration policies at times encouraged the emigration of destitute young people who had grown up in the community’s or state’s care. Other (former) children ‘in care’ chose to immigrate to Canada in search for freedom and a chance of personal and professional success and happiness that was not readily accessible to ‘their kind’ in their countries of origin. The history of these once ‘un-familied’ immigrants is rarely the topic of history projects and is currently absent from history books. Nevertheless, their stories have been explored in fiction e.g. by German author Berthold Auerbach in Barfüßele (1856) and have been recorded in biographies e.g. Auswanderung ins Glück – Die Lebensgeschichte der Kathrin Engler by Walter Hauser (2002). Recent official apologies to former children ‘in care’ and their once considered “undesirable” and/or “non-conforming” families (Switzerland 2013) and other redress schemes (Austria, Germany, Switzerland) engender more forthcoming dealings with that past.

With the generous support of the German-Canadian Studies research grant, I was this summer able to visit the Hudsons’ Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg and the Glenbow Archives in Calgary. This research trip was part of preliminary inquiries into the long, international and diverse history of children ‘in care.’ One focus of my research trip was on the history of German, Swiss and Austrian immigrants who grew up in state care and came to Canada to find a new life. The second focus was on the history of Métis children of Austrian, German or Swiss decent, who were placed in Indian Residential Schools. The findings serve as a point of departure for interviews and further archival research. Some results will be published as a chapter in an upcoming essay collection tentatively planned for early 2017.

Ursula Baer, Ph.D. is currently teaching at the University of British Columbia. She teaches, among others, a course on the cultural representation of (former) children ‘in care.’ Baer is the recipient of a 2016 German-Canadian Studies Research Grant. She can be reached at

Goodbye Deutschland, Willkommen in Canada?:” German Immigrants to Canada after 2006 and their mediated lives with/for/after VOX

Dr. Eva-Sabine Zehelein

According to the International Migration Outlook 2016 (OECD), Germany is, together with the USA, the most attractive immigration country worldwide with an all-time high of at least 1 million new permanent entries in 2015. However, thousands of Germans leave their home country every year. Regardless of whether one sides with the “brain drain” or “brain circulation”-theory, the migration balance has for many years been and still is negative – more Germans emigrate than return. Yet to date barely anything is known about the socio-demographics and motives of German emigrants of the last years as well as about the individual consequences and effects of this cross-border mobility and self-chosen dislocation. The study International Mobil (2015), supported by a number of major German foundations and the Federal Institute for Population Research, provides a rare quantitative investigation of this phenomenon.

Based on a postmodern epistemology that maintains that reality and identity are (socially) constructed and constantly renegotiated in and through narrative my project employs a qualitative approach, i.e. narrative interviews, to shed light on the underexplored lives and migration stories of some (non-Mennonite) German families who have immigrated to Canada – especially Manitoba – within the last decade. Some families have also been part of Goodbye Deutschland, a very successful and popular German reality docutainment format nominated for a German TV-Prize for best Factual Entertainment in 2011. I wish to examine (auto) biographical narrative practices as sites where experiences and perceptions of life in the new foreign country, images of Germany and Canada before and after immigration as well as today, and a specific migrant/hybrid identity are constructed and renegotiated. In a second step of my project I analyze the TV-mediated docu-biographical dramatic narratives. I ask in which force field these narratives are situated, how the representational and narratological strategies employed create “factually based drama” (Izod) or docutainment and what this popular TV-format then “tells” about Germans as transnational migrants in a diasporic context.

The interdisciplinary North American studies project is thus situated at the intersection between migration studies, oral history, cultural studies (especially German-Canadian studies), as well as TV/film and media studies.

The comparative analysis of my select bodies of text might contribute, first, to the “Verstehen” of migration experiences as ongoing biographical processes, second, to a further elucidation of the nature of autobiographical narratives as identity construction processes and, third, to a clarification of the specific nature and effects of docutainment which, despite its recent proliferation and omnipresence, is still awaiting in-depth academic scrutiny. I also hope to contribute to a better understanding of this long-neglected yet exceedingly important group of migrants, the German diaspora.

The Beginnings of German-Canadian Historiography After the Second World War: The Case of Gottlieb Leibbrandt

Karen Brglez

My research project investigates the intellectual beginnings of German-Canadian historiography after the Second World War through an examination of the biography of Gottlieb Leibbrandt, author of Little Paradise and other publications in German-Canadian history. A Russian-German émigré, Leibbrandt had worked for Goebbel’s propaganda ministry, the Anti-Komintern and served on the eastern front as an interrogator of Russian prisoners-of-war. He had close connections with his brother Georg Leibbrandt and Karl Stumpp, who had conducted ethnographic research in the Ukraine for the Nazis and whose research in German-American history and genealogy was influenced by Nazi racial record-keeping. By 1952, Leibbrandt immigrated to Canada and helped establish several German-Canadian organizations in the postwar period. A founding member of the German-Canadian historical association, Leibbrandt authored numerous books and articles on the Germans in Canada.

With the support of the German-Canadian studies research grant, I was able to visit the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, Nebraska where I examined Leibbrandt’s scholarly contributions in the 1930s to the Berlin based publication Deutsche Post aus dem Osten. To focus on his Canadian experiences, the grant also enabled me to conduct an interview with Leibbrandt’s son, Wolfram Leibbrandt in Gatineau, Quebec. Wolfram’s narratives contributed to my understanding of Leibbrandt’s émigré experiences in Germany and postwar Canada, and revealed his many social and political influences on the German-Canadian community. I also visited the National Archives in Ottawa which held several of Leibbrandt’s postwar publications, including correspondence between him and his fellow German-Canadian associates. Investigating the case of Gottlieb Leibbrandt reveals a fervent Nazi supporter that contributed to the anxieties of the interwar period by casting the Russian-Germans as victims in a struggle against “Jewish Bolshevism” in the East. As a Russian-German émigré scholar, he contributed to the Nazi ideological campaign against Bolshevism in the interwar period which was a significant factor in preparing the foundation for the Nazi plan of invasion and ethnic cleansing in the Soviet Union during the war years. Having never been forced to confront the past, Leibbrandt led a postwar life as a respected German-Canadian scholar that wrote on the experiences and perspectives of German immigrants in Canada.

Karen Brglez, M.A., is a research assistant for the German-Canadian Studies department at the University of Winnipeg.



H-TGS Relaunch

by Josh Brown

Dear subscribers,

H-Transnational German Studies has been quiet for a while, but we are hoping to relaunch the network as a site for scholarly interaction, reviews, and networking across disciplinary lines.

H-TGS provides a moderated interdisciplinary network for the discussion of topics relevant to the study of German migration and diaspora and intercultural transfer between German and non-German societies from the seventeenth century to the present. Its scope is intentionally broader than that of its predecessor, H-GAGCS (German-American and German-Canadian Studies), and the new editors are particularly interested in covering regions outside of North America. One of our objectives is to encourage consideration of the interconnections between German emigration and other German activities abroad, including imperialism and colonialism.

The new editors come from different disciplinary backgrounds and have different research interests. Let us introduce ourselves:

Josh Brown is an associate professor of German at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is co-editor ofPennsylvania Germans: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). His primary research interests are: heritage languages and the interactions of language and identity from sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropologic perspectives. His academic website is:

Benjamin Bryce is an assistant professor of history at the University of Northern British Columbia. His first book, Citizenship and Belonging: Germans, Argentines, and the Meaning of Ethnicity in Buenos Aires, 1880-1930, is currently under review. Focusing on education, religion, and social welfare, it charts German-speaking Argentines’ competing visions of Germanness and Argentine belonging. He is also the co-editor of Making Citizens in Argentina (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017) and Entangling Migration History: Borderlands and Transnationalism in the United States and Canada (University Press of Florida, 2015).

Alison Clark Efford is an associate professor of history at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her first book, German Immigrants, Race, and Citizenship in the Civil War Era (2013) focused on the period following the US Civil War, and she continues to publish and present on nineteenth-century German Americans. Her current research on suicide pushes into the twentieth century and includes other immigrant groups.

We would like to enlist your help too! We welcome suggestions, and please encourage colleagues to join the network using the “subscribe” icon at the lower right of our homepage: Most importantly, please notify us of relevant calls for papers, conference and event announcements, digital projects, and fellowship opportunities.

All the best,

Josh, Ben, and Alison