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

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: http://www.joshuarbrown.com/

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: https://networks.h-net.org/h-tgs. 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

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

In 1986, historian Gerhard Bassler described Gottlieb Leibbrandt’s study on the German Canadians of Waterloo County from 1800 to 1975 as the “most informative and richly documented regional history of any German-Canadian community.” Trained as a political scientist, Leibbrandt contributed to the field of German-Canadian studies as a newly arrived Russian German emigrant in 1952 until his death in 1989. Leibbrandt’s scholarly efforts for the German-Canadian community in the post-war years have made him an important contributor, but little is known about his pre-war past and wartime activities. An ethnic German from the Ukraine, Leibbrandt immigrated to Germany in the inter-war period where he graduated with his doctorate degree in 1935. Young and ambitious, he poured his academic talents into furthering Nazi racial and anti-Bolshevik research on the East, first with the Anti-Komintern, an organization under Joseph Goebbels’ Reich Ministry for Propaganda, and then as an organizational leader for the Verband der Rußlanddeutschen (Association of Russian Germans).

In order to investigate the beginnings of German-Canadian historiography through an examination of the life of Gottlieb Leibbrandt, I will be headed out on two separate research trips this summer. I will travel to the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia in Lincoln, Nebraska to uncover Leibbrandt’s writings in the Deutsche Post aus dem Osten, a periodical that was devoted to the plight of ethnic Germans in Russia that became a Nazi propaganda piece by the late 1930s. The other trip is planned in August when I will go to Ottawa to conduct an oral history interview with Leibbrandt’s son, Wolfram Leibbrandt to discuss his memories of his father’s life. The results of this research study, which is funded by a German-Canadian Studies research grant, will be published as a chapter in an upcoming essay collection tentatively planned for early 2017.

Karen Brglez, M.A., is a researcher in German-Canadian Studies and research assistant at the Chair in German-Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg. She is recipient of a 2016 German-Canadian Studies Research Grant. She can be reached at k.brglez@uwinnipeg.ca

2015 Fellowship Recipients

In the following posts, the recipients of the 2015 German-Canadian Studies Fellowship Program present their research.

 

A Digital Exploration of German-Manitoban History

Joel Penner and Sean Patterson

We are excited that the GCS Research Grant has given us the opportunity to create a public history website exploring the German-Manitoban experience.  Our project will involve text-based and multimedia resources that will creatively present this history. We hope to create a dynamic website that is easily accessible and engaging for the general public.

This project would be of broad significance to Manitobans, as nearly 20 percent of the province’s population is made up of people of German descent, according to the 2006 census. We predict that it will be especially relevant in helping Manitobans understand the province’s ethnic makeup given that the two world wars had the effect of disrupting the intergenerational transmission of German culture and language. We also believe that our website will be directly relevant to current issues related to discrimination based on generalized notions of collective ethnic identity.

Our website will consist of three main sections. Firstly, a general survey of German-Canadian history would be composed with a particular focus on the experience of the German-Manitoban community.  Secondly, we will explore the German-Manitoban experience through a curated digital archive, including photographs, archival documents, newspaper clippings and interviews. The third component will present focus projects in which a specific aspect of German-Manitoban history would be explored more in depth.

Our first focus project for the website will explore German-Manitobans experience of World War I and their relationship with broader Manitoban society during these tumultuous years. We are especially interested in the understudied internment experience of German-Canadians. If you know of any resources that would be of assistance or individuals interested in contributing to this project, send us an email at seanpatters@gmail.com.

 

Haus & Home: Art and German-Canadian Identity

Jessica Richter

In my work as a graduate student in the MFA program at the University of Regina, I am focusing on creating interactive houses within the context of a German-Canadian identity. These varying houses are constructed through the use of print media and sculpture, with traditional German patterns, kitsch objects, and photographic elements of both a historical and personal nature serving to create a manifestation of “home”. The houses are of varying scales and interpretations, but share the same conceptual backbone. Loss and recreation of home by German refugees in Canada and the experiences of my grandparents, parents and myself as an ethnic minority in a predominantly Anglo town inform the complicated notions of home and identity that are addressed within the art I make.

The basic structure and aesthetic is based upon the kitsch German “weather-house” gifted to me by my grandparents, and address the conflicting thoughts and feelings I have about my German-Canadian culture and the integral role that “home” plays within that discussion. The idea that I can construct my own physical manifestation of German-Canadian identity is directly influenced by my grandparents’ attempt to do the very same thing, albeit on a physical farm outside of a small and dominantly Anglo-Scot-Irish town. For them, specifically my grandmother who took on the expected domestic role of “Kinder, Kuchen, Kirche”, the use of decorative Germanic objects (whether Canadian kitsch or sent by relatives who chose not to immigrate) as well as decorating the walls of the house with scenes of her Baltic childhood were how they maintained their cultural identity. The houses I create act as an imitation of my grandmother’s ritual throughout her life in Canada, and are an homage to her intense desire to recreate the home she had lost.

By creating houses that explore the loss of home, heritage, and and the resulting effects that these factors have had on the development of my identity as a German-Canadian woman, unspoken experiences and unaddressed conflicts are presented in a reachable and accessible form.

 

The role of metalinguistic awareness and of L2 proficiency in positive lexical transfer from English (L2) to German (L3) by French-speaking Quebeckers

Nina Woll

My name is Nina. I am originally from Berlin but moved to Québec City in 2006 to get some teaching experience and dive into the depths of applied linguistics. I recently received the GCS research scholarship to finish my thesis in third language acquisition. I have been working on this project for five years now, but am soon ready to let it go.

The basic idea was to focus on the positive influence of a second language on the comprehension of a third. In the province of Québec, the majority of the population speaks French as a native language and starts to learn English at primary school. By the time they finish high school, they have received up to 10 years of English instruction and sometimes also a little Spanish. My research focused on French-speaking Quebeckers who start to learn German at Cégep, a sort of junior college.

A number of language and learner-related variables were investigated as possible predictors of positive transfer from English (L2) to German (L3). More precisely, I was interested in the conditions that would lead initial-stage learners to make use of their English vocabulary knowledge to understand new words in German. Among the influential factors under observation, the particular focus of the study was on metalinguistic awareness (MLA), which was found to be a stronger predictor of positive transfer than English proficiency and exposure, respectively.

The methodological challenge was both to identify the felicitous use of a given target as an effect of cross-linguistic influence and to firmly establish the crucial role of MLA for the conscious activation of related words or constructions across languages. While offering a fine-grained methodological approach to measuring MLA, this study points to the usefulness of introspective data to complement findings based on language-inherent characteristics of cross-linguistic influence.

 

Online Now: New Study on Recent German Immigration to Manitoba

Independent film maker and recent graduate of the University of Winnipeg has just released a new study, based on video-taped interviews, about the wave of immigrants who have come from Germany to Manitoba since 1997. To watch the interviews and learn more about this immigration, visit: http://www.winklerinitiative.ca/

The study was funded in part by the Chair in German-Canadian Studies and the Spletzer Family Foundation, Inc.

Imperial Ambiguities: Scottish Emigration During the 1920s and 1930s

Marjorie Harper. Emigration From Scotland Between the Wars: Opportunity or Exile? Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780719080463.

Did migration help or hinder empire building in the first third of the twentieth century? In this fine case study of Scottish emigration to overseas destinations – especially Canada – during the two world wars, Marjory Harper uses the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 to explore to what degree Britain could support and bind its colonies and dominions through migration policy. From the re-stabilization of Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the sparsely populated Scotland had lost over 400,000 people to the United States and British overseas colonies, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The nineteenth century was the age of laissez faire in migration politics. State governments neither hindered nor supported in any meaningful way the white European migration to the Americas and Antipodes. Emigration from Scotland was high throughout this time. In some years, more people left Scotland than were born there.

Laissez-faire politics changed after the war, when the United States introduced a quota system in 1924, limiting the number of European immigrants. Canada, too, increasingly controlled European immigration. At the same time, the implementation of the Empire Settlement Act (SA) introduced new government incentives and infrastructure to support would-be emigrants who lacked the motivation or resources to move on their own. Under this scheme, the British government provided up to three million pounds annually to train would-be emigrants, support emigration and settlement agencies, and pay for transportation. Although the Empire Settlement Act was to last for fifteen years, it was in effect halted by the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Overall, the ESA spent just over six million pounds from 1922 to 1936, helping one third of all British emigrants move abroad. Many of the 400,000 ESA emigrants were juveniles and single women, but there were also single men and families. Forty-six percent of the ESA emigrants went to Canada, 43 percent to Australia, 11 percent to New Zealand, and under 1 percent to South Africa.

In order to find out whether Britain was able or interested in significantly manipulating migration as a means of empire building, Harper asks whether the Empire Settlement Act had a significant impact on Scottish emigration during the 1920s and 1930s. She explores this question by examining the flurry of activities and discourses generated by the ESA and the issue of emigration generally, comparing the views of the major churches, newspapers, political parties, labour unions, government agencies and committees, and the emigrants themselves. While most private and public sectors had strongly negative or positive or even contradictory responses, would-be Scottish emigrants saw the ESA as simply one more option – viable to some, unacceptable to others – in a larger array of resources they used to decide whether to migrate and if so, where to and when. Most Scottish emigrants, however, continued to rely – as they had in the nineteenth century – on their private networks of family and friends to organize their own migration and integration.

Thus, while the activity of emigration and booking agents increased in the 1920s, it is unclear to what degree they influenced Scots to emigrate. Here, Harper’s analysis of how agents at times acquired shady reputations, made exaggerated promises, and generated general controversies, could have been strengthened by asking emigrants about their experiences with agents. Despite Scottish people’s ability to make decisions within their own networks, published opinion had often depicted emigration as a reluctant exile of impoverished people from the Scottish islands and highlands. Harper argues that this narrow view was belied by the complexity of the actual emigration, which drew from all regions – including the lowland and urban industrial centres – and many social classes. Much of the controversy between national government, local authorities, and commentators turned on the question whether the Scottish economy needed more or fewer people. Eventually, public opinion came around and skepticism was balanced with some enthusiasm. Much of this ambiguity was reflected in the attitudes and experiences of the emigrants, many of whom returned to Scotland. More controversial were the various emigration and settlement schemes by a whole range of national and local Christian organizations such as the YMCA, Salvation Army, and the Church of Scotland that brought juveniles to remote locations in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Best known in Canada as the Home Children or Barnado’s Boys, these young immigrants sometimes continued to be in touch with their parents or other relatives in Scotland. The quick demise of these schemes by the end of the 1920s was not so much a result of the numerous complaints of deceit, neglect, or abuse but rather by a general disinterest in this form of emigration.

Harper paints a complex and broad picture of Scottish overseas emigration during the interwar years – a period largely neglected by migration historians. She does not provide a conclusive answer to her question whether the Empire Settlement Act had a significant impact on Scottish emigration or British empire building during the 1920s and 1930s. Nevertheless, her study illuminates multiple ways in which imperial ambitions and politics succeeded or failed. Indeed, examining the diverse traditions and understandings of migration, settlement, and demography in the context of imperial history demonstrates that imperial projects, for the most part, wavered between contradictory political goals, half-hearted policies, fiscal fears, and muddy notions of empire, motherland, and dominion in London, Glasgow, Ottawa, and Canberra. Thus, Harper’s book will be of interest to both, scholars of migration and scholars of empire.

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg

The Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World Through the Eyes of Moravian Missionaries

Michele Gillespie and Robert Beachy, eds. Pious Pursuits: German Moravians in the Atlantic World. New York: Berghahn Books, 2007. ISBN 9781845453398.

The essays published in this collection, originally presented at a conference in 2002, provide a useful survey of historical case studies documenting the Moravian missionary diaspora in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world stretching from Central and Western Europe and western Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas. The Moravian Church, also known as Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren, originated in fifteenth-century Bohemia and quickly became the dominant confession of the region, but they were drastically reduced and forced underground by the early seventeenth century. A small group of survivors in Moravia were sponsored by Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf on his estate in Saxony and the Church’s revival began in 1727. The Moravians almost immediately sent missionaries into the world and quickly became the main Protestant sect converting people from Antigua, Barbados, Greenland, Silesia, Surinam, South Africa, and the Americas. The community grew from one thousand in 1750 to 700,000 today.

Traditionally, research on the Atlantic world has focused on the Anglo experiences in the North Atlantic and the Catholic church’s role in the Iberian-Atlantic worlds. Yet, Moravians and other German Pietists played a more significant role than did Anglicans, Quakers, and other British clerics. “What historians have yet to appreciate,” the editors write in their introduction, “is the degree to which the German Moravians, more than any other Protestant sect, proved most adept not only at stretching themselves across the entirety of the Atlantic World, but in securing new adherents in the unlikeliest of communities and in the unlikeliest of places” (3).

The editors argue that the eighteenth-century missionary work was crucial in the development of the Moravian church: Moravian missionaries with their cosmopolitan outlook, global network of missions, and multiple migration experiences illuminate previously hidden or poorly understood transnational and intercultural connections in this Atlantic world. Going even further, the editors argue that the Moravians were harbingers of modernity, using education, credit, medicine, travel and “information networks” (4) in their work while confronting and even opposing other challenges of modernity such as democracy, secularism, and freedom. Despite their constant engagement in the wider world, Moravians were nevertheless able to maintain closed communities that were based on a tightly circumscribed belief system and social structure and secretive forms of communication.

The fourteen essays focus on the development of Moravian society, culture, commerce, and theology in eighteenth century America. Together, they weave a complex and often contradictory image of Moravian values and social relations. Social and economic relations of the community were derived from traditional German guild and community organization, but changed under the pressures and promises of capitalism. There was greater class equality than in outside society, but German nobility had a disproportionate involvement in church leadership. Similarly, women had greater power in the Moravian church than women generally did, but under financial constraint, male church leaders restricted this power after Zinzendorf’s death in 1760. Moravians were slaveholders, but also crossed racial lines more frequently and easily than others. Moravians were pacifists but were used in the service of colonial and imperialist projects. As Jon Sensbach argues in his essay on Moravians’ views of race and use of slaves, the “transcultural, multiracial Moravian fellowship derived from, and expressed, many of the contradictions of the eighteenth century” (235).

Even though the editors and authors aspired to write a history of Moravians in North America and the Atlantic world, the majority of essays focus on colonial America, while Moravian missions in Labrador are not mentioned. Further, despite the Moravians’ transnational values and ways of life, only some essays teach us about the non-Moravian world. Most of the studies are circumscribed by a focus on internal dialogue among scholars of Moravian history, and thus, as in much ethnic and religious group history, outside perspectives are underrepresented. Thus, the editors’ statement that this collection is “as relevant for understanding our world today as it is for understanding our past” (17) is an important objective, but it is not always met. Nevertheless, the collection will be a valuable resource for scholars of the Atlantic world, the eighteenth century, and the history of religion.

Alexander Freund, University of Winnipeg