German emigre populations raise for Ross the complex question of who and what is “German.”
In the course of his travels Colin Ross was interested in gaining an understanding of indigenous peoples and their connection to various issues of global concern, but he was no less interested in those Germans, and their ancestors, who had emigrated from Germany, particularly in those cases where such individuals lived together in communities. What was the relationship of such individuals to Germany and to their German heritage?
“Auslandsdeutsche” isn’t Ross’s term; it’s not one that appears in the titles of any of his many books and articles, and it’s not one that he used when he wrote or presented his material in lectures. When encountering German emigres Ross refers to them as “German”. Sometimes this attribute is phrased as a modified noun (“die Texas-Deutschen”), sometimes as a specifying adjective (“Deutschbrasilianer”), each term chosen to reflect the identity with which Ross felt the group to more closely align (German in the first case, Brazilian in the second).
Ross was writing against a political backdrop in which the idea of the Auslandsdeutsche played a prominent role. In contrast to the term “Auswanderer” (emigre), which conceptually emphasized the first relocated generation, “Auslandsdeutsche” indicated a longer frame of reference and could include populations, such as the Volga Germans, who were the ancestors of families who had immigrated to this region in the 1760s.1 As such, the term carried particular resonance for any understanding of the nation as the product of a “Volk” --and “Deutschtum” and “Volkstum” were staples of Ross’s vocabulary.
Yet one encounters in Ross a certain anxiety about the true identity of these individuals and populations abroad. Are they still Germans? And if so, which factor, or set of factors, accounts for this continuity? Ross refers often to “German blood”, a term that seems to hold both material and metaphorical meaning in his thought. There are certain qualities that Ross understands to be heritable, such as the ability to thrive in certain climates, but there are other qualities, such as a propensity for cleanliness and loyalty, that are clearly cultural.
Given Ross’s emphasis on the primary function of Weltanschauung in collective interpretations of and interactions with the world, and given the role of language in this process, the German language is extremely important for Ross, who ultimately struggles with the question as to whether one can really remain German in its absence.
1 Bradley D. Naranch. Inventing the Auslandsdeutsche: emigration, colonial fantasy, and German national identity, 1848-1871. In Eric Ames et al. eds., Germany’s colonial pasts. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; 2005; 21-40.
After World War I, the concept of Auslandsdeutsche becomes politicized in an intensified way. Led by the United States, the Central European map had been redrawn along ethnic lines in accordance with the principle of the self-determination of peoples. Now, the overall question of Germanness gained a new urgency, because ethnic identity had become the new language of territorial legitimacy. If, at first, attention was focused on the border itself, and the prospect of challenging its location based on local ethnic distributions, the principle of ethnicity and territory was soon transferred conceptually onto other groups of Germans across the globe. This wasn’t necessarily a question of territorial expansion, but instead one of resources: could the Auslandsdeutsche function as an unofficial colony, boosting Germany’s international trade? Could they serve as a political pressure group supporting German regional aims?
Ross is interested in these questions, and thus in exploring the existing relationships between various groups of Auslandsdeutsche and Germany. This begins with an interrogation of Germanness itself, and expands to include the potential for international collaborations of various kinds.
A tension arises in Ross’s work between the tendency, on the one hand, to insist that German emigres are lost to the German nation politically, and, on the other, his desire to bring them into a greater, even global, German Weltanschauung that would lead the way to German leadership of a unified Europe.
Comparing Ross’s speaking engagements in Chile, in 1920, and those in Vienna, in 1938, show how radically he changed his assessment of Auslandsdeutsche (Germans abroad).
In Chile, Ross’s views on the role of Auslandsdeutsche were characterized by skepticism. His conflicts with monarchist circles there, but also the economic and administrative hardships he encountered in several South American countries made Ross doubt whether the propaganda and economic power of the country’s Auslandsdeutsche would make a difference. In his subsequent travelogue, guidebook, and lectures he basically discouraged his readers and listeners from emigrating (see “Rather contra than pro”).
In Vienna, the presence of Auslandsdeutsche in non-specified countries served as a central argument to convince Austrian audiences of the legitimacy of Hitler Germany’s hegemonic and imperialistic claims. Ross, therefore, stressed the forces that united Auslandsdeutsche and Reichsdeutsche--complemented by the Austrians after the Anschluss--, based on their connection “by blood” (see Austrians’ loathing for a global significance).
In order to lend a “friendly” note to Nazi claims, however, Ross capitalized not only on his personal expertise as a globally informed traveler, but also on being the head of a traveling family (see Soft line approach for Austria).
In Australasia, German emigrés and their offspring are featured mainly in two ways: either as remnants of a past Germany or as points of contact to plan the journey around.
The first role is played primarily by the Lutheran Auslandsdeutsche communities in South Australia. They appear to Ross admirable, if out of touch with the present, in their abiding devoutness and bitter sectarian fights with kindred Protestant beliefs (see: Infighting among Lutherans in Australia). He even describes city-dwelling, first-generation Auslandsdeutsche’s attachment to a Germany of the past, rather than the present-day country he comes from and writes for (see: The homesickness of the emigré).
What connects Auslandsdeutsche in Australia, New Zealand or New Guinea to today’s Germany is their contact with and support of Germans coming to Australia, be it immigrants looking for a job (see: Ethnic solidarity vs. national policy) or Colin Ross passing through. Both Ross’s writing and context materials about this journey highlight the amount of courtesy calls to German emigrés he planned in advance, making Auslandsdeutsche a crucial network of contacts in faraway places (see: Two oil paintings in the luggage).
Ross wrote no less than five books based on his 1933-1935 sojourn in North America, two of which appeared before he returned to Germany. Of the remaining three, one was not a travel account, but a popular history in which he undertook to rehabilitate the German share in America’s past—and sketch its future role. It was titled Unser Amerika (1936).
Ross defined “Unser” America as the legacy and the (Lutheran) ideas from the old Heimat that had allegedly contributed to America’s greatness and freedom. Through most of the book, however, his use of the term Heimat, or Germany for that matter, is anachronous. It projects modern Germany back onto an era when its current territory, and more, was a motley collection of sovereign, albeit unstable, administrative units (principalities, [arch]bishoprics, electorates, kingdoms, landgraviates, margraviates, duchies, etc.) of various size and might, whose allegiances were not necessarily or always ‘German’.1 Consequently, much of Ross’s history is actually that of the Holy Roman Empire, a confederation of shifting territories which covered many of today’s continental European countries (including their American holdings), either wholly or partly; and, after the Empire’s dissolution, of much of the German Confederation (Deutsche Bund) of 1815, many states of which were eventually unified within the 1871 Kaiserreich.2 In fact, as “[t]he Empire’s demise coincided with the emergence of modern nationalism as a popular phenomenon”3 and the rise of a “western historical method [whose] task was to record their national story (...), the Empire had no place in a world where every nation was supposed to have its own state. Its history was reduced to that of medieval Germany”.4 The last sentence, of course, identifies the source of Ross’s reasoning. (At one point he does acknowledge that at the time of the first British settlements in the New World “Germany” was no empire but a mere geographic term, only to dismiss it in the same breath by saying that a German empire—with American holdings—surely would have emerged had not Holy Roman Emperor Charles V also become King of Spain and left colonial affairs to the Spaniards.)5
Besides a history Ross also thought of Unser Amerika as a slogan, a stirring idea. Because German Americans lacked a concept comparable to Puritan, Anglo-Saxon’s democracy (a term, incidentally, he uses anachronously, too)6, they had no effect on the body politic. As a result their share to the country was belittled; they were considered mere “Auch-Amerikaner”, i.e. people who also fought in the War of Independence, who also explored the West, etc.. Ross proposes Unser Amerika as a “uniform idea” behind which German Americans could rally to lead the United States into a new future, following the example of Nazi Germany7.
Ross’s rhetorical use of “Germany” is one of the clearest signals of his intention, expressed before he set off on the first of his American journeys in the 1930s, to write books that were not mere travel accounts. From the mid-1930s onwards, in his books about America, political reflections and propaganda—increasingly critical of the USA—overshadowed narratives of lived experience; Unser Amerika is the most extreme example of this trend. More generally, despite their many defects, in these books Ross managed to ostensibly write about one country while meaning another.
Nico de Klerk
1 For example, historian Peter H. Wilson writes: “Whereas sixteenth-century Swiss had tended to see themselves as one of several German ‘nations’ within the [Holy Roman] Empire, their descendants two centuries later voiced a more distinct identity around the concept of Helvetica: the ideal of the moral and unpretentious Swiss in contrast to the petty and immoral German princely courts.” See his: The Holy Roman Empire: a thousand years of Europe’s history. London: Allen Lane; 2016; 231. See also: Richard H. Zeitlin. Germans in Wisconsin. rev. and exp. edn. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin; 2000; 5-6.
2 After its defeat in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, the second of three so-called unification wars, the Austrian Empire was expelled from the German Confederation; see: Pieter M. Judson. The Habsburg Empire: a new history. Cambridge, MA – London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 2016; 259.3 In the wake of the French revolution and (then Commander) Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasions of Habsburg lands the already weakened Empire lost much territory. The official end came when Emperor Napoleon forced the Confederation of the Rhine upon 16 princes in present-day Germany, in July-August 1806; Wilson. 201.
4 Ibid.; 2
5 Exploring the Americas and colonial affairs, however, were only partly overlapping activities in the Holy Roman Empire. There were extensive commercial activities from today’s Italy, while from today’s Germany colonial trade was initiated with the Far East and with the New World (largely the southern continent) or through trade missions to Russia and Persia, even during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Nevertheless, colonial and extra-imperial trade and conquest suffered from the Empire’s lack of central government and financial support. “However, the primary reason was that such activity was never a priority for any of the Empire’s multiple authorities. 18th-century German territorial governments were more concerned to attract migrants than see valuable taxpayers and potential recruits emigrate to distant colonies.” See: Wilson. 2016;
6 Such American revolutionaries as James Madison and Thomas Paine were republicans who denigrated democracy as “populist tyranny” or “confusion of the multitude”; see: John Keane. The life and death of democracy. London: Pocket Books; 201.
7 Colin Ross. Die deutsche Geschichte Amerikas. In: Unser Amerika. Der deutsche Anteil an den Vereinigten Staaten. 1. Aufl. Leizpig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1936; 22-27. See Library.