'Die Deutschen' who disappeared: What happened to Albany's German-Americans?

Times Union-2 years before

A view of the German-American Club of Albany on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski/Times Union) Vic Meister, foreground, and Gregory Reinwald, background, members of the Greg and the Brauhaus Band, perform during a picnic at the German-American Club of Albany on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski/Times Union) A pile of German high school textbooks burns on a street in Baraboo, Wiscon<span class=...in, during an anti-German demonstration in 1918." src="https://s.hdnux.com/photos/76/65/36/16471940/3/1200x0.jpg"/> German-American Club of Albany president, James Reedy, poses for a photo at the club on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski/Times Union) Jan. 1918 article about German registrations A member of the club sports a button at a picnic at the German-American Club of Albany on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski/Times Union) A member of the club sports a button at a picnic at the German-American Club of Albany on Sunday, August 19, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. (Paul Buckowski/Times Union)

A 1900 illustration shows a well-dressed man sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper with the headline A 1900 illustration shows a German American man standing in front of a banner showing portraits of President William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. As he casts his vote, he uses his left hand, holding papers labeled ALBANY — One hundred years ago, the South End and Central Avenue bustled with beer gardens and butcher shops. German rang throughout parish schools and ran off the printing press onto the pages of half a dozen newspapers. Singing clubs serenaded the community, bands roused residents on Madison Avenue and parades celebrated "German Day."

Albany's first German arrived in the 1660s. By 1854, Germans made up half of all immigrants to the U.S., with many flooding from New York City's docks up the Hudson River to the Capital Region. There were 12,119 German-born residents in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area at the population's peak, according to the census. As the next generation was born on American soil, the community began to blend in.

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Then World War I broke out in Europe. President Woodrow Wilson criticized Germans in the U.S. as "hyphenated Americans" who could turn on the nation. In early 1917, the Albany Federation of German Catholic Societies, representing 1,500 German-Americans, sent a telegram to the president declaring loyalty to their adopted country.

But two months later, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, not even pledges to the president could stop discrimination as anti-immigrant war hysteria spread. Some German-Americans tried to prove themselves with patriotism: the German Gun Club allowed the Albany Defense Corps to practice on their rifle range and German churches in Albany gave tens of thousands of dollars to buy bonds that supported the war effort.

"It appears that with a lot of the intolerance that was shown against German-Americans, that was enough to have the remaining Germans just assimilate and blend in," said Christopher White, the leading scholar on Germans in Albany. "It was much easier to just give in than it was to fight. It would also be very difficult to win that fight because the country you're living in, the country that's supposed to be your new homeland, is at war with your former homeland."

One hundred years after the end of the "war to end all wars," White's research and Times Union archives together re-trace what happened to Albany's German-Americans who disappeared.

The day after the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, Albany officials ordered a census of German "alien enemies" - males 14 years or older. They found 300 to 400 living in the city.

Albany's police chief ordered German aliens to surrender their weapons. The first man who did so, handing over 17 rounds and a double-barrelled shotgun that he used to kill rats on his farm, said he was happy to obey the order.

The federal government required German "alien enemies" to register at their local police headquarters or face arrest, fines, imprisonment or possible deportation. Albany city officials also demanded that Germans inform police if they intended to move from their current residence or travel outside the city. By June 1918, 213 German aliens had registered.

German language studies were dropped from the Albany High School curriculum by popular vote of the students. Federal authorities seized the protocol book of Maennerchor, one of many popular German singing clubs.

U.S. government agents combed every inch of Albany County in search of "dodgers," "slackers," "spies" and "traitors" who had evaded the draft or were German sympathizers. Arrests of German-Americans spiked under the Sedition Act, enacted in May 1918.

Group portrait of a group of children standing in front of an anti-German sign posted in the Edison Park community area of Chicago, Illinois in 1917. Tiber Menz was detained for loitering too close to a factory producing materials for the war effort.

15-year-old Herman Wunsch was arrested for traveling outside the city without permission. He was detained in one of four internment camps that imprisoned as many as 6,000 German-Americans during the war.

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In September, a large box with the ends broken in arrived at the American Express office at Union Station in Albany with a 1916 Fatherland calendar written in German protruding from one of the openings. The U.S. Justice Department inspected the box and found photos of the German king, military and maps. The intended recipient of the package, Maurice Maerclin of Delaware Ave., said it was sent to him by his brother in Chicago.

After the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, the restrictions against Germans were eased. The Sedition Act was repealed. Internment camps were emptied. But German assimilation into the mainstream in the Capital Region was irreversible.

German-Americans moved outside Albany to Bethlehem and Delmar. The community's two major churches on Central Ave., Our Lady of Angels Catholic Church and St. John's Lutheran Church, no longer hold services in German. Albany's last German language newspaper folded in 1919.

By 1930, the number of German-born residents in the Capital Region had dropped to just over 8,100. By 1950, it plummeted to half of that amount. As of the most recent count in 2014, there were just under 3,000 German-born Capital Region residents.

The remaining vestige of the pre-WWI community is the German-American Club of Albany, founded in 1895. President Jim Reid said the club currently has 145 members, but only 20 percent claim German heritage.

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