(Published in the Herald-Zeitung on April 2, 2017)
As far as Americans were concerned, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungary throne on June 28, 1914, was of little concern. Europe, after all, was far away, and the United States had a policy of isolation. Besides, Texas had its own problems. That very year, Texas elected James “Pa” Ferguson as their governor. He was reelected in 1916, but in 1917, he was impeached for not appropriating the entire budget for the University of Texas in 1916. Ferguson’s wife, “Ma” Ferguson, was elected governor in 1925-27, and then again in 1933-1935. Also, that same year, there were those pesky problems that Americans had to deal with – women’s right to vote and prohibition. In 1920, the 19th amendment gave women the right to vote.
Then there was Prohibition. New Braunfels voted 100% against Prohibition. Beer drinking was one of those cultural things that the immigrants originally brought with them to America. New Braunfels voted 100% against Prohibition.
In 1918, the state of Texas as a whole, voted for Prohibition. This set up a barrier between those of German descent and the Americans. It was a general feeling that women’s right to vote had something to do with the passage of Prohibition. A German celebrating, was associated with the drinking of beer. Also, the abundance of wild mustang grapes made wine-making easy. One brewery never stopped making beer, but made a beer called Busto or “near beer.” It had a small legal alcohol content.
Prejudice against Germans
Newspapers in America generally were against Germany and German-Americans and in favor of the Allies (France and Great Britain). Extreme prejudice against German-Americans took place throughout the war. Large German language newspapers in Texas tried their best to stem the tide, but the hatred for Germany was too strong. Children in particular were affected by the prejudice. In German communities like New Braunfels, school had been taught in German and suddenly even speaking German was against the law. Churches went through the same language turmoil.
Those of German descent had to choose between the German culture or the American patriotism. According to Matthew D. Tippens, who wrote Turning Germans Into Texans, any ethnic group that had a hyphen between the two descriptions was called hyphenated Americans. As long as there was a hyphen, there was a difference between the two cultures, like German-American, or German Americans. The hyphenated word showed that the first was the predominant. Only when the hyphen was dropped, could they be called German Americans and of course eventually just Americans. Do you remember the story that I told about asking my mother why she didn’t teach me German and her reply was “Because you are an American?”
Eventually it became obvious that war was inevitable. World War I had initially started in 1914 in Europe. Originally, only a few nations were involved. Great Britain, France and Russia were at war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. Within a very short time nearly every country in Europe joined one side or the other. It became a world war. The United States didn’t enter the war until April 6, 1917. Congress declared war and the United States joined Great Britain and France in their fight against Germany.
The war became more personal in New Braunfels since the German descendant’s country (the U.S.) declared war against their ancestral home. Culturally, the war took its toll on the German American culture. In two generations, almost no one was speaking German in places like New Braunfels and Fredericksburg. When the U.S. entered the war with Germany, the use of the German language as the primary language was destroyed and wasn’t even retained as a secondary language. Parents taught their children English exclusively. Many years passed before any pride in the German culture was restored. In New Braunfels, years after World War II, eventually the pride of the German culture returned and then the Wurstfest put the German culture on the map again.
New Braunfels showed its loyalty to the Americans by holding a Loyalty Parade on May 21, 1917. This parade included every group – Confederates, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, city leaders and veterans, fraternal organizations, a brass band and a full regiment of Federal soldiers in parade dress added to the festivities. Also in the parade was Gen. George Pershing, former fighter of Pancho Villa. He became the organizer of the Expeditionary Forces. He commanded an Army group that did their maneuvers on the Landa Ranch on the plateau above Landa Park.
Also Col. Jake Wolters was introduced as a prominent Texan of German descent. The children sang “America” and “Star Spangled Banner.” Gus Reininger read a resolution of loyalty that was to be sent to President Woodrow Wilson.
The town gave generously to the Red Cross. Initially, that local organization began helping German soldiers but switched to helping American soldiers during World War I. A huge amount of Liberty Bonds were sold locally.
After five years of war, church bells rang out the end of the war at 7:00 o’clock on the morning of November 11, 1918 and it became known as Armistice Day. A spectacular celebration took place as steam whistles screeched and church and fire bells tolled. A popping cannon entertained thousands gathered at the Plaza. People gave speeches, gave sermons and sang songs. An impromptu parade was organized that lasted until 2:00 in the morning. Then, a group of non-Comal Countyans joined the parade and hung a likeness of the German Kaiser in effigy. One account says that these men drove recklessly around the plaza and hung the effigy and ultimately shot at it. The message was clear: the discrimination against German Americans was not over. As for the crowd, they were happy for the victory but were offended by the denigration toward Germans.
Comal County had done its share to win the war. Over 500 men had been enlisted in the expeditionary forces. Statistics show that 31 men from Comal County had died but some died from the worldwide flu epidemic. The grotto at Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church commemorates the victims of the flu. The War That Ended All Wars was repeated in 1941 with America’s entrance into World War II.
World War I commemoration begins on the Main Plaza April 6th
On Thursday, April 6th, the Centennial Commemoration will begin on the Main Plaza with a program at 10:30am at the World War I doughboy statue. The United States flags will be flying everywhere downtown and a fitting tribute year to World War I will begin.