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  • 20

    Gott Mit Uns
    History; Posted on: 2007-08-16 09:54:05 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    The Germans of Texas

    by Egon Richard Tausch

    As modern imperialism grows, even the regions within those countries under its rule become homogenized. Within the subnational regions, smaller ethnic enclaves, with their diverse cultures, tend to take one of two paths. They become tourist traps where the natives are totally ignorant of their own histories, differences, and contributions to the larger groups, until, eventually, everyone wears the same garb (lederhosen, feathered hats, kilts, identical regalia), employs the same false architecture, adopts the same fake accent, sings the same pseudo folk songs, dances the only folk dance he knows, and claims the same beliefs and ideologies. Or they just die out altogether. I don’t know whom this hurts worse—the larger “empire” or the enclaves. It certainly makes the world a duller place. And contrary to the philosophers, knowledge of history is its own virtue.

    I first discovered this as a child. After living in Washington, D.C., for several years, my parents and I had returned to the Texas ranch that had been in our family since 1845. The culture clash between the East and Southwest was not as great as I had expected; too much time had passed. But I had been taught by my family, as well as by mounds of books, that we were Texas Germans, as was the entire Hill Country of the state, including the towns and cities of New Braunfels, Boerne, Fredericksburg, Dickinson, Seguin, Austin, San Antonio, Castroville, Hondo, up to what we still thought of as the western frontier—indeed, all of South-Central Texas.

    Most of the Germans had arrived in Texas when it was still a republic, under the guidance of the Adelsverein (“The Noblemen’s Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas”), led by Prince Karl von Solms-Braunfels (though he didn’t stay). It was not long before over one third of all Texans were German. Before the invention of barbed wire (1875), the Texas economy was based on cotton, so the Texas Germans raised it and owned slaves, though not as many as the East Texans did. As late as the eve of U.S. entry into World War I, a rally for the kaiser was held in Boerne among the (mostly) still German-speaking blacks, with the rallying cry: “Ve Chermans haff got to schtick togedder!”

    The Texas Germans went on to fight valiantly for the United States after we entered the war, despite the closing of our schools and violent harassment by groups of drunken Anglo teenagers from San Antonio. I lost two uncles to gas attacks on the Western Front.

    As late as the 1950’s, one could not buy groceries or feed in the small town nearest our ranch without knowing German. My grandfather founded New Braunfels High School, and almost all the textbooks were in German (though Greek and Latin—and English—were also taught). He was also the editor of the Neu-Braunfelser Zeitung, our first newspaper (since the 1850’s), and cofounder of our first bank (the Guaranty State Bank). This whole section of Texas was closely knit. After all, the Germans arrived in the 1830’s and 40’s not knowing whether they were immigrating to Mexico, an independent Texas republic, or the United States.

    Differences among groups of Texas Germans were common. The influential founders of New Braunfels were largely Prussian, atheist (“freethinkers”), and townspeople; Fredericksburg was founded by Bavarians and other southern Germans, Roman Catholics, and country folk; the German towns to the east were largely Lutheran (Evangelisch) and from all parts of Germany and all occupations. In addition, there were the Forty-Eighters.

    The only question that had interested children back in Washington, D.C., was whether they were Southerners or Northerners. After all, Washington had been a Southern city for most of its history, was the center of the War Between the States, and the mid-to-late 1950’s was the height of regional rivalry.

    News Source: chroniclesmagazine.org


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