German-Americans are the by far largest ethnic group in the United States, and much of American culture originates from Germany: Disney movies about fairytale princesses, food such as hamburgers, potatoes, and apple cake, folk music, kindergartens, and cars. And yet, rarely anybody in the USA speaks or understands German, not even people whose ancestors came from Germany. Why is this? Berlinica author Erik Kirschbaum, a native New Yorker, has wondered about this since High School, when he tried to practice German with his German-born grandfather—and was harshly rebuffed.
The answer was: The United States had experienced a huge, anti-German backlash during World War I. Kirschbaum wrote his university thesis on this topic. Now, he has turned his research into a book, Burning Beethoven: The Eradication of German Culture in the United States during World War I. It sheds light on a dark chapter of U.S. history and how the German language, German education, German traditions and even German terms were purged in the United States during a sudden eruption of anti-German sentiment that swept the country from 1914 to 1917 and after.
The WWI violence and prejudice directed against German-Americans included spontaneous vigilante hangings, tarring and feathering of suspected German spies, and the specter of some Americans showing their patriotism by taking part in public book burnings of German literature and music. There were also bizarre government-led efforts to eradicate German terms by renaming “hamburgers” as “liberty sandwiches” and “sauerkraut” as “liberty cabbage". The book is a comprehensive and fast-moving examination of why Americans stopped speaking and learning German and why the language and culture were all but wiped out in the U.S. 100 years ago.
Erik Kirschbaum is now a Reuters correspondent living in Berlin. The preface has been written by Herb Stupp, Trustee of the German-American Hall of Fame, an Executive Committee member of the German-American Steuben Parade, and a member of the American Council on Germany.
Burning Beethoven, a 176-page softcover book, is now for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at independent bookstores; with the ebook soon to come out as well. The price is $14.95.
Your publisher, Eva C. Schweitzer