Why Did They Immigrate?

Historical Background of Germany

It is necessary to understand what was occuring historically in Germany, if one is to understand why many families elected to leave the fatherland and voyage to America. The decision to leave must have been made with great difficulty, yet the opportunity to start anew and live their lives in freedom for many outweighed any argument to remain.

In the 1600's France waged territorial wars over the western border provinces of Germany, occupied Strasburg and took possession of Alsace and Lorraine. In the east the massive Turkish armies overran the land as far as Vienna. In northern Germany the Brandenburg ruler was fighting the Swedes and the Poles. As soon as that struggle was over, the whole empire, from the Rhine to Bavaria, was involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. This was followed by the War of the Austrian Succession and the three great Selisian wars. This gave way in the early 1800's to the revolutionary cannons and the Napoleonic campaigns. At the same time, the last traces of personal freedom disappeared.

The eternal see-saw of war brought about inflation, while stocks of precious metals were exhausted. Peasants at times lived like wolves, hidden in the forests. The local burghers grieved at the plundered ruins of their towns, while whole areas of the German countryside became depopulated. The Rhineland had lost between two-thirds and three-quarters of its inhabitants, while in other areas between a half and a third of the people had died.

The territorial princes ruled over their towns and lands with an iron rod. They squeezed monstrous amounts of taxes and labor out of their peasants. These overlords needed money and yet more money to keep standing armies and to finance their sumptuous courts, their hunts and festivals, their extravagant mistresses and corrupt officials, and to build their magnificent castles. They had absolute power, with no participation from the lower classes, with no laws and no moral values. Indeed, these very men who set about rebuilding that war-torn land, whose children were to renew the slaughtered nation's population, became the servants to all and the nobleman's beast of burden."

Concise History of Great Nations, History of Germany, Leon Amiel Publisher, New York, N.Y., pp. 66-68.

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This is quoted in its entirety and is reprinted herein without permission. It was furnished to me by Richard Schneider. Even allowing for the aggrandizing of the narrative employed above for the author's purposes of marketability, indeed, in some respects it may not sound so very different from the world today, it still offers a decent picture of the forces at work in war-torn Europe giving rise to dreams that a better life could be made across the ocean.

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