- German Diasporic Experiences: Identity, Migration, and Loss
This volume, drawn from a conference organized by the Canadian Waterloo Centre for German Studies in 2006, is arranged by themes: identity, migration, and loss—and a great many, understandably, are concerned with Canadian Germans. Thirty-nine brief but lively, evocative essays testify to the universal human experience of exile. The editors of this fascinating, wide-ranging collection have chosen their title well, as “diasporic experiences” neatly sidesteps the thorny question of what constitutes a diaspora as such. In view of the fact that German-speaking people left territories variously bounded in nation-states and empires at different times or were stranded as minorities in new political entities, it is difficult to ascribe a single noun to such a diverse dispersal. Two authors here attempt it. One is Alexander Freund, who defines diaspora as “members of an ethnic group residing in at least two countries outside of the home country and [who] are linked across political or geographical boundaries through an origin myth, a collective history, or a common religion or ideology” (p. 468). The other is Angelika Sauer, who finds that it “suggests that nationals of one country maintain their sense of national identity after migration or dispersal and stay connected to the homeland and that the homeland remains interested in them as continuing parts of a dispersed [End Page 472] nation. In this analytical framework, migrants become an unbounded nation or a global network of nationals in different locations, all aware of each others existence and feeling connected in a common national cause” (p. 206). A previous attempt in which this reviewer participated, The Heimat Abroad: The Boundaries of Germanness, edited by Krista O’Donnell, Renate Bridenthal, and Nancy Reagin (University of Michigan Press, 2005), concluded that while some case studies met a stringent definition of diaspora, others fell short, and that none were unchanging over time. One important distinction for Germans abroad was the state’s unique approach to citizenship that forged lasting legal ties with emigrants and colonists. It complicated émigrés’ political lives in their host countries especially because of Germany’s part in and loss of two world wars.
However, the topics of identity, migration, and loss tend to submerge the complex political experiences of an ethnic group still marked in the third or possibly even fourth generation by Nazi crimes of World War II. Like the United States, Canada had an ambivalent attitude to immigrants depending on changing labor needs and on politically tinged biases that determined certain exclusions. As the third largest immigrant group, after the British and French, Germans had been entering Canada since the mid nineteenth century, yet its loyalty became suspect soon after the founding of the German state in 1871. Anne Löchte tells the story of a German language newspaper in Ontario that, although critical of the new state’s repressive aspects, nevertheless fell victim to Canada’s ban on German newspapers in World War I.
An interesting conflict emerged among Canadian Germans who had arrived before World War II, some of them fleeing Nazism, and those who came after, some of them having supported Nazism. The postwar flood of Germans expelled from Central and Eastern Europe and admitted to North America opens a torrent of questions about victim versus perpetrator status or some combination of these, as well as of these emigrants’ relationship to postwar Germany. Hans Lemberg notes that while these ethnic German expellees complained loudly about their particular suffering, all of Europe in the immediate postwar period experienced hunger, disease, and lawlessness. Similarly, Dieter Buse reminds us that the expulsion of Polish Germans had been preceded by Nazi expulsion of Poles and that “the historians’ focus on victimization requires that the various forms of victimization undergo greater clarification” (p. 7). Even among the émigrés in Canada, political tensions arose. Patrick Farges describes the social democratic political migrants who left the...