News from the Land of Freedom: German Immigrants Write Home

Walter D. Kamphoefner, Editor, Ulrike Sommer, Editor, Wolgang Helbich, Editor Cornell University Press $45 (645p) ISBN 978-0-8014-2523-3
Kamphoefner, who teaches history at Texas A & M, and Helbich and Sommer, a historian and a researcher, respectively, in Germany, assemble here letters written home by German immigrants to the U.S. between the 1830s and 1930s. The entries remind us that hard work and early death especially taxed the first arrivals: in one family only four of 11 children survived infancy, and there are frequent references to the deaths of women in their 30s and 40s. We also read tales of the more adventuresome who left the cities for Mexico or the California gold fields and of those who fought in the Civil War. An amusing sidelight is the introduction of young men to the shotgun wedding, evidently not a practice in the Old Country. There are also accounts of the anti-German feelings provoked by WW I and the virtual banning of German-language study in the schools. General readers would do well to skip over the first 60 pages devoted to the editors' and translator's difficulties, but the letters themselves will be of great interest to those descended from immigrants of any nationality. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1991
Release date: 04/01/1991
Paperback - 656 pages - 978-0-8014-8120-8
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