Sunday, March 21, 2010

Museum Wars?

"The only way modern, democratic Germany could salvage its reputation in the United states,many Germans in government and the private sector believed, was to counter the Holocaust museum with one of their own."

Marc Fisher, German-American museum doesn't tell the whole story," The Washington Post, March 20, 2010.

As a three-quarter German-American, my grandparents arriving in the 1880s and 1890s, I find the above sentiment to be completely wrong-headed. How widely held it is I don't know, but it is offensive to say the least and hardly representative of the best of German culture, tradition and political insight over the centuries.

There is a history of white-ethnic america worth telling that is more than white racism,the Bund, and the rich and famous. The German-American strand of this history frequently gets lost because the German immigrant population was so large. Whether fleeing the revolutions of 1848 or leading unions in the U.S., German-Americans have a rich, positive history of progressive change in the United States. They've also taken their own hits, trivial in the context of the genocides and civil rights abuses of the 20th century, but a fact nonetheless. Thousands of German-Americans were put in camps during WW1 for their opposition to the war -- and support for Kaiser Wilhelm. One of my grandfathers was hauled in for having a small statue of the Kaiser in his home in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood. The partially apocryphal story passed down by my father was that the Feds ransacked our bakery in search of secret radio equipment. Many German-Americans took their ethnic identity underground after WWI -- long before the atrocities of Hitler. Others did not.

"..[T]he German-American Heritage Museum presents a version of the past that is at times useful and at times disturbingly incomplete..."

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