|Luick-Thrams, Michael : "Creating 'New Americans': WWII-Era European Refugees' Formation of American Identities" |
From 1939 to 1943, 185 refugees from Nazi-ruled Germany, Austria, Poland, France, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Latvia found refuge at Scattergood, a temporary hostel in what had been a Friends [also known as "Quaker"] boarding school near West Branch, a village on the Iowa prairies. Those fleeing Europe included not only Jews, but also political opponents of the Nationalsozialisten, religious dissenters, former Reichstag members and Berlin Senat staff, judges, lawyers, journalists, merchants, artists, elderly ladies and single young men, students and children. With the help of volunteers, the refugees-Quakers preferred calling them "guests"- sought to overcome the trauma of their experiences in Europe, find a niche for themselves in a foreign society and generally adapt to life in the New World.
Sponsored by Philadelphia-based American Friends Service Committee [AFSC], the hostel strove to rehabilitate, integrate and assimilate the refugees who came to it seeking assistance. Reflecting their native culture and the era in which they lived, the Quakers who operated the hostel believed that the best way to help newcomers was to prepare European émigrés for integration and assimilation into U.S. culture-in their words, to "create 'New Americans'". Friends did so to help exiles join American society-and thus avoid isolation or provoking natives' anti-foreigner sentiment-while some of refugees sought to adapt to their new environs as a means of basic survival. The Quakers' over-riding goal of Americanizing their guests guided almost every aspect of the hostel's program: instruction in American life and institutions as well as the English language, work in the garden and house, freetime activities, etc; their efforts had far-reaching effect and yielded mixed results. Concurrently, their guests had to juggle who they had been on one hand with new identities they were building on the other; like other refugees at that time, some of the exiles sojourning at Scattergood Hostel attempted to become "Americanized".
This dissertation examines four basic questions relevant to the process through which World War II-era European refugees formed new identities in America: through what means and to what degree did refugees become "Americanized", what did it mean to them to become "American" and how did their relationships with America change over time?
Although it focuses above all on one particular Quaker refugee project, this study does not exist in isolation. On a larger level the questions it raises involve the formation of cultural identity in general-but in this case in regard to identity specifically as affected by refugee integration and assimilation. It concentrates on Scattergood Hostel, however, primarily for two reasons-the practical one being that in researching the rehabilitation, integration and assimilation of refugees fleeing Nazi-ruled Europe, I found less than twenty centers where those being served actually lived on the premises. Numerous Jewish, Christian or other agencies offered exiles day-program assistance- English lessons, short-term employment or the chance to sew torn clothes- but hardly any attempted to take refugees in, expose them to American life, culture and institutions or, indeed, cultivate "New Americans". Few agencies helped refugees integrate or assimilate<1> through comprehensive immersion programs per se; as most left that to chance or "fate". Where integration and assimilation were left to chance, the minutiae of those processes also were left largely unrecorded-and therefore difficult to analyze systematically. Relative to other residential centers I researched, the refugees and staff at Scattergood left proportionately far more material behind than any of the others.
Also, all refugees landing in America had to adapt to some extent to the society they found in the New World-and presumably they couldn't help but be changed as people through that experience. What was different about the refugees who passed through Quaker refugee centers, however, was that they underwent conscious, organized exposure to America and Americans.<2> The new identities they formed, therefore, might be described as the products of "accelerated assimilation": they were not left to assimilate by chance but were encouraged to do so through intent.
Quakers didn't have to force their guests to adapt, however, as most of them welcomed the opportunity. Émigré Gerhart Saenger wrote: "the refugee of today is the American of tomorrow". Before a newcomer to the United States could become "one of us", however, she or he had to learn
American manners, customs, and ideals. The more he becomes assimilated, the more he will feel at home and be able to take his place in the social and economic life of the nation. We cannot become members of a society before we have learned its standards of right and wrong, its aspirations and its religion, its traditions or cultural heritage.<3>
Saenger described "Americanization" as largely a "learning process". Unless she or he was still a child upon arriving in the New World, for the immigrant, however, adjustment to American society was "difficult". An adult refugee had been
indoctrinated as a child into a society whose customs and ideals [had] become part of his own personality. Now he must relearn and forget, suppressing his old way of living. Moreover, many refugees must undergo this process of adaptation to a new manner of life at a time when learning is no longer easy.<4>
Above all-according to this premise-refugees first had to adapt to new or at least altered positions in life before they could become "Americans". The "mere learning" of American customs or manners, "mere intellectual penetration" into American culture alone was not enough: "inner emotional acceptance" of the refugees' situation on the one hand and "the American system of values" on the other were of "tantamount importance".<5>
As shall be substantiated in Part II, compared to sociological studies such as those compiled by Davie or Kent, Scattergood Hostel guests mirrored the backgrounds and experiences of WWII-era European refugees as a whole; their integration or assimilation, though, involved more deliberacy or intensity than that of most émigrés. To understand what adapting to life in the U.S. and forming new identities there might have meant to those who did it, one must consider what "truth" about nameless masses can be distilled from the varied experiences of a select group of individuals from diverse backgrounds-a best-available "control group" being the refugees who spent time at Scattergood Hostel. Based on my research into WWII-era residential refugee centers and refugees, I believe that the 185 individuals who passed through Scattergood represent experiences common to the main refugee groups: political refugees, exiled artists, intellectuals, religious dissenters, "non-Aryans" and refugees from Nazi occupation. I would like to be able to "prove" the representivity of the individual cases I have woven into this study but, in a "scientific" sense, I simply can't: human beings are too diverse and their experiences too unique to maintain that those at Scattergood absolutely represent an imaginary whole. Thus the degree to which my findings are "representative" or "typical" depends on readers' willingness to deduce generalizations from specific cases. There are, however, inherent dangers in such an approach-one of which entails maintaining a balance between the individual and the group. We can consider the entire refugee migration as a whole-including those aspects common to it-but in such an approach we risk overlooking a central fact: any group is composed of individuals, each of whom is ultimately unique and thus faces somewhat different if not distinct problems. As John Rich, an AFSC refugee-relief and -resettlement worker, put it:
The moment you consider the tangled affairs of an individual refugee, the whole pattern changes color. It ceases to be a vast economic and social involvement and becomes a moving human drama fraught with deep spiritual significance.<6>
While history does not consist merely of biographies, without biographies history could not exist. At the same time, exclusive focus on individual fates might yield compelling reading but little of orthodox academic or historical significance, while focus on the purely political events behind those individual fates overlooks the microcosmic ripples caused by macrocosmic developments. As this study explores the microcosmic against a sketch of the macrocosmic, it provides historically grounded insight into a broad, multi-facetted subject: the formation of new identities by individuals who find themselves in a new cultural context, for whom past, culturally specific identities no longer suffice.
This study initially involved the Problematik of WWII-era European refugee integration into American society. As research into it progressed and a more critical perspective evolved from my findings, I realized that I had to narrow the focus, as "integration" was an insufficient term. Did "integration" mean simply the procurement of naturalization papers and ultimately a passport issued by the host country? Did it assume "successful" placement in a professional career in the new country-or at least a steady source of self-support? To what degree did it imply that "newcomers" made on-going social connections which offered them a sense of belonging-such as religious, political or other affiliations which provided meaning in the context of a new cultural setting? Some refugees received U.S. passports-for example-but later returned to Europe or emigrated to Israel; they hardly could be seen as having "successfully" integrated. Some older male refugees found positions which were the envy of many natives; others, though, later reported feeling "homesick", "at odds" or "lonely" in the midst of otherwise agreeable work; in their cases "successful" professional placement did not equate successful integration. Still other adult refugees lived in the U.S. for decades and became pillar members of religious or political organizations, yet requested burial in their lands of birth upon death; their last wish spoke volumes about their real feelings toward America.It seemed, then, that the validity of any of the above-mentioned as measurements of "integration" were contingent upon the degree to which "New Americans" were able to form solid, self-determined identities as "Americans" which allowed them not just to survive, but to thrive in their adopted homeland. "Successful" integration depended less on external, "hard" criteria, but rather more on internal, "soft" ones-as will be explained shortly.
One-time refugee children, however, are a different matter-in various ways. For one thing, they arrived in the new culture early enough in their development that their personalities were less set, more flexible. As children learn much through example, "Scattergood kids" mimicked the environment they saw around them and in the process absorbed many dominant behaviors, values or life-choices modeled in their new communities. They were able not only to "integrate", but moreover to "assimilate". The words "integration" and "assimilation" possess crucially different qualities. One can integrate into a given society ["to make or become whole or complete; to bring (parts) together into a whole"] without assimilating ["to become like or alike; to be absorbed and incorporated"].<7> In America some of the childrens' parents were able-for example-to "bring together parts (of their lives) into a whole": they built careers, bought houses, established friendships and earned citizenship; in short, such individuals built respectable replicas of the lives they had known in Europe. The adults, though, largely remained Europeans transplanted into American society. Their children, in contrast, much more "became like (or alike)" native-born Americans and were "absorbed and incorporated" into American culture; they generally became individuals who seemed "very American" when visiting Europe-according to former Scattergood Hostel children themselves-and not particularly "European" in their daily lives in America.
In short, truly assimilated European refugee children became virtually indistinguishable from their American counterparts-true to the original definition of "assimilation", which began as a biological term describing the process by which food is made a part of the body. Adapted to sociological use, it refers to the process by which a non-member of a society in incorporated into the "social body". As in the case with assimilated food, when the process is complete
the ingested body is indistinguishable from the absorbing body. Putting it in different terms, when the refugee becomes so Americanized that among native Americans he [or she] passes unnoticed as being foreign, he is assimilated. Assimilation...consists of little things, even though the end result is no little thing.<8>
Regarding "successful" assimilation, I am uncomfortable claiming to know what it "should" mean. Subjective definitions used to gauge WWII-era European refugees' "Americanization" posed for me one of the most difficult, unsatisfactory aspects of this project. I have resisted defining one or another standard for measuring "successful" integration or assimilation when dealing with something as intimate as an individual's sense of Self. For cues I looked to the rich biographies of former Scattergood children. Irmgard [Rosenzweig] Wessel-for one-established a noted reputation for herself as a counselor at Yale. Pierre Shostal, for another, graduated from Harvard and became a well-traveled diplomat with the U.S. State Department-even serving as consular general in Hamburg. Ernst [Malamerson] van den Haag became a renowned conservative economist and lecturer, as well as psychoanalyst and close friend of Henry Kissinger. Hanna [Deutsch] Clampitt's early experiences led her to feminist psychology, while her brother Michael worked with disturbed high schoolers. Erhard Winter studied orthopedic surgery and volunteered his skills in a Tel Aviv hospital for a year. Besides a teacher and multiple times a foster mother, Edith [Lichtenstein] Morgan became a member of her town's school board-an appointment she considered to be one of the most important of her life. In these and other cases one-time refugees established themselves in the American professional world and made important contributions to American society. Were they "successful"? In a culturally defined sense, of course-but they also had the attendant traits of other human beings: divorce, bouts of alcohol or other substance abuse, spells of depression, rebellious children, etc. If "successful" meant "perfectly adjusted", then none of the refugees qualified. If it meant that the refugees themselves thought that they had learned how to lead engaging, satisfying, socially useful lives in America, then they had succeeded. If it also meant that in a crowd of peers they seemed like "just another achiever" and did not stand out as not being Americans, then they had succeeded.
The drawing of conclusions regarding WWII-era European refugees' formation of American identities ultimately depends on 1.) what criteria one uses and 2.) which criteria one finds most interesting. Of these two main kinds of criteria, one consists of a more "objective" approach-which is to say it uses hetero-perceptions ("successful" integration or assimilation as judged by persons other than the one in question) and looks for "hard" evidence: adequate language skills, a U.S. passport, a place of employment, a house, comfortable furnishings, friends, etc. The other consists of a more "subjective" approach- which is to say it uses auto-perception (assessment by the person in question) and looks for "soft" evidence: feelings, memories, dreams, values, goals, desires, etc. The former lends itself to graphs or charts, statistics, "scientific" surveys and the like; the latter lends itself to journal entries or poems, letters, informal interviews and the like. Differentiating between the "objective" and the "subjective" belongs to my method as doing so facilitates categorization of available data. While it considers "objective" evidence when relevant, this study is fundamentally oriented to "subjective" over "objective" factors involving the identities which WWII-era European refugees formed after arriving in the U.S. Given the dearth of material dealing with refugees' internal reorientation upon physically establishing themselves as "New Americans", it is good so. Tens of thousands of studies document the "hard" experiences of refugees from Nazi-ruled Europe (their escape, passage to host countries, living conditions in their new homes, etc.), yet few document "soft" experiences (first impressions of American upon arriving contrasted with those of decades later, personal assessments of "what being 'American' means", the degree to which one-time refugees feel at home in their adopted country, the future they hope for their children, etc.). This work ventures into an area avoided by most "historical scientists": it explores the subjective qualities of "objective" historical "facts".
In this work, I sketch the backgrounds of refugees from Nazism in the context of persecution and flight, the various receptions residential refugee centers offered them and-for those who sojourned at Scattergood Hostel- what sort of work or other conditions faced them upon first wading alone into American daily life. After considerable documentation I compare and contrast similarities as well as differences between the various forms of assistance provided them in the process of settling into a new culture and building new lives in it. Finally, I outline basic conclusions regarding WWII-era European refugees' formation of American identities-specifically, means through which Scattergood guests were "Americanized", ways in which some of them were able to "successfully" integrate or assimilate, what the new identities of those who did entail and how their relationships with America have changed over time.
One might inquire: why is it important to better understand WWII-era refugees' formation of new-in this case "American"-identities? Thousands of volumes have been written over the rise of Nazism, over the Third Reich's expansion and the expulsion of those elements rejected by the Nazis or over the Holocaust and the demise of European Jewry. While numerous volumes have documented the persecution, flight or-to a lesser extent-the reception of refugees abroad, few studies have dealt with refugees' formation of new lives, let alone new identities once they had found safe haven. [See "Reference to Sources" for a sampling.] What remains sorely missing is a comprehensive yet grounded exploration of the means through which such refugees formed new identities upon arriving in host countries and of the reoccurring-or "representative"- results of that process. Although the pool of persons present at Scattergood Hostel was limited, their varied experiences were thoroughly-yet diversely- documented through closely kept AFSC records, staff reports, refugees' essays and letters, the hostel's monthly newsletters, various individuals' journal entries, newspaper articles, taped interviews with survivors, etc. As explained in Part II, Scattergood Hostel's "guests" were typical of refugees of that period in numerous ways: in this case a well-represented microcosm can shed light on an ill-recorded macrocosm-namely, the dramatic experiences of about a quarter-million unnamed, mostly forgotten unfortunates who fled Nazi terror and landed in host countries far removed from Mittel Europa. Given the little research done till now on WWII-era European refugees' formation of new lives and identities once they were safe from Nazi terror, the few published sources pertaining directly to that subject and the passing of the last living participants of the event itself, future historians will suffer from too few sources dealing with refugees' post-flight lives and identities. This paper strives in a small yet concrete way to address that problem.
As historians interested in WWII-era European refugees' formation of new identities suffer from a dearth of available sources, Part I refers to the few which do exist-most written within a few years of the war's conclusion. They include Maurice Davie's landmark survey, Refugees in America: Report of the Committee for the Study of Recent Immigration from Europe (1947); a work co-authored with Samuel Koening, Davie's earlier, helpful yet less-insight-giving study is The Refugees are Now Americans (1945): both tomes focus primarily on "objective" criteria and refugees' "hard" experiences regarding the process of integration/assimilation. Rex Crawford's book The Cultural Migration: the European Scholar in America (1953) offers a collection of more "subjective" and "soft" sources related directly to former European scholars' adaptation to the U.S.-as does Donald Fleming and Bernard Bailyn's collaboration The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930-1960 (1969). In a similar way, Donald Kent's The Refugee Intellectual: the Americanization of the Immigrants of 1938-1941 (1953) explores how exiled intellectuals became "New Americans"-as does Helge Pross's Die deutsche akademische Emigration nach den Vereinigten Staaten 1933-1941 (1955). Written somewhat later but by and about those who actually experienced exile, Laura Fermi's colorful review Illustrious Immigrants: the Intellectual Migration from Europe, 1930-1941 (1968) offers her own insights as well as biographical notes regarding various "illustrious" newcomers to the New World; written mostly secondary sources, Jarrell Jackman'sThe Muses Flee Hitler: Cultural Transfer and Adaptation, 1930-1945 (1983) also recounts the experiences of better-known refugees.
An early work which refers to refugees from Nazism more in passing than in-depth, William Carlson Smith's Americans in the Making: the Natural History of the Assimilation of Immigrants (1939) does offer clues to the integration/assimilation processes of that era; also worth mentioning is Norman Bentwich's The Rescue and Achievement of Refugee Scholars: the Story of Displaced Scholars and Scientists, 1932-1952. (1953) andThey Found Refuge: an Account of British Jewry's Work for Victims of Nazi Oppression (1956), as in addition to valuable historical accounts of events, both books include commentary on adjustments required by émigrés to "successfully" join host societies. Other sources largely deal coincidentally with exiles' formation of-if not new identities-new cultural images and values, such as Carl Zuckmayer's A Part of Myself (1984), Albert Einstein's Ideas and Opinions (1954), Colin Holmes' Immigrants and Minorities in British Society (1978), R.H. Billigmeier's Americans from Germany: A Study in Cultural Diversity (1974) or Judith Tydor Baumel's Unfulfilled Promise: Rescue and Resettlement of Jewish Refugee Children in the United States, 1934-1945 (1990). Only the first nine of the above-listed titles deal directly with the formation of new identities; the other seven do so indirectly-albeit more so than the 222 titles consulted in the course of this research which are not listed here [see the bibliography].
Secondary sources from books quoted in the text can be found listed first in the footnotes by author and year of publication, then in the bibliography under "Selected Titles"; secondary sources from magazines are cited in full in footnotes on pages where reference to them occur. Secondary sources consulted during research but not quoted in the text are listed under "Suggested Titles". See the bibliography's first page for an explanation of abbreviations used in source-reference throughout this work. Regarding quotes from primary sources who later changed their names: former names are used in contexts concurrent to the period in question and their current name with original surname in brackets in contemporary contexts. As for quotes taken from German authors: because the targeted audience is international and thus mostly English-reading, when English versions of German authors' works existed, they were used; when not, translated passages were included in the text, with original German versions appended immediately preceeding the bibliography.
While Part I uses standard, secondary sources in the sketches of WWII-era European refugees' persecution and flight, as of the descriptions of the reception at residential refugee programs which those fleeing the Nazis encountered, Part I largely uses primary sources-out of necessity, given the narrow pool from which to choose. Those sources are listed in footnotes and correspondingly in the bibliography according to accepted standards. When letters were used, they are listed in the footnotes in their entirity and can be found at the American Friends Service Committee Archives,1501 Cherry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19102-1479 USA.
Especially in Part II, this dissertation refers to material documented at length in Out of Hitler's Reach: the Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-1943 : numbers listed in brackets and accompanied by "OHR" indicate the corresponding page in that document where a specific reference can be found in context and reviewed in full. Individuals wanting a copy of the book should send $20 to Phyllis Luick, 15118 Lark Avenue, Mason City, Iowa 50401 USA. Parts II and III utilize many primary sources-especially letters, interviews, unpublished memoirs, etc.; AFSC possesses copies of all of them, as well as articles and unpublished reports refering to Quaker-sponsored projects cited in this work.
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