February 23, 2016


Trump's Family Endured Anti-Immigrant Zeal (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/23/16, Bloomberg View)

With his American money, Friedrich Trump was a gift to his German community, but the German bureaucracy under Kaiser Wilhelm II kicked him out. Despite repeated appeals for German citizenship (Trump had become an American so he could vote in the presidential election after Washington became a state in 1889), he was suspected of having fled Germany to dodge the draft and returning only when he was no longer eligible.

So, Wilhelmian bureaucrats bear the ultimate responsibility for the emergence of presidential candidate Trump. That, however, is not the part of the family story I really want to hear from him.

During World War I, when hamburgers were called Wilsonburgers and sauerkraut became "liberty cabbage," President Woodrow Wilson banned German men from planes and boats and ordered 600,000 German aliens to register with the police. Many German immigrants changed their names because they felt -- and often were -- threatened. The Trumps didn't, according to Blair: They "hunkered down to avoid suspicion," but remained a German-speaking household. Their children, second-generation Americans, grew up speaking German, too, "but the bitter experience of having been tarred by their German ancestry had left scars on the Trump children."

What German immigrants endured during World War I was just a warning to Frederick Trump, the candidate's father and the man who made the family rich. World War II taught him he had to forget his heritage. Blair wrote:

As the children searched the skies for Messerschmidt planes, Fred Trump was silent about his own German background. Although he had spoken German when he had visited Kallstadt just before the Depression, in America only his parents' generation spoke the language in public. He began to deny that he knew German and didn't teach it to his children. Eventually, he started telling people that he was of Swedish ancestry. Mindful of the growing prominence of Jews in the real estate industry and local politics, he became so active in Jewish philanthropies that people often assumed he belonged to that faith.

Donald Trump picked up the Swedish lie and stressed his mother's Scottish heritage, especially as he promoted his golf courses in Scotland. More recently, he has had to acknowledge his German roots, but the people of Kallstadt don't root for him the way Slopnice roots for Sanders, who has visited the town. I suspect it's not only because Trump defies fact-checking, and truthfulness is an important virtue in Germany.

The similarity between the way the U.S. treated Germans during the world wars and the way Trump wants it to treat Muslims is striking. And if, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. had as restrictive an immigration policy as Trump proposes, his grandfather couldn't have come in the first place -- or returned when Germany rejected him.

A decent Atlantic Wall would have kept the Huns out.....

Posted by at February 23, 2016 3:32 PM