Where did all the Germans go? How does a community of several hundred thousand people become invisible within a generation?
This study examines these questions in relation to the German immigrant community in New York City between 1880-1930, and seeks to understand how German-American New Yorkers assimilated into the larger American society in the early twentieth century.
By the turn of the twentieth century, New York City was one of the largest German-speaking cities in the world and was home to the largest German community in the United States. This community was socio-economically diverse and increasingly geographically dispersed, as upwardly mobile second and third generation German Americans began moving out of the Lower East Side, the location of America’s first Kleindeutschland (Little Germany), uptown to Yorkville and other neighborhoods. New York’s German American community was already in transition, geographically, socio-economically, and culturally, when the anti-German/One Hundred Percent Americanism of World War I erupted in 1917.
This book examines the structure of New York City’s German community in terms of its maturity, geographic dispersal from the Lower East Side to other neighborhoods, and its ultimate assimilation to the point of invisibility in the 1920s. It argues that when confronted with the anti-German feelings of World War I, German immigrants and German Americans hid their culture – especially their language and their institutions – behind closed doors and sought to make themselves invisible while still existing as a German community.
But becoming invisible did not mean being absorbed into an Anglo-American English-speaking culture and society. Instead, German Americans adopted visible behaviors of a new, more pluralistic American culture that they themselves had helped to create, although by no means dominated. Just as the meaning of “German” changed in this period, so did the meaning of “American” change as well, due to nearly 100 years of German immigration.
About the Author
CHRISTINA ZIEGLER-MCPHERSON is a visiting research scientist at Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum (German Maritime Museum) in Bremerhaven, Germany. She is the author of Selling America: Immigration Promotion and the Settlement of the American Continent, 1607-1914.
"The Great Disappearing Act deals with a major issue in US immigration and ethnic history and focuses on one of the largest urban ethnic concentrations in the US—one which has often gotten far too little consideration in the past. Ziegler- McPherson’s excellent scholarship makes this a thoroughly engaging read that is both important and unique."
— Stan Nadel
"The Great Disappearing Act is both an outstanding social history of a leading urban ethnic group and a poignant reminder of the power of external forces to unsettle and undermine the most successful social experiments."
— James Fisher
The Great Disappearing Act: An Interview With Christina A. Ziegler-McPherson
— The Gotham Center Blog
"In ‘The Great Disappearing Act’, German New York fades into the background," by Greg Young
— The Bowery Boys