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“We Had to Be So Careful”A German Farmer’s Recollections of Anti-German Sentiment in World War I

German Americans had a complex response to the attacks on their loyalty that emerged when the United States went to war against Germany in 1917. During and after the war, many German Americans began to conceal their ethnic identity—some changed their names; others stopped speaking German; still others quit German-American organizations. Many, like Frank Brocke, son of a German-American farmer, tried to keep a low profile. In this interview, Frank Brocke discussed his own assimilation (he later became the president of the local bank) which led him to justify the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II—a stance that many Japanese Americans and others would disclaim.

Listen to Audio:

Frank Brocke: Well, you’re a farmer and the only thing that you suffered for was, I would say you suffered more for the fact if you were of German descent more than anything else. That was the hardest part we had to play with it. My mother, German, my dad being German, and of course, there was a lot of propaganda against the German people. And we had to be so careful. That was the hardest thing we put up with in World War I. And the only thing I can, my mother and her sister used to talk over telephone and they’d talk in German. And of course, that would ire the English or the other people, they didn’t like it and they’d slam the receivers down. But they overcame it after two or three years it all straightened out. And everybody was associating again. But it was strictly propaganda.

Interviewer: Was it supposed to be a question of loyalty, of whether the German people were really loyal to the United States instead of to Germany?

Frank Brocke: Well of course, it wasn’t near as bad as when Japan—Pearl Harbor and they took action against the Japanese, which probably was justified without a doubt. It’s too bad it had to be, you remember after Pearl Harbor how they took all the Japanese and concentrated them around a certain spot in California, and they had to stay there for a certain length of time till they could be cleared. It never was that bad. It was just that there was a lot of hatred against the Germans and if you were German, you were a little bit tinted, I guess. But, as I say, minded your own business, you didn’t go lookin' for trouble, that was the atmosphere on our place. We had no particular argument with anybody and of course, you got along.

Source: Oral history courtesy of Latah County Historical Society

See Also:"Get the Rope!" Anti-German Violence in World War I-era Wisconsin
"Nobody Would Eat Kraut": Lola Gamble Clyde on Anti-German Sentiment in Idaho During World War I