The anti-German homefront of World War I

Continuing with the topic of anti-German sentiment during World War I, we have to keep in mind that while soldiers were off fighting, the war also affected people in big cities and small towns across the United States in many ways.

For instance,The Great War not only impacted how and what people ate but also how much electricity and heat were used. Additionally, it also made people question each others patriotism and turned German-born residents into suspects that were supposedly capable of treason.

As she does each and every week, Teena Kracht goes through the Manistee News Advocate with a fine tooth comb to compile her column so that readers can have a better understanding of what was happening in and around Manistee a century ago.

With that said, the following articles were brought to my attention by Teena’s keen observational skills and research prowess. It must also be stated that these are just a small portion of what was taking place in Manistee during that time and as the weeks pass by, make sure to read the entirety of Teena’s column at:

By the later portion of 1917, the federal government was attempting to make it so that anyone who was German-born could be considered an “alien enemy” of the United States. As one would imagine this lead to pioneer residents of Manistee to be seen as enemies through the foggy eyes of wartime. Details on this edict were reported in the Dec. 19, 1917 issue of the Manistee News Advocate:

“Alien enemies living in Manistee are evidently not conversant with the seriousness of the government’s intentions toward those who fail to register as prescribed by the recent edict. Only those of German birth are affected by the regulations.

“There are a number of known alien enemies living in Manistee. Some of them have resided in the city for such lengthy periods of time as to warrant their possible belief that registration is unnecessary, according to statements secured today. This belief is erroneous and all aliens not registered according to the government’s proclamation, are liable to serious consequences should anything go amiss in Manistee and they are unable to show their proper credentials and permits to dwell within the confines of the community, it was stated by officials today.”

More information on this edict was published in the Manistee News Advocate on Jan. 17, 1918:

“The most recent war edict issued by the attorney general will compel every German alien enemy residing in Manistee to register with the chief of police. Failure to do so will subject the alien to internment during the period of the war at the discretion of government authorities.”

The negative stance on all things marked “German” also had an impact on goods and merchandise that were sold locally during the time. This issue came up when it was discovered that, of all things, cigars sold in Manistee were bearing German labels. Details were published in the Dec. 24, 1917 issue of the Manistee News Advocate:

“Today a local cigar manufacturer was threatened with boycott on one of the most popular cigars made in Manistee because of the fact that, cleverly hidden on the inside of the label, the word ‘Germany’ was printed.

“Smokers were up in arms that they had been deceived into consuming ‘traitorous’ cigars. The News-Advocate, to get to the bottom of the situation, immediately sought out the manufacturer and demanded explanation of who the smokes were being sent out with the enemy name stamped on the brand.

“The American public is gullible and oft deceived. The ‘made in Germany’ and other foreign trademarks are conspicuously smattered on about every kind of product placed on the American market…while in reality the stuff is probably made in Hackensack, N. J., by American labor.

“It was so with the cigar labels banded around the popular LaBuna cigar, made in Manistee. Manufacturer August Redmann assured the News-Advocate that he had purchased his boxes and labels from a Chicago box manufacturing company some time ago and that the labels were also made and shipped to him by that company.

“The cigar is a good one. The band label, so long as it bears the German mark, is bad. The manufacturer who has been sending out the cigars with Hun labels has 3,500 of them still on hand. He made public the assurance that immediately after the holidays he would refuse to accept any more bands bearing the German lettering, from the Chicago concern.

“In the meantime Manistee smokers of the cigars may smoke up, resting assured the manufacturer is not a traitor but has only overlooked a little bit in these strenuous war times.

“The La Buna cigar—here’s to it. But not the cigar bands as they are now.

Along with the federal government telling people that German spies could be lurking anywhere and with a strict anti-German stance on things as miniscule as cigars, paranoia led to death threats of members of the local draft board. An article published in the Manistee News Advocate on Jan. 11, 1918:

“Falsely accused of pro-Germanism in a communication sent by an anonymous Manistee writer to the district board of appeals for the second district of western Michigan at Grand Rapids, Sheriff Morris Waal and County Clerk Gus Pappenguth, members of the local draft board, are threatened with death unless they are immediately removed from the office as draft officials.

“The writer of the missive signs the communication ‘your most faithful citizen, no matter if I am French, of which I am proud.’ The matter has been turned over to federal authorities for investigation.

“Both Sheriff Waal and County Clerk Pappenguth were dumbfounded when confronted with the information today. No threats or designs against them were known to exist here.

“Authorities here are preparing to carry the matter to an end and bring the offender to justice.

“Some fancied or petty grievance or feeling of partiality harbored in the brain of a fanatic is supposed to be responsible for the accusations against the draft board members.

“Many prominent Manistee business men came forward today and strongly asserted they were willing to stand behind the records of the local draft board members.

Many other local stories persist not only about the forms of anti-German sentiment amongst German citizens of Manistee but also amongst those against the war. Next week, we will take a look at how one teacher’s anti-war stance led to his removal from Manistee High School.



Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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