October 8th 2016

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COVER STORY Reaper mows down first child in the Low Countries

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition still gridlocked despite foreign success

EDITORIAL Trump v Clinton: choice between bad and worse

GENERATION RENT The economics behind political unrest

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Kevin Andrews: defend marriage on principles

WA DRUG POLICY Forum told intervention works with cannabis, ice

OPINION "Deconstruction" fosters contempt of its object

POPULATION POLITICS Philanthropy as a weapon of mass destruction

SUPERANNUATION Take away the number you first thought of ...

HISTORY Germany and its long history of immigration

CINEMA The online madding crowd: Nerve

BOOK REVIEW Tale of forestry dynasty not quite pulp quality

BOOK REVIEW Roman refresher


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Germany and its long history of immigration

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, October 8, 2016

Germany has had a reputation for being insular since Roman times. In the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, an alliance of German tribes ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions. Thus Germania remained free of the benefits and disadvantages of Roman rule.

According to reliable accounts, Emperor Augustus was so distraught following this catastrophic defeat, said to be Rome’s greatest military disaster, that the Caesar constantly banged his head against the wall, shouting: “Give me back my legions!” Following this calamitous defeat, the Romans did campaign in Germania, but never fully integrated the Germans into the Roman Empire, who remained unique throughout its long history: sui generis – an entity unto itself.

So it is perhaps surprising to discover that Germany has a long history of migration. Germany now defines itself as an immigration country, second only to the United States as a destination for migrants.


Germany has, of course, sent many emigrants into the world, including to South Australia’s famed Barossa Valley. There are 46 million people of German descent in the United States, more than any other national group, including Irish (33 million) and English (25 million). Famous Americans of German descent include President Dwight Eisenhower, Admiral Chester Nimitz and pioneering trade unionist Walter Reuther. For many years, the proceedings of the United States Brewers Association were conducted in German.

 The modern history of Germany began when Martin Luther, professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, nailed his earth-shaking 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg in November 1517. Luther had sent a copy of his 95 Theses to Albert of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Mainz, on October 31, 1517. This is the date commonly taken as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

The Quattrocento, the period when the Renaissance flowered in Florence, did not threaten the Catholic Church. Quite the contrary; many creations of astounding artistry attest to this day that the artisans and artists embraced the Church, and in turn the Church embraced them. The Northern Renaissance was different. Whatever he intended, Luther started a blaze no one could extinguish. The Reformation spread with the speed of a forest fire, fueled by a modern invention, the internet of its day, Gutenberg’s moveable type printing press. In this, as in other inventions through the ages, Germany led the world.

Luther criticised the practice of making payments for the granting of indulgences when people had confessed their sins. He also translated the Bible into the vernacular, so people could read and understand the Scriptures in German, and interpret the Scriptures as they saw fit. Luther did not accept the Catholic position, which was that the Bible should be interpreted through the Magisterium of the Church. In practice, what happened was that people were enabled to interpret the Bible is Luther saw fit.

What Luther did was truly revolutionary. The reaction of the Catholic Church was to pursue its own revival, led by new and reformed religious orders, most notably the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. The Catholic Revival was promoted by Pope Paul III. He tasked the Council of Trent with reforming many egregious abuses in the Church. Today the Catholic Church in Germany remains influential, especially in Southern Germany. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, was born in Bavaria.

From here on, Germany was at the vanguard of almost every social and political movement in the Western world. The vernacular Bible was a particular innovation adopted by Protestant churches, frequently with state sponsorship, such as the English King James’ Bible. Germany became a haven for those fleeing religious persecution, such as the Huguenots, a French-Calvinist denomination who fled from persecution by France’s King Louis XIV. Some three-quarters of French Huguenots – around 1.5 million people – were killed. Many of those who survived – some 500,000 believers – were granted refuge in Germany.

Germany then was not Germany as we know it today. “The Germanies” were a factious bunch, disunited in almost everything. Boundaries were fluid. The major powers, Prussia and Austria, wanted a weak Germany so as to maximise their influence. The hotchpotch of German states ranged from powerful entities such as Prussia, Bavaria and Austria to postage stamp duchies. Prussia was expanding eastward as the land-hungry Prussian peasant farmers sought a new life in Ostpreussen, as the province of Eastern Prussia was named.

The “splinters” of German colonists in the East were spread wide. Catherine the Great of Russia (ruled 1762–96) lured skilled craftsmen and farmers to Russia from her native Germany.

The intermingling of Poles and Germans, among other nationalities, would lead under the Third Reich to Generalplan Ost, one of history’s most brutal interludes of ethnic cleansing, led by Odilo Globocnik. The ultimate plan (what we know as the Holocaust and at the time was called Aktion Reinhardt) was to eliminate all Jews by exiling some, such as German Jews, and killing the Polish Jews. The aim of Generalplan Ost was to exile all Slavs living between Germany and the Ural Mountains to western Siberia.

This episode is laid out in Joseph Poprzeczny’s masterful study of one of history’s most horrific mass-murderers in Hitler’s Man in the East: Odilo Globocnik. As a trial for German settlement of the East, Globocnik cleared Poland’s fertile Zamocz lands of Jews and Poles. Some 1.5 million Jews were murdered and some 114,000 Poles. Hitler’s “Eastern Dreamers” brought nothing but death.

Germany, among other things, can boast that its native sons, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, launched their Communist Manifesto in 1848, shortly before revolutions broke out across Europe, including Germany. The Marxist-influenced Social Democratic Party (SPD) was formed in 1863. The SPD remains Germany’s main opposition party. Surely one of the most oft-quoted paragraphs in history comes from the Communist Manifesto: “Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains, and the world to gain!” Although they were not the first socialists, the Germans were the best organised.

By the 1830s, Germany had begun to industrialise, somewhat later than had other northern European economies such as Britain, France and Belgium. In the latter part of the 18th century, coalmines on the Ruhr and other rivers began feeding a budding iron-making industry. The labour-hungry mines and steel works drew in German migrant labourers from within Germany and also Poles from the East. The Poles were fodder for the flourishing Industrial Revolution.

The Germans skillfully exploited the Zollverein (customs union) to build their industrial base. By 1900, Germany had the largest economy in Europe. In time, Germany’s leaders would roll the iron dice. What was the use of having Europe’s finest army if you didn’t use it?

Germany was at the heart of Mitteleuropa. Consulting a pre World War I map will reveal just how dominant Germany was in Europe before it was stripped of much of its territory after World War II. One cannot assume that the Entente Cordiale of 1904, in which Britain and France allied themselves against Germany, was inevitable. France had been England’s natural foe for a thousand years.

The Fashoda Incident of 1898, a dispute over their East African ambitions, had pitted France against England in a rivalry that brought them to the brink of war. Six years later, they were allies. Ten years later, they were allies, waging war together against Germany on the Western Front, in the most brutal war the world had seen.

During World War II, Germany imported 5 million slave labourers, most of whom worked in munitions factories. Some 1.5 million Poles were employed as agricultural labourers. In the East, Odilo Globocnik aimed to set a pattern for German colonisation of Eastern Europe. The aim was to create Lebensraum (living space) for Germans, many of whom would be “splinters”, or groups of Volksdeutsche, that is, people of German origin who had settled in Eastern Europe, perhaps centuries before.

We can see what might have emerged if Germany had not been defeated in Fatherland, Robert Harris’ prose creation of a victorious Nazi power (Hutchinson, London, 1992).

In the end, the whole rotten edifice created by the Eastern Dreamers came crashing down. At the war’s end, most of the slave labourers did not want to return to their battered homelands, as their homes were now under the yoke of communism. Most went to new lives in countries such as Australia.

Some 12 million Germans, from Central Europe, including Volksdeutsche and refugees from Eastern Prussia, crowded into Western Germany. This desperate flight to safety is brilliantly described in Last Train West by Gunhild Francke.

By the 1950s, Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder (literally, economic miracle) meant that there was a labour shortage in Germany. Germany had emerged from the ruins in World War II and now it was cranking up its export machine.

The gastarbeiter (literally, guest workers) were brought in to fill the gaps. Treaties were signed with southern European and Muslim countries, though the Turks were the most willing “temporary” immigrants. Today, some 3 million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, the largest non-German minority.

The second largest non-German ethnic group is the Poles, who number between 1 and 2 million.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall that divided Germany into East and West came crashing down and Germany was reunited. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) absorbed 17 million “Ossies” (literally, Easties) from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The “temporary” capital in the West – Bonn, “the little town on the Rhine” – was displaced by the once and future capital, Berlin. Absorbing and re-educating the “Ossies” would take a generation and tens of billions of euros.

Germany decided that it had to join the worldwide hunt for talent, seeking professionals and other skilled workers from outside the European Union. Germany became an “immigration country”.

As for immigrants, as opposed to guest workers, Germany says it does not want people with minimal skills. Despite this, Germany has accepted around 1 million asylum seekers from the Balkans and the Middle East in each of the last two years. Chancellor Angela Merkel has led the way in promoting acceptance for the latest wave of potential refugees, many of whom are from Syria.

The Germans are a patient people. It seems the latest waves of “guests” will never return from whence they came, but Germany has absorbed refugees before. Though these mainly Muslim migrants will put Germany’s ethic of tolerance to the test.

Germany is not acting entirely out of altruism; nor to absolve the guilt of the Nazi era. Germany has one of the world’s lowest birthrates, despite a recent mini-boom in births. Even at 1.47 births per woman, the birthrate is still far below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman.

Chancellor Merkel may wish to prove that the racist beast of the Nazi past is tamed, but it is also true that immigrant labour is welcome in Germany, and so are babies.

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