President George Bush's Remarks at
Three centuries ago, after a 75-day voyage across the Atlantic in a cramped ship, 32 Mennonites and Quakers from Krefeld and two infants that had been born during the passage landed on the East Coast of the New World. It was October, the air had grown crisp and the autumn rains had begun. Exhausted and sick after their voyage, the Germans trudged from Philadelphia, then a settlement with two dirt roads, through six miles of dense forest to found a settlement of their own.
As winter approached they chopped down scores of trees and built their first homes of logs. "It may neither be described nor believed," wrote Franz Daniel Pastorius, the Krefelders' leader, "under what conditions of need and poverty...this German township was founded."
Yet the Germans had found what they came for, freedom of worship, and in a modest way their settlement soon began to thrive, the people grew flax, raised sheep for wool, and became known in the American colonies for their weaving. News of their success encouraged other Germans to leave the Old World for the New.
By the outbreak of the American War for Independence in 1776, more than 200,000 Germans had come to North America. The Napoleonic Wars triggered a new wave of immigration beginning in 1825. Entire villages in Bavaria and Württemberg sold their land, houses, and cattle and set out for America, taking pastor and schoolmaster with them. In the second half of the last century still another wave of immigration began, and during the two decades following 1880 the number of Germans entering America each year averaged more than 100,000. By the turn of the century, more than five million Germans had come to the United States.
As they came the Germans settled not only on the East Coast but pushed West. They travelled across the country by foot, by mule and horseback. On flatboats, in the famous Conestoga wagons invented by Germans in Pennsylvania, and later, in crowded, fetid railroad cars. They arrived at their new homes with nothing -- no furniture, no savings, often no clothes but those they had worn throughout the long passage from Germany.
I just said the Germans arrived with nothing. Let me change that. They arrived with nothing but their faith. For the Germans brought to their new homes a belief in God, the family, and the goodness of the earth as solid as the Alps and as steady as the Rhine. And they brought another belief, a belief in work -- hard, honest work.
And work they did.
They felled the timbers of Minnesota and Wisconsin. They cleared the plains of Illinois. They explored the grazing grounds of Texas. They ploughed the land, planted grain, raised hogs, tended cows, herded steer. Wherever the Germans settled and worked the land, flourishing towns grew up: Frankfort, Indiana; Bismarck, North Dakota; New Munich, Minnesota; New Braunfels, Texas; New Holstein, Wisconsin.
Germans who came
later gathered in America's great cities. St. Louis and Milwaukee both
became known for their Germans; by 1900 Chicago had a German-speaking
population larger than
Throughout, the German women worked as hard as their men, raising big families and trying to keep city tenements and farmhouses with dirt floors clean. They did the cooking, sewing, and housecleaning for families in which a dozen children were not uncommon. The wife of a farmer or laborer might rise at six to get breakfast for her husband, later get breakfast for the children, and then prepare meals for all again at noon and in the evening. Always there were clothes to be patched.
The work, the sheer, relentless work, of those German immigrants helped build vigorous industries and create some of the richest farmland in the world.
And those German immigrants gave America not only farms and industry, but their children.
At the beginning of the last century, Burkhardt Mencken came to America from Saxony. Burkhardt himself achieved neither wealth nor fame, but his grandson, H. L. Mencken, became the feisty editor of the Baltimore Sun, published books on politics, literature, and music. And became known across the country as "The Sage of Baltimore."
During the 1890s a German family in Baltimore raised a boy who liked baseball. His name was Babe Ruth, and when he grew up he became the greatest slugger in baseball history, hitting 714 home runs and becoming a hero to millions of Americans, including a young George Bush.
Three hundred years ago, when that first ship set sail for the New World from Krefeld, one of those on board was named Thones Kunders. Eight generations later the family name had changed from Kunders to Conrad, and Charles Conrad, Jr., a direct descendant of Thones, became an astronaut and walked on the moon.
Today 60 million Americans, more than one in four, are the descendants of German immigrants, and they inhabit a country made prosperous and free largely by the work of German hands. When just a generation ago Germany herself encountered need, America therefore responded. The Marshall Plan helped the new German democracy rise from the rubble of war to become a nation of greatness. The Berlin Airlift demonstrated the American commitment to the defense of democratic Germany when, still recovering from war, West Berlin encountered crude threats from the East.
Our histories are thus utterly intertwined. We now contribute to each others' trade, enjoy each others' cultures. Our values -- peace, freedom, the dignity of the individual are the same.
Yet we must remember that our peace and prosperity are ceaselessly threatened by hostile ideologies and states. The main such threat to our democracies continues to come, as you know, from the Soviet Union. To establish a firm defense against the Soviet challenge, at the end of World War II a number of the democracies of Europe joined the United States and Canada in forming the NATO Alliance. The Federal Republic of Germany and the United States have now labored together in that Alliance for more than three decades.
At a time of peace and material well-being such as the present, it becomes only too easy to forget that the freedoms we enjoy depend upon our vigilance.
Both our governments are based upon respect for human rights and both, as democracies, remain always open to reform. The Soviet system by contrast possesses no workable means for reform, seeks to impose on all its people a single, rigid will, and has in recent years overrun and occupied Afghanistan, rained poisonous chemicals on the innocent peoples of both Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, and battered down attempts to assert the rudiments of human rights in East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.
Membership in the NATO Alliance does indeed impose burdens. The United States, for example, has had to station some 300,000 troops in Europe, and the Federal Republic in turn has had to help support large numbers of American troops on its soil. Eastern European countries have also had to live with large numbers of foreign troops on their soil, however; and we must not forget the sharp differences between the two sets of circumstances.
As Arthur Burns, the American Ambassador to the Federal Republic, recently put it, "The invited presence of American troops in Europe has the express purpose of helping to protect the values of our Western civilization, whereas the Soviet armies that have willfully occupied Eastern Europe for 35 years are there to insure the suppression of the freedoms for which their citizens yearn to this day."
History twists and turns, giving to different nations different duties at different times. Now the strength of the Federal Republic, the United States, and the other NATO countries provides the underpinning necessary to keep the Free World free. For centuries the German people, both in the Old World and the New, have set us examples of strength and courage. Let us follow those examples. Let us make the sacrifices we must to keep our defenses strong.
As the celebrations of the German-American Tricentennial continue, I urge all of you to get to America. We are delighted that President Carstens will mark the Tricentennial with a visit to the United States, and I would like to invite all of you who can do so, particularly the young, to come to America this year and join our celebration, "Zum Andenken".
In the end it is freedom that binds us -- free elections, a free press, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom to dissent. Our freedom strengthens us, brightens our lives, gives us hope for the future. Today and in the coming months, however, as we in Germany and America celebrate the freedom we share, let us remember the duty that freedom entails. And let us do our duty with vigor.
(Special Issue, Amerika Dienst, German-American Tricentennial, 1683 - 1983. June 25, 1983)
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Updated: August 2001