The Heimat Abroad: The Boundaries of Germanness

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Germans have been one of the most mobile and dispersed populations on earth. Communities of German speakers, scattered around the globe, have long believed they could recreate their Heimat (homeland) wherever they moved, and that their enclaves could remain truly German. Furthermore, the history of Germany is inextricably tied to Germans outside the homeland who formed new communities that often retained their Germanness. Emigrants, including political, economic, and religious exiles such as Jewish Germans, fostered a nostalgia for home, which, along with longstanding mutual ties of family, trade, and culture, bound them to Germany.

The Heimat Abroad is the first book to examine the problem of Germany's long and complex relationship to ethnic Germans outside its national borders. Beyond defining who is German and what makes them so, the book reconceives German identity and history in global terms and challenges the nation state and its borders as the sole basis of German nationalism.

Krista O'Donnell is Associate Professor of History, William Paterson University.

Nancy Reagin is Professor of History, Pace University.

Renete Bridenthal is Emerita Professor of History, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

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The Heimat Abroad
The Boundaries of Germanness

The University of Michigan Press
Copyright © 2005

University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-11491-7

Chapter One Diasporic Citizens

Germans Abroad in the Framing of German Citizenship Law

Howard Sargent

The state's relationship to ethnic Germans abroad, as expressed in German citizenship laws, went through a substantial evolution during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This chapter can only present an overview of these developments, but I hope to suggest which societal developments most influenced citizenship legislation and shifting definitions of the national community in the long term. Changing patterns of immigration and emigration have been central to shaping Germany's unique citizenship policies, often in unintended ways. In addition to outlining the successive legislative attempts to define Germanness, this chapter highlights situations in which closely held understandings of German identity came into conflict with each other as a result of new population challenges. Examining the history of debate over citizenship reminds us of the lack of uniformity that historically has characterized Germanness.

The debates over citizenship nevertheless also demonstrated great continuities. Legal discourse generally privileged the inclusion of overseas Germans and encouraged the exclusion of newcomers to Germany from citizenship. Historically, most scholars have agreed that blood descent has been privileged over ethnicity in the legal determination of Germanness. Moreover, although their content has changed significantly, competing biological and cultural definitions of Germanness continue to influence citizenship law in the present, which works against the naturalization of new immigrants. Tracing the continuities in debates over citizenship serves to demonstrate the similarities as well as the differences between the issues involved in the 1999 amendment of the citizenship law-intended to ease naturalization-and reform efforts in the past.

This chapter discusses German citizenship in the sense of the word Staatsangehörigkeit, the legal condition of belonging to a (nation-) state. In German, there are other terms to describe participatory citizenship and nationality. The semantic differences emphasize how state building, nationalism, and democracy-which were crystallized in the French case by the Revolution-followed different paths in first the regional German states (Länder) of the German Confederation and later unified Germany. The ongoing development of Staatsangehörigkeit as a legal category reflects Germany's transition from a loose union of autonomous states to a centralized federal state, as well as successive governments' responses to the new problems posed by shifts in immigration and emigration over two centuries.

Three time periods have been most crucial to the evolution of citizenship in the territories that later formed Germany. The first was the early nineteenth century, as individual Länder first outlined the local, preunification conditions of citizenship in the German states during the state-building efforts that spanned from the French Revolution to the eve of German unification. The second era began a generation later, following unification, when massive overseas emigration began to undermine existing citizenship laws. Over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Germans' mobility expanded from interstate to intercontinental migration, the challenge shifted from regulating the movement of ethnic Germans between the German states to redefining the legal relationship between the new nation-state and its overseas citizens. The subsequent rise of massive internal migration to industrial centers, the foundation of Germany's colonial empire, and the development of a strident middle-class nationalism each, in turn, further complicated the problem of regulating citizenship. The citizenship debates of the Wilhelmine era culminated in the new German citizenship law of 1913, which remained in force until the Nazi era and was reinstituted after 1945. Finally, in the postwar era, the contentiousness of the most recent revisions to citizenship law in Germany reveals that many of the conflicts and tensions that dominated the discussion at the beginning of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries persist into the twenty-first.

Citizenship Laws in the German Länder before Unification

Throughout the period from 1815 to 1870, the standards for citizenship in a German state remained contentious: Should citizenship be determined by individuals' ethnic and cultural heritage or restricted to those who had given active service to their state of residence? Not only migration between German states but, even more problematically, the increasing transatlantic outflow complicated this equation. When an individual moved from one state to another, problems developed as former states sought to determine the legal privileges and obligations of absent citizens. Länder asserted that when their expatriated citizens failed to perform their civic duties, such as military service, they abrogated the social contract and jeopardized their status as citizens. As the Länder came to define citizenship primarily through descent, resolving the legal contradictions that absentee Germans and non-German residents posed became more pressing. Germans living overseas represented the greatest challenge, since ethnically and culturally they met the key criteria of citizenship. The problem was compounded by the growing numbers of immigrants who were not of German descent yet performed the duties expected of citizens.

In describing the historical development of the Prussian state in the era between the promulgation of the reformist General Prussian Legal Code (Allgemeines Landrecht, or ALR) in 1794 and the revolution of 1848, Reinhart Koselleck points out the complex negotiations between revolutionaries, reformers, and political functionaries in revising citizenship legislation. The ALR and the Great Reforms, along with the massive impact of the revolutionary era, set social changes in motion that rendered the old political system impractical. These changes combined with legislative efforts to reshape German society and to force a revision of the approach to state membership, compelling the codification of citizenship law.

The ALR united an enlightened conception of the state and society with guarantees for special legal classes (Stände), for example, the nobles and guilds. The ALR's provisions for reforming and strengthening the Prussian state led to a more direct, less mediated role for the state in the lives of its inhabitants. The ALR established the Prussian legal system as a potential vehicle for change, and the Prussian state became the sole legitimate source of the law. With the new code, the Stände lost their special status as feudal corporations, and the bureaucratic enforcement of a general, uniform law for all residents of the state became the norm. This leveling function laid the groundwork for a general civic status to replace the privileges of the old order. Prussian reformers sought to initiate a "revolution from above" that reshaped the Prussian administrative structure, basing it on practical needs rather than traditional loyalties and lines of authority. In Prussia, then, because the privileged orders of the absolutist state laid the foundations of citizenship law-rather than a revolution from below, as took place in France and the United States-the ALR preserved and centralized the feudal corporations. Civic membership in the Prussian state still was mediated through the old Stände.

Beyond Prussia, other German state governments enacted reforms with similar goals: strengthening the state and increasing the loyalty of its citizens. Citizenship laws in states such as Baden and Hesse streamlined the organization of local communities, subordinated home towns and the Stände to the state's authority, and introduced freedom of movement and equal citizenship relations among state members. Citizenship in Hesse, for example, could be gained by birth, naturalization, marriage to a male citizen, or service to the state, as well as lost by emigration, marriage to a male foreigner, or expulsion from the civil service.

The Prussian reforms, however, served as a model for legal definitions of citizenship throughout the nineteenth century in the German states. The centralization of authority through these reforms paved the way for the state to displace the local and occupational prerogatives of the old system. The reforms also set social and economic forces in motion that led the German states to develop an externally exclusive conception of membership, which tended to exclude newcomers and the poor. Particularly as the liberation of the peasants and the advent of occupational freedom loosened the ties of the old order, the combination of rural overpopulation, increased mobility, and the dissolution of the traditional system of poor relief brought about a significant increase in the number of immigrant poor. By removing the protections of the old system, the reforms redefined the states' obligations to their inhabitants.

Prussia and the other German states responded to the migrant poor by defining membership more precisely in order to limit their obligation for support and to deport nonresident beggars and the indigent. German states increasingly shifted definitions of citizenship from territorial criteria to the principle of descent, which offered a more stable basis for membership than residence and effectively excluded dependent newcomers from obligatory welfare relief. In discussing the 1820s and 1830s, historian Andreas Fahrmeir contends that independent persons could achieve naturalization through extended domicile but acknowledges the large number of dependents and paupers who could not do so. The majority of Germans with citizenship in a state gained it from their paternity or marriage. Moreover, he notes that states discriminated against minority religious confessions, especially Jews, in conferring naturalization. It seems fair to conclude that early forms of state citizenship in Germany tended to employ the principle of descent as the key basis for citizenship not as a biological definition of Germanness but simply to exclude alien immigrants, many of whom were ethnically German.

German states' efforts to coordinate their disparate poor relief and deportation programs came to form the foundation for a common regulation of state membership. The legal term for citizenship, Staatsangehörigkeit, first appeared in these treaties between states regulating expulsions. In general, these agreements regarded the descendent of a citizen born in the state as "the state member par excellence." By spelling out who was counted as a state member, the treaties now redefined citizenship to exclude newcomers. The 1842 Prussian citizenship law, introduced along with related laws governing freedom of movement and rights to poor relief, explicitly eliminated the right to naturalization in the Prussian state through extended residence. In addition, the Prussian government also revoked the citizenship of Prussians who emigrated. Former migrants who returned were not welcomed back but were rather feared as potential recipients of poor relief.

The Prussians thus consciously framed the 1842 law as an exclusionary piece of legislation. Exclusion was not based on ethnic or cultural considerations, however, but rather was guided by simple economics and occasioned by greater freedom of mobility. Indeed, foreigners from other German states had to meet the same minimum criteria as non-Germans for naturalization. For example, ethnically Polish citizens of Prussia had the same rights as state members of Prussian descent, while German-speaking noncitizens had no civic rights.

The liberal nationalist revolutions of 1848 challenged the Prussian model. Indeed, the revolutionary ideas that swept through Europe in 1848 had a disproportionate impact on the conception of German citizenship, given the short duration of the liberals' victory. Ultimately, 1848 liberals established an inclusive counterpoint to the more exclusive notions of citizenship contained in the 1842 Prussian law. In 1848 the starting position seemed to have changed from exclusion based on the interests of each single state to a new inclusiveness reflecting societal aspirations to form a unified nation-state. The Frankfurt Assembly's attempt to create a German nation-state required a definition of Germanness rather than local citizenship. Its definitions tended to be more liberal, national, and inclusive. Yet the parliamentarians could not reach a consensus. Two competing criteria emerged: some favored a definition of citizenship in the nation-state based on membership in one of the constituent states, while others embraced a cultural vision of a united German nation. Both parts of this dichotomy shaped the future development of German citizenship. Moreover, the constitution of 1849 created a national tradition of basic rights granted exclusively to ethnic Germans as "fundamental rights of the German people."

The Frankfurt Parliament's inclusive view of state membership did not flourish in the first years after its dissolution in 1849. During the era of Reaction that followed, and until the Wars of Unification in the 1850s and 1860s, the conservative Prussian citizenship law continued to serve as the model for regulating membership in most German states. During these two decades, a second fundamental debate over the German citizenship law emerged in the post-1848 revolution's massive emigration of Germans to the United States. The next section examines connected developments in emigration, colonial expansion, the rise of ethnic nationalism, and changing approaches to citizenship in Bismarckian Germany.

Citizenship and Emigration in the German States and Bismarckian Germany, 1850-90

A fundamental shift in the conception of citizenship and nationhood occurred between 1850 and 1890. Ethnic rivalries on the borders of the German Empire and efforts to retain ties to emigrant Germans were parts of a larger challenge to the state-centered definition of the German nation (Staatsnation). Rogers Brubaker theorizes that the contention centered on whether the nation should be understood as ethnonational, an ethnic and cultural community independent of the state, or as state-national, "embedded and inseparable from the institutional and territorial frame of the state." The debate intensified in the later years of Bismarck's chancellorship, as increasingly influential patriotic societies bolstered the ethnocultural position, juxtaposing their vision of a Nationalstaat to Bismarck's Staatsnation. The issue became more pressing in the second half of the nineteenth century, as emigration changed the way successive German governments viewed their relationship to former citizens.

Although mobility across borders had been an important factor in establishing new citizenship laws in the 1840s, migration after 1848 was different in scale and scope. Replacing migration among the German states, three great waves of transatlantic emigration captured the imagination of the public and the concern of German state governments. In the first wave, from 1846 to 1857, 1.3 million people left the German states. The second wave, in which nearly 1 million emigrated, began in 1864 and lasted until 1873. The final surge in emigration took the most people from Germany: 1.8 million from 1880 to 1893. Remarkably, 220,000 left in a single year, 1881.

Bismarck's contention that it was not in the state's interest to accept responsibility for German expatriates limited the development of an emigration policy through the 1860s. The millions of overseas emigrants, however, eventually forced the German government to reconsider its relationship to ethnic Germans abroad. The North German Confederation's 1870 citizenship law, which the new German nation, Kaiserreich, adopted after unification, represented an effort to extend the Prussian citizenship law of 1842 to new territories acquired between 1864 and 1866 and to create uniform norms for all of the German states. The 1870 law established a federal citizenship on the basis of membership in one of the constituent states. A citizen of any German state was thus treated as a fellow national rather than as a foreigner in the other German states.


Excerpted from The Heimat Abroad
Copyright © 2005 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The legal and ideological context of diasporic nationalism 15
Ch. 1 Diasporic citizens : Germans abroad in the framing of German citizenship law 17
Ch. 2 Home, nation, empire : domestic Germanness and colonial citizenship 40
Ch. 3 German-speaking people and German heritage : Nazi Germany and the problem of Volksgemeinschaft 58
Pt. 2 Bonds of trade and culture 83
Ch. 4 Blond and blue-eyed in Mexico City, 1821 to 1975 85
Ch. 5 Jews, Germans, or Americans? : German-Jewish immigrants in the nineteenth-century United States 111
Ch. 6 German landscape : local promotion of the Heimat abroad 141
Ch. 7 In search of home abroad : German Jews in Brazil, 1933-45 167
Pt. 3 Islands of Germanness 185
Ch. 8 Germans from Russia : the political network of a double diaspora 187
Ch. 9 When is a diaspora not a diaspora? : rethinking nation-centered narratives about Germans in Habsburg East Central Europe 219
Ch. 10 German Brigadoon? : domesticity and metropolitan Germans' perceptions of Auslandsdeutschen in Southwest Africa and Eastern Europe 248
Ch. 11 Tenuousness and tenacity : the Volksdeutschen of Eastern Europe, World War II, and the Holocaust 267
Ch. 12 The politics of homeland : irredentism and reconciliation in the policies of German federal governments and expellee organizations toward ethnic German minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, 1949-99 287
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