Alexander Freund. AufbrÃ¼che nach dem Zusammenbruch: Die deutsche Nordamerika-Auswanderung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2004. 578 pp. EUR 39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-89971-106-6.
Reviewed by Heike Bungert (University of Cologne)
Published on H-German (September, 2007)
Power Structures and the Individual Decision to Emigrate
Alexander Freund's book, originally a dissertation at the University of Bremen, examines the emigration of about one million Germans to the United States and Canada between 1945 and 1961. Freund is primarily interested in the question of why some people decide to emigrate while others stay behind. Therefore, he focuses on the pre-emigration period. He seeks to combine a structural approach with a focus on the individual. Freund draws on sixty interviews with seventy-three people he conducted himself (with biographies of his interviewees listed in an appendix), and combines these with documents from the U.S. and Canadian national archives, the state archives of Hamburg and Bremen, and German church archives. Furthermore, he uses theories from gender history, psychology, oral history, and discourse analysis, for example, in explaining decision-making processes or narratives of the self.
Freund divides his book into four main chapters framed by an introduction and a conclusion. The first of these chapters, chapter 2, deals with the "Aufbruchsgesellschaft" and the context of migration. In a first part, Freund investigates "migration cultures," which he defines as the knowledge and experience of migration and of the Other. He uses oral interviews, family histories, and children's books to recount migration and alienation experiences of people who emigrated to the United States and Canada. Most of these experiences have to do with World War II and people's concomitant experiences of flight, expulsion, evacuation, labor migration, and occupation. In a second part, Freund describes what he calls migration identities--the loosening of ties to families, society, and workplace--which often occurred in the context of World War II. The author finds that reintegration into society was most difficult for older refugees and for younger people from the area that would become the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). A third part deals with cognitive and social aspects; that is, the approaches to migration via the construction of emigration as an alternative life arrangement. According to Freund, the perception of emigration as an option depended on gender, marital status, social status, biography, family cycle, and age. For example, older refugee families were attracted by U.S. programs, but singles and younger families from the FRG area more often went to Canada.
The third chapter turns from individual motivations to social developments in postwar Germany and from interviews to state documents. It traces changes in discourse about emigration as well as the actual possibility of emigration. From 1945 to 1949, few opportunities to emigrate to North America existed, despite a widespread desire to do so. Freund recounts illegal attempts at emigration, which he gleaned from newly discovered sources of the Civil Censorship Division. He also portrays emigration scams. Between 1949 and 1960, emigration became easier. Freund details the emigration policies of Germany and the immigration policies of the United States, Canada, and Australia. Both sides were driven by economic interests as well as racial and gender prejudices. Despite its attempts to control emigration via financing, counseling, and public relations, the German government ultimately failed to prevent the emigration of young, single males, since it could not risk diplomatic altercations with the United States and Canada, both of which were looking for those categories of workers. While Canada instituted the Assisted Passage Loan Scheme, the United States used quotas as well as special programs, such as those for war brides and expellees. In this chapter, Freund also delineates the "Auswanderungsdrang," or urge to emigrate, in the 1950s by drawing on hitherto unused sources: contemporary questionnaires of people who made inquiries at emigration information centers or Beratungsstellen. With the help of these questionnaires, Freund establishes a social profile of people interested in emigration, which he later compares with that of actual émigrés. One of his conclusions is that there was less evidence of chain migration by Germans after the Second World War than in the nineteenth century.
In his fourth chapter, the author examines individual and familial decision processes and conflicts regarding emigration drawing on interviews, state documents, and files of the Evangelische Auswanderermission Hamburg. Among the motives of individuals to emigrate, for example, he cites the desire for adventure, a yearning for freedom, the search for a new identity, self-fulfillment, economic betterment, a desire to gain distance from German society, military service (the avoidance of German service or the wish to join the U.S. or Canadian army or the Foreign Legion), and considerations about future family relations (the wish to found one's own family, to continue family relations, to escape one's family, or to fulfill family obligations). Freund next turns to the decision-making process and the construction of information and safety nets in the form of family, friends, acquaintances, or simply the (imagined) option to return to Germany. He also draws attention to the "migration window" concerning the timing of emigration. Finally, Freund delineates the roles of biography, gender, and generation in conflicts about emigration among single emigrants and within families. Here, he points out the importance of social networks not only as support groups, but also as control mechanisms. Thus, in families, power structures were dictated by age and gender.
In his fifth chapter, Freund provides what most people would expect from a more traditional history of postwar migration to North America: statistics on the actual overseas migration. The high phase of this migration took place between 1951 and 1957. Migrants were younger than the average population and included more refugees and expellees. They consisted of three relatively homogeneous groups: young single men and women who had lost orientation after the collapse of the Third Reich; older expellee families; and "indigenous" younger couples and families in search of economic betterment and a new beginning. Next, Freund describes the emigration paths of individuals and of families. For the individuals, he focuses on Canada. Here, male migrants had the option to emigrate as miners and foresters or as agricultural workers, while women could become employed in cleaning or nursing. Most individuals in all categories left their initial jobs soon after their immigration; some of them even departed for the United States. In a further subchapter, Freund looks at the connection between marriage and migration. While some migrants used the international marriage market to find future spouses abroad, others wanted to escape from their parents to marry their German fiancés. Finally, Freund examines the migration paths of families, especially regarding the question of emigrating together or sending one partner first.
All in all, this is an impressive book. There are only two minor criticisms. First, the theory introduced at the beginning of subchapters sometimes appears to get lost in the analytical and narrative parts. Second, the text can at times be slightly repetitive, due to the structure of the book, which in its analysis switches between the individual and the state and society. On the other hand, though, these repetitions make it possible to read the individual chapters of the book separately, since they are nearly self-contained.
With the exception of these two minor drawbacks, Aufbrüche nach dem Zusammenbruch is an important, excellent work. Not only does it fill a gap in our knowledge of German migration, in which postwar migration has been surprisingly neglected. It also uses an innovative approach, combining macro- and microhistory, attending both to structures and to the individual. It weaves "objective" life conditions with "subjective" perceptions of the same; it combines socioeconomic and cultural history; and it contrasts the perspective of the migrant with that of society and the state. Freund emphasizes how the individual migrant was embedded in family, social norms, cultural traditions, and public discourses, and his book shows how questions of power (but also rebellion against such power structures in the family and in society) played themselves out in the pre-migration and migration periods. Freund's book is a welcome reminder that economics is not all there is to migration, but that we need to pay attention to gender as well as to ethnicity, class, age, and marital status. Finally, Freund examines migration to the United States and Canada and thus allows comparisons. His book should be of interest not only to scholars interested in postwar German migration to North America, but also to migration historians in general as well as to all scholars interested in postwar German cultural history and Alltagsgeschichte.
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Heike Bungert. Review of Freund, Alexander, AufbrÃ¼che nach dem Zusammenbruch: Die deutsche Nordamerika-Auswanderung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg.
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