“Grüß Gott”: The Twentieth Century

During World War I, local German-Americans protested the English blockade of food and surgical supplies to Germany and the atrocity propaganda used to justify the British government’s action. The local branch of the German-American National Alliance (DANB) with 900 members boycotted banks that sold Allied War Bonds in 1915. This measure had limited success. From Vienna, the local journalist, Carl Dannhauser, reported about the starving population their and in Germany. On German-American Day in October 1916, over $7,000 was raised to benefit war victims in Germany and Austria-Hungary.

On April 2, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany despite considerable public opposition. Just a few months after the United States entered the war, Secretary of the Treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo, called the public mood a “delirium”. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage, German Shepards became Alsatians and the city of Syracuse banned pinochle, a German card game. The press published calls for mass hangings of “disloyal German-Americans” and some clergymen compared Germans to cholera germs that must be annihilated. Despite this, naturalized Germans collected relief funds for the Red Cross and served in the U.S. Army.

The war, national prohibition beginning in 1919, and the closing of free immigration in 1921 affected German-American organizations. Membership in the societies of Germania Hall increasingly shifted to second generation German-Americans. However, institutions in Rensselaer County survived the war far better than those in Albany, drawing on a larger German population.

After World War II, many of the German churches dissolved. Germania Hall and its inner societies remained the center of German-American social life. The hall’s building at 134 River Street suffered fire damage in 1949 and in 1954 the society built a new hall at its current location, 309 Third Avenue in Lansingburgh. A Ladies Auxiliary was established in 1975 and three years later the Schuhplattlerverein Alpenklang (Bavarian folk dancing society) followed. To celebrate its 100th Anniversary in 1990, Germania Hall published a history of its organization and its inner societies. Today, Germania Hall remains a center of German-American life with traditional German dinners being served on Friday evenings.

In 1985, Dr. Hannelore Wilfert, Professor of German (now emerita) of Russell Sage College founded, together with other first-generation Germans, the German-American Culture Club. The club conducts its monthly meetings in German and programs address culture from literary, musical and culinary presentations to current developments in Germany.

Both organizations look forward to the new Millennium with a heartfelt Grüß Gott to Rensselaer County.