Vergangenheitsbewältigung’- coming to terms with the past.
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from their past.”
Karl Marx The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. P10

Vergandenheitsbewaltigung –coming to terms with, or literally, overcoming the past –is a compound word implying some form of reconciliation.
In the beginning, it referred to the German situation, after the second World War.
Vergangenheitsbewältigung ("overcoming the past") is generally associated with Germany's process of coming to terms with the history of National Socialism and the Holocaust. Immediately after the war, the occupying Allied powers in Germany made efforts to "de-Nazify" the way Germans viewed the world. The process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung continued over the next several decades in court, with the Nuremberg and Eichmann (photo) trials, for example, as well as in academic circles, among the political class and through the media. Germans struggled not only to understand how Nazi atrocities could have come about but what the past meant for the next generation. Since 1989, the term Vergangenheitsbewältigung has been also used in the context of dealing with the East German communist dictatorship.
However since the nineties, there have been numerous states, governments and movements who have been pushing for their countries to come to grips with their historical past.
For Example:

East Germany/GDR/FDR
Sri Lanka
East Timor
North/South Korea

Just to name a few examples. There are many nations, including our own that need to examine their past historical record.
It sounds both weighty and ambiguous; it is considered to be one of those typically German words that are virtually untranslatable and certainly always necessitate explanation. Perhaps it also reveals what Bernhard Schlink described as a ‘yearning for the impossible’.
‘Coming to terms with the past’ is not a specifically German phenomenon, however much this may be implied both by the term itself and by the prolonged, for many years exclusive preoccupation with the consequences of the Hitler dictatorship.
 The following overview by Peter Reichel’s book, Vergangenheitsbewältigung in Deutschland[Germany] provides an excellent framework on the issues related to  Vergangenheitsbewältigung

1. In places where political change is instigated by leading representatives of the old system, the past is, generally speaking, largely ignored. This is what happened in Spain when the Franco dictatorship was superseded by a liberal-democratic monarchy, prior to which the Caudillo himself had designated Juan Carlos as his royal successor. A few high-ranking officers were pensioned off, but there was no examination of the system as it was under Franco, or with the Spanish Civil War that had brought the dictator to power in the 1930s. A similar thing happened in Russia in 1991. After the failed coup attempt, Gorbachov’s successor Boris Yeltsin was restrained in his dealings with the coup leaders, who like himself and his government belonged to the old nomenklatura. They were only accused and sentenced because they had challenged the new political order. The state leadership never instigated any legal-political investigation into the KGB terror or the Gulag archipelago, either at the time or in the years that followed. Yeltsin’s choice of a former KGB functionary to succeed him was an indication that, in this respect, nothing was going to change.

2. Dealing with an illegitimate past in a way that relies on personal continuity during a period of change that does not even inquire into the guilt of those in positions of authority, thereby ignoring the past, contrasts with the violent action of political cleansing. This deploys fresh terror as a means of seeking retribution and revenge for injustices suffered, and in particular for the collaboration with an enemy occupying force. This is why there was a wave of bloody political cleansing in France in the autumn of 1944, in the south of the country and in places where Communist resistance groups temporarily assumed power, in which between ten and twenty thousand people are estimated to have died. There were also savage executions in northern Italy and in the Balkans. The revenge crimes perpetrated against Croats and ethnic Germans by Tito’s Communist partisans quickly claimed around one hundred thousand lives. People spoke of a ‘frenzy of revenge’, in which the bloody civil war between Fascists and Communists turned into a class war against the big landowners and the property-owning bourgeoisie. As the Serbian-Croatian civil war subsequently showed, this bloodshed was still fresh in the memories of their descendents.

3. An attempt to overcome the consequences of dictatorship by judicial means offers a fundamentally different approach. This does not require a kind of collective scapegoat and the symbolic purifying power of a bloody act of cleansing. Rather, it relies on the legitimacy and rationality of more or less legally structured processes. However, their scope appears so broad that, in strictly constitutional terms, it is scarcely possible to reduce them to a single concept. Essentially, criminal-law liability, which investigates objective misconduct by the accused as well as their subjective guilt or criminal liability, offers two alternative routes. The first follows the principle of nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege, i.e. that no crime can be committed, and that therefore there can be no punishment for it, unless a previously existing law is broken. The other route pursues the constitutionally dubious path, but one that in exceptional circumstances cannot be avoided, of special laws and special courts. This alternative is supported by the argument that crimes against civilisation or against humanity have long been ‘proscribed by human conscience’, and that accordingly the 1948 Genocide Convention did not create a new international law, but was merely a setting down of ancient rules and norms.
This was the route the Allies took when they defined crimes against humanity as punishable under international law in the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. This was later adopted in Law No. 10 of the Allied Control Council. The Federal Republic of Germany chose not to do the same. In rebuilding the constitutional state it placed greater importance on legal certainty, also in dealing with Nazi perpetrators. It therefore expressly adopted into the Constitution the principle of non-retroactivity (Article 103, 2 of the Basic Law), thereby taking into account the fact that many perpetrators would only be convicted of aiding and abetting a crime, and that some offences would go unpunished.
In many of the countries occupied by Germany under Hitler, people were not prepared to make such allowances, and different procedures were adopted. Special penal laws were enacted, death sentences were pronounced by special courts against ‘Nazi collaborators’ on charges of treason and high treason, as well as criminal sentences for manslaughter, murder and torture; or they sentenced people to atone through forced labour, imprisonment, or the revocation of their rights of citizenship. In addition, numerous trials of concentration camp guards were initiated by the Allies in their respective zones of occupation. Numerous too were the criminal proceedings before Polish courts against staff of the German extermination camps.

4. The circumstances in Italy and Germany made bureaucratic measures of political cleansing appear necessary. Nowhere else had so many people been involved in crimes, politically corrupted, and disqualified themselves from making a new beginning through their active enthusiasm for and adaptation to the totalitarian ruling system. But the process of separating those who were seriously compromised from those who were merely followers proved both laborious and, ultimately, unfeasible and counterproductive. The rigidly schematic nature and quantitative escalation of denazification not only damaged its reputation and impaired the restoration of public order and economic life: it also had a detrimental effect on the initially undisputed legitimacy of a political cleansing. Every German was liable to be tainted by it, and could see themselves as a potential victim of the occupying powers. This provoked them to defend themselves against an accusation of collective guilt, which the Allies never made against the population as a whole. In the end, with colossal bureaucratic effort, the denazification trials transformed the majority of those who were actively involved in the Nazi dictatorship into followers.

5. Shortcomings and injustices in the bureaucratic and judiciary methods of coming to terms with the past meant that sooner or later it became necessary to come to terms with the consequences of the failure to come to terms with the past, especially because the political framework was altering rapidly in the second half of the 1940s. This was the period of amnesties and pardons. The latter played a part particularly in the emotionally heated debate about the so-called ‘war criminals’ held in Allied prisons. The political cost that such pardons entail is, however, not an inconsiderable one. Certainly they were advantageous as regards the politics of integration, and they attenuated constitutional reservations about the Allies. The price for this, however, was that by the end of the 1950s mass murderers condemned to death by the Americans had already been released back into society. The numerous amnesty laws, the so-called 131st Law and the conclusion of denazification all underline the significance almost all the political parties accorded to coming to terms with the coming-to-terms with the past. They made it substantially easier for the new political conditions to be accepted by society, and increased the integrating power of the two main political parties.

6. The South African ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ under Archbishop Desmond Tutu created a kind of compromise between quasi-judicial trials and the renunciation of political-judiciary sanctions when it came to investigating and coming to terms with human rights abuses under the apartheid regime, i.e. integrating the various interests, injuries and fears of both victims and perpetrators. In the deeply ethnically-divided society it would have been impossible to achieve a transfer of power and overcome apartheid in favour of gradual internal reconciliation either by remaining silent about the victims of racist policies or by punishing the white population for their crimes. On the one hand, impunity was the prerequisite for obtaining confessions. On the other hand, establishing the truth about serious human rights abuses meant acknowledging that the black population, who had been persecuted and discriminated against, were the victims of crimes. The fact that they, like the white minority who voluntarily gave up their positions of power, received material compensation led some critics to denigrate the much-vaunted so-called South African miracle as a ‘bought revolution’. Viewed realistically, payments like these appear as a crucial accompaniment to what was, all in all, a peaceful change of political regime. On the other hand, renouncing a violent conflict meant that the antithesis between black and white was not remedied, and the question of moral superiority relegated to the level of symbolism.

7. Last but not least, the material compensation of the persecuted is an element of coming to terms with the past, according to its political-legal definition. In the context we are dealing with here, this refers to the restitution of stolen property and the payment of reparations, in particular to the Jewish victims. For a long time now this has been referred to colloquially simply as ‘reparations’, and is the third key element in the process of overcoming the past, alongside criminal prosecution and denazification. In the early days of the German Federal Republic it was one of the main controversial issues in domestic and foreign policy. It has long preoccupied West German society, and became topical once again with the controversial debate about the compensation of forced labourers.
The law, however, plays a central role as a medium for both remembering and forgetting. This point is very much emphasised by the work of Brian Havel ,”In Search of a Theory of Public Memory: The State , the Individual, and Marcel Proust.”
Havel argues that the existence and pervasiveness of an official public (or State) memory that is primarily constructed using public law devices and statements of official policy. While official public memory serves the purposes of social control and stability, it also seeks to mask contestation and is, accordingly, neither complete nor authentic.
Furthermore, Havel argues that official public memory is memory constructed by public law and policy in order to create a “collective national interpretive idiom”. The purpose of this official public memory, on the one hand, is social control and stability, and, on the other hand, to mask contestation in society.

Official public memory has the following five characteristics:
Selectivity• Official public memory determines what is to be remembered, and what is not, in an ideological sense. In a very real sense it means that the narrative blinds observers to certain histories and makes other histories obvious to them. In the film that was briefly described above, the government constantly reinforces the official story of its heroic rescue of the country from the brink of disaster and chaos. The history of resistance to their rule is ruthlessly repressed, and thus effectively forgotten.
Constructivism• This means that claims are made about the past, not necessarily through historical research, but through law. This memory is created through legal instruments.
Mythopoesis• According to Havel, myths are created through a canonical master narrative about this selective memory. The canonical narrative is therefore, not some form of holy scripture, but a legal instrument, like a constitution. Therefore, constitutions fulfil the same role as, for example, the Bible or the Koran would in religious societies.
Incorporation• Following Marcuse, Havel uses this term to refer to the ways in which official public memory seeks to absorb contestation of the master narrative.
 Presentism• Official public memory is also biased towards the present for the purposes of social cohesion and stability.
The use of Vergandenheitsbewaltigung as a paradigm to both reflect and analyse the historical past has two sides to it.
In some circumstances whether it is possible to come to terms with the past could be harmful and negative.
It may be a way further for nations to passively reconcile their historical past.
You might like to further investigate this .

Please check out my website on a regular basis, as it will be added to and is a work in progress.

Follow up: You might like to explore the arguments further.

History and Remembering.

Case Study No 1: 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War.

Issues covered include:

Public Memory.
Historical Amnesia?
Whitewash or Reality?
Was this the real reality of war? How do we know?

Remembering the Past and the way in which Nations remember their past.

Key Questions?

Can nations ever fully come to terms with their past?

What does "coming to terms with the past" mean for both the present and the future?

What are the best ways to interpret and remembering the past?

What should be remembered?
Do we remember only the triumphs? What about the failures? Who and what gets remembered? Who determines this?

How do legal, economic, and cultural integration interact and work with each other, in the process of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung ?

Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, is not more than self reflection, if it is carried out with the proper intentions.
The critics of Vergangenheitsbewaltigung make the argument, that the State uses this process as a tool as a means of hastily dealing with the past so as to be done with and move on from the past. The end game being that nations can forget their past. The State can use this process to generate policies that are primarily designed to reshape a new national identity/narrative.

"Power of ideas, must be bent over the anvil of truth to test its strength.”
Howard Fast

This quote is vitally true in the current debate on how the United States remembers its 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War is such a pivotal event in the United States and other countries ,including Australia collective memory of the 20th century.

How nations choose to remember their past has become much in vogue, in the area of academic historical research. A good case in point is how the United States is remembering the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. There is real contestation between the 'Official ' Pentagon Website and the 'Real' portrayal of the Vietnam War. There is some serious concerns expressed by Vietnam veterans, anti-war activists and demonstrators who claim, the Pentagon website, is painting a rose coloured and sanitised portrayal of the Vietnam conflict/war.

Many American academics argue that the website does not rectify the complexities and disagreements at the heart of the American memory of the war. Their website describes in detail the bravery of the soldiers who fought in the conflict, but glosses over the broader conflict in Southeast Asia, or acknowledges the huge anti-war movement back home. What about the millions of Americans and other people throughout the world who opposed the war. Where are they located on the website?

Throughout the duration of the war, anti-war demonstrators staged on-going and unremitting protests including student strikes, civil disobedience, sit-ins, holding up troop trains and draft-burning cards as forms of protesting. In addition the website of the government, says very little about the war crimes committed to the Vietnamese people, and military operations that killed substantial numbers of civilians. This is true about the My Lai massacre. No mention of how the way censorship and official propaganda works. It has to tell some truth to be believed. For example, the information about My Lai and the Pentagon Papers fails to mention the attempts by the establishment, and the Military to obscure information about the events.

The Pentagon website fails to mention the Fulbright hearings held from 1966 to 1971 in the Senate.
It was at these hearings that a radical John Kerry testified on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War-this is also missing from the Pentagon's website. In addition there is no mention of the Vietnam Peace Commemoration Committee. You cannot really honour and respect veterans without acknowledging these groups and their leaders. The government is using schools, civic organisations and state and local governments to hold ceremonies, mount exhibitions and promote a sanitised version of history that honours those who fought the war, while banishing the public memory, those who defended the principles of peace and opposed the war. Strikingly, there is little mention of the 58,000 Americans who paid the highest price-who died for their country. No mention of the millions of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who died in this conflict and died long after the war was concluded, due to the long term effects of the defoliants used during the war.

The Pentagon’s official website includes links to 112 press releases of commemorative activities nationwide. The peace commemoration is not among them.

This is not just historical amnesia: for those of us who as young men and women acted to oppose the war, it is the theft of a past that profoundly changed our lives, reshaping our idea of America, challenging our sense of duty, testing our courage, forcing us to take a stand.

But how Vietnam is remembered matters to more than those aging warriors who marched and risked jail and exile to oppose the war or to those who fought in the jungle: it matters to Americans now and to those to come in the future.

The anti-war movement transformed the nation. Because of it, two presidents left office in disgrace. The protests forced Lyndon Johnson to abandon his race for a second term; they started the sequence of events that culminated in Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation.

What’s at stake is not only the past, but the future. One lesson we began to learn five decades ago is that we need to cultivate a healthy suspicion of candidates’ promises and government claims. Another is that there are limits on American power. And, perhaps most important of all, that an aroused public can bring about change. The strength of people power and unity cannot be underestimated.

The relevance of those lessons in today’s world is clear. They must not be erased. They are more relevant today, than before ,as the world is not a peaceful place.

I invite you to visit the Pentagon website and make up your own mind.

Website. :

Follow up.
You might like to read the German academic ,Wulf Kansteiner's essay :"Losing the War ,Winning the Memory Battle."

The Great War and the treatment of German-Australians in South Australia between 1914-1919

The treatment, imprisonment and deportation of enemy aliens and German-Australians by the Australian government during the Great War is not well known by the Australia public, or rarely mentioned in our history books or any discussion about the Great War. The Great War had a deep impact on the German-Australian community throughout Australia and especially in Queensland and South Australia which had the nation’s largest German populations.

During the Great War some 6890 persons of German or Austro-Hungarian origin were interned, of whom 4500 were Australian residents. The Government also interned those naval and merchant sailors who were in Australia when war was declared. There were also German citizens who were transported to Australia from South-East Asia at the request of the British authorities.
History books about the Great War frequently talk about total war. This generally refers to war in the air, on the land and sea, supplemented by new forms of technology, which delivered enormous destruction. In fact, internment was a global feature of the Great War. All nations and Empires interned enemy aliens during wartime. In our region of the Asia Pacific there were over 50 camps. This process was not illegal, but what was illegal was that many civilians who were caught up in these events were never charged with any offence during their internment.

The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 saw twenty-four nations ratify the codification of the laws of War on Land. This was a watershed moment in history, and was the first time there were rules governing the laws of warfare.
The process of internment had its origin in the Boer War in South Africa, where both civilian as well as military prisoners were placed in concentration camps. Australia modelled their camps on these concentration camps found in South Africa.
The Germans who came out after 1840, were found in the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, mid –north, the Riverland and could be found in most farming communities throughout the State. Like many other cultural groups, the Germans formed their own cultural enclaves and did not always integrate with settlers of British origin. However, they were perceived as model and zealous citizens, who were law-abiding, mostly conservative and proud of their Lutheran religion and culture. These Germans followed the teachings of Luther’s Bible and the advice of their pastors.

In Adelaide there was also prominent urban elite of educated professionals and businessman who punched way above their numbers. In fact, from 1890 until 1914, the South Australian Parliament was represented with 10 influential politicians of German background.
Throughout the urban regions of South Australia, there were ordinary working-class and semi skilled German-Australians.
When the Great War broke out, the German-Australian community faced the issue of dual loyalty: Loyalty to the King and Empire and loyalty to their German heritage. An example of this can be found in the life of Hugo Muecke, who figured prominently in the commercial and public life of South Australia. In 1877, he was appointed Vice-Consul of Germany and in 1883 Imperial German Consul, a post which he held for the following 32 years until the commencement of World War I when he renounced his appointment. He was involved in the Chamber of Commerce for many years, serving as President from 1885-1886. Muecke also served as a Director of many companies, including: BHP, board member in 1892 and chairman 1914; Bank of Adelaide; Adelaide Steamship company; and, National Life Assurance Company.

In public life, Muecke served as a Justice of the Peace and was involved in local government affairs, at various times being involved with the municipalities of Port Adelaide, Rosewater (Chairman) and Walkerville (Chairman). In 1903 he was elected to the South Australian Parliament, serving as a member of the Legislative Council for 7 years.
At the outbreak of the war, Muecke advised the German-Australian community “to remain strong genuine Germans means to treasure the richness of the German language, the language of poets and thinkers, as well as German customs and good habits, but at the same time to remain faithful to the English King.”

Very early into the war, the historical evidence clearly shows that German-Australians had no loyalty to Germany, rather seeing themselves as loyal and proud South Australians. The South Australian German newspaper Australische Zeitung, December 1914, reminded German settlers of their oath to King George and urged them to stand by their new home ‘to which they owed so much.’ Throughout the Great War, the German-Australian community supported and contributed to the Wounded Soldiers’ and other patriotic fund raising.

However, by March 1915, the German-Australia community faced enormous hostilities within. The Commonwealth mounted an internal fear campaign, “Enemy within the Gates,” which resulted in all Germans and persons of German origin being looked upon with deep suspicion. No German, irrespective of their loyalty could be trusted. The combined use of the War Precautions Act, combined with the use of official wartime propaganda, both demonized and marginalized the German –Australian community. All of this ushered in a climate of fear.
For some in the community they saw this as an opportunity to settle old scores. For others they drew a line in the sand between being a loyal Australian and a good Britisher or a “Hun” sympathiser.
The internment of naturalised British subjects in Australia was achieved under the War Precautions Act 1914–1915, which enabled the making of regulations by the Governor-General in Council for securing the public safety and defence of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Bill for the War Precautions Act was passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate and given Royal Assent on 28 October 1914.

The Manual of War Precautions listed no less than 81 separate offences. It contained a bewildering collection of rules, orders and prohibitions measures that forbade enemy aliens the possession of motor cars, telephones, cameras or homing pigeons. The Commonwealth Defence Department set up six military districts in each of the states to house the crews arrested from German commercial ships confiscated in Australian ports at the outbreak of the war. In South Australia, the German ship, SS Scharzfels and its crew were among the first to be interned on Torrens Island.

The process of internment involves the detention of a person into custody who is not formally charged with an offence. An interned person will generally not be entitled to a hearing in the ordinary courts of the land on the merits of the detention. Internment was also an arbitrary process, as different officials may take different views upon whether or not the internment of a person was justified.
The internment of naturalised persons was achieved under regulation 55 which was contained in an Order in Council made under the War Precautions Act. Regulation 55 provided: Where the Minister has reason to believe that any naturalized person is disaffected or disloyal he may by warrant under his hand order him to be detained in military custody in such places as he thinks fit for the duration of the present state of war.

This aspect led to prominent members of the German business, community and Lutheran pastors being interned. . Hugo Muecke was interned in Fort Largs, in April 1916. Despite living in South Australia since the age of 7 when his parents migrated here, Hugo Muecke was briefly interned at Fort Largs, before being confined under house arrest.
Every State in Australia had internment camps, with Torrens Island being the camp in South Australia.  In Australia, during the Great War, some 6890 persons of German or Austro-Hungarian origin were interned, of whom 4500 were Australian residents. Torrens Island was home to over 400 internees between October 1914 to September 1915. When the camp closed most of the internees were transferred to Holsworthy internment camp near Liverpool, in Sydney. One of the last internees to return to South Australia was Hermann Goers, who did not return back to Adelaide until June 1919.

In South Australia, there were numerous attacks on the German-Australian community. Many unskilled German-Australians workers lost their jobs and surrendered themselves for internment, in order for their families to receive an allowance paid by the Commonwealth of ten shillings to a wife and 2/6d for each child under 14. By April 1915, all Germans and German South Australians had to register and report weekly to their local police station. Naturalized subjects and native-born German-Australians were being caught up in events where any trivial sign of disloyalty could see you searched, placed under arrest and interned. Military authorities did not require proof, evidence, or specify reasons with regard to alleged disloyalty. Suspicion was enough to incriminate, with no requirement on military authorities to bring a person to trial.

By early 1916, there was a concerted effort by the South Australian State government to erase the natural rights of the German community across political, economic and cultural and religious domains via the introduction of discriminatory legislation. The South Australian government restricted any German from working in the public service. In August 1916, the State government moved ‘that in the opinion of this House the time has now arrived when the names of all towns and districts in South Australia, which indicate a foreign enemy origin, should be designated by names either of British origin or South Australian native origin. As a result, the Nomenclature Act was passed in late 1917 and the final lists of 69 South Australian place names were changed.

The closing of Lutheran primary schools began as early as 1912. However, the Great War allowed the State government to move beyond the ability to restrict “Germanism” in Lutheran schools, but to close them. Former Premier John Verran led the charge of anti-German feeling that led to the closure of Lutheran schools. He was supported by various loyalist groups like the All British League, who gathered over 49,000 signatures in their petition, for the closure of “German” schools.

South Australian government via amendments to the Education Act 1915, introduced in the House of Assembly, by the Crawford Vaughan on 8 September, was a consolidating and amending bill. It dealt with all aspects of education, including private schools. These amendments resulted in the closures of all 49 Lutheran primary schools in South Australia. This was a terrible blow to the German-Australia community as their culture was undermined by the loss of German language teaching and Lutheran instruction and it served to destroy their strong cultural ties with their German heritage.

This forced many German-Australian families maintaining their ‘Germanness’ behind closed doors.
Both the Commonwealth and State government introduced disfranchisement bills to deny people of German origin to vote. German newspapers were also banned, as were their clubs. The War Precaution Act, made sure that on the economic front German businesses and businessman were weakened. This was achieved through the Trading with the Enemy Acts and the Enemy Contracts Annulment Act. Besides controlling German interests in wartime, the real intent was to permanently destroy German economic interests in Australia. Throughout the war, as a way of displaying their loyalty, Australian and South Australian companies would openly advertise the fact that they employed no German whatsoever.

On 11 November 1918, when the Great War came to an end, it did not bring closure for the German-Australian community living in South Australia. In fact, things only became worse for them in the post –war period. The War Precautions Act was extended for another three months after the Armistice, its motivation being that there was a fear that disloyal Germans might pose a threat to soldiers returning home from the war.

For some, they had their naturalization certificates revoked. During the course of May 1919 to June 1920, the Commonwealth deported and repatriated 6,150 persons from Australia. In South Australia 423 Germans were deported. This included German enemy aliens, German-Australians as well as naturalised Australians.

The issue of loyalty and disloyalty only hardened in the post-war period. Loyalist groups like the All British League, League of Empire and the RSL, campaigned zealously for the German-Australian community to display their patriotic duty. In the first instance this meant buying peace bonds.
These groups also demanded:

1. The ‘ousting of the Hun’s influence in all States.
2 That the Commonwealth should remove every German from every community who cannot show that he took some part in winning the war for the Allies, either by personal sacrifice, investment in War loans or in various other ways that might furnish sufficient evidence to enable him to retain his land.
3 That for their patriotic duty, the loyal digger should be given land taken from the Huns. The soldiers must demand the setting up of a Court of Appeal, presided over by the best judicial minds of the country, to order the sequestration of all lands, farms and property of Germans deemed undesirable citizens of the Commonwealth, for the settlement of returned men. Property so surrendered could be bought at its owner’s valuation, based on his income tax returns. There would be no injustice in this.
4 The immediate closure of all Lutheran schools and churches where the German language is taught.
5 The prohibition of the German tongue and literature throughout the Commonwealth.
6 The disfranchisement of all Germans in Australia.
7 The deportation of all Germans hostile to the British Empire.
8 With respect of married Huns and the problem of the Hun who has married an Australian girl, it was argued that as a German was no good to Australia, then his wife must accompany him back to the Fatherland or have the marriage annulled if she desires to remain here’
Rural communities used “German baiting”, whereby individuals or groups acted provocatively towards Germans, trying to stir up some kind of disloyal, intemperate response in order to flush out disloyalty.

From 1919 onwards the Commonwealth government’s policy of Assimilation emerged as the dominant route for attaining full membership of the Australian community. This meant that the German-Australian community would have to display a willingness to forgo their former culture and acquire the characteristics and traits which allowed them to be incorporated into the general community. Assimilation was designed to keep Australia British and White.

Between 1919 and 1921 there were two Royal Commissions set up which dealt with issues of loyalty and disloyalty. In 1919, the Loxton Royal Commission was set up by the South Australian government. It was commissioned to enquire into allegations of disloyalty in the district of Loxton, which occurred on the 10 October 1914! Yes, a Royal Commission after the conclusion of the war. The context of this is that German-Australians could not be trusted in the post war period and that the State was keeping a watchful eye on all Germans.
The Commonwealth appointed Commissioner Macfarlane in July 1921, to enquire into the issue of loyalty of German nationals in Australia. He investigates 106 cases in Australia, with 17 German nationals in South Australia who were investigated for acting disloyally.
In conclusion, what transpired throughout the Great War went beyond the notions of how we deal with ‘enemy aliens’ in wartime. I have no doubt that during the Great War we saw the beginnings of the progressive erosion of the rights and influence of the German-Australian community. Through the actions of many loyalist groups and most importantly the State and Commonwealth governments, the political, social, cultural, and religious spheres of life were severely impacted on. The intent was to destroy the German community as an distinct entity within South Australia and Australian society generally.

This is a forgotten chapter in our State and National history, and another aspect of the Great War.
Michael Wohltmann, author of A Future Unlived. A forgotten chapter in South Australia’s history. A history of the internment of German Enemy Aliens on Torrens Island and the marginalization of Germans in South Australia during 1914-1924.
Please visit my website at: www.