Relatives and Strangers: The Identity of Post World War II Ethnic German Immigrants
Werner, Hans P.
Werner, Hans P. Relatives and Strangers: The Identity of Post World War II Ethnic German Immigrants; A Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Department of History, University of Manitoba. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: University of Winnipeg, February 1996.
The years after the end of World War II were characterized by the constant arrival of new Canadians. Between 1946 and 1960, Canada opened its doors to over two million immigrants and approximately 13 per cent of them were German. The first ten years of German immigration to Canada were dominated by the arrival of ethnic Germans. Ethnic Germans, or Volksdeutsche, were German speaking immigrants who were born in countries other than the Germany of 1939. This thesis explores the identity of those ethnic German immigrants. It has frequently been noted that German immigrants to Canada were inordinately quick to adapt to their new society. As a result, studies of German immigrants in Canada have tended to focus on the degree and speed with which they adopted the social framework of the dominant society. The present work seeks to place the ethnic German experience in the context of rapidly changing Canadian social and economic realities. Ethnic Germans have a history that has subjected them to rapid changes in political, family, and economic reality. They came to a Canadian society that was increasingly urbanized, with a growing consumer orientation and accompanied by changes in self-perception. Using archival sources and a variety of personal stories in the form of memoirs, personal interviews, letters to newspapers and published materials, the thesis explores the processes of ethnic German identification. Conceptually the argument follows Fredric Barth's suggestions that culture should be thought of as a process. Ethnic identity should not be thought of as static but rather as a constant process of social construction. The coherence of features of ethnic identity is constantly in flux, and it is these processes that should engage the student of culture. The processes of labelling, memory, socialization and the social construction of family, work, and associations provide the structure for the chapters that follow. For ethnic Germans, each of these processes became arenas where identities were formed and coherence was enhanced or discarded in favour of new social realities.