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"Germany on Their Minds"? : : German Jewish Refugees in the United States and Relationships to Germany, 1938-1988


In the 1930s and early 1940s, approximately 90,000 Jews from Germany came to the United States as refugees fleeing the Nazis. Though these refugees were hurt by and driven from their homeland, many of them, in spite of this experience, lived with their lives and identities inextricably connected to Germany. This was not always because they wanted to engage, but often because the broader political circumstances of their lives in the United States during the Second World War and the Cold War demanded some sort of engagement with their German background, or because the Germans themselves initiated contact with the refugees, or both. This dissertation investigates these relationships between Germany and the German Jewish refugees who settled in the United States between 1938 and 1988. Using publications and records of refugee organizations in the United States and West German federal and municipal governments, in combination with oral histories, letters, and memoirs, this dissertation analyzes refugee discourses concerning Germany and interactions between refugees and Germans. It shows how Germany--as a nation state, with its political systems, institutions, and people, and as an imaginary--affected the ways in which ordinary German Jewish refugees in the United States constructed their personal and communal lives and identities. It further shows, how, in turn, German Jewish refugees in the U.S. influenced West German identity formation. This dissertation thus argues that neither the history of the refugees nor that of postwar Germany can be fully understood without consideration of the interrelations and interactions between the two. German Jewish refugees in the United States played a role in channeling Germany's democratic ambitions and German outreach activities, such as through the Foreign Office and municipal visitor programs. Such programs contributed, conversely, to a strengthening of German Jewish refugee identity many years after the end of the war

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