GERMANS IN UTAH
German WWI prisoners of war at Fort Douglas
German-born immigrants have played significant roles in Utah's history
since the first Anglo-Europeans entered the region because of the fur trade.
Probably the first German-American to set foot in Utah was John H. Weber,
who joined the William H. Ashley expedition in 1822. Born in Hamburg in
the state of Holstein in l779, Weber has been identified by some as Danish
because at the time of his birth, Holstein, though predominantly German
speaking, was under the control of Denmark. In 1824 Weber led a party of
trappers into present-day Utah by way of Bear Lake, which was known to American
trappers initially as Weaver's (Weber's) lake in his honor. The group spent
the winter of 1824-25 in Cache Valley before continuing south, where Weber
became one of the first Anglo-Europeans to view the Great Salt Lake. His
name is commemorated in Utah in Weber Valley, Weber River, Weber County,
and Weber State University, among others.
During the next two decades other German-born travelers entered Utah. One
was Frederick A. Wislizenus, an adventurous German traveler who attended
the last great mountain man rendezvous in 1836 and then visited the Flaming
Gorge area of northeastern Utah. In 1843 Charles Preuss, born in Germany
and the official cartographer and artist for the John C. Frémont
expedition, visited the Great Salt Lake with the famous explorer and paddled
out to Fremont Island in a rubber boat they carried with them. Three years
later, in 1846, German-born travelers, including some members of the ill-fated
Donner-Reed Party, passed through Utah over the Hastings Cut-off on their
way to California.
The year 1847 saw the arrival of the first permanent settlers of Utah. Among
the original 143 Mormon pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley was Konrad
Kleinman, a native of Germany.
Once Mormons had established a foothold in Utah, they began sending missionaries
to Germany and Switzerland in the mid-1850s. The greatest number of converts
initially came from Switzerland. Coming to Utah, some as handcart pioneers,
most Swiss immigrants scattered throughout the state, especially to the
communities of Santa Clara, Midway, and Providence. At the same time, one
of the first (and perhaps the most famous) German convert to Mormonism,
Karl G. Maeser, was baptized in the Elbe River near Dresden. Immigrating
to Utah in 1860, Maeser--an educator by training--was asked by Brigham Young
to move to Provo in 1876 to establish Brigham Young Academy, the forerunner
of Brigham Young University.
While conversion to the Mormon faith was the primary impetus for most German
immigrants to come to Utah, others came as miners or as merchants. The latter
were almost exclusively German-born Jews who established businesses in Salt
Lake, Ogden, and some of the mining communities.
The most successful German-born miner in Utah was John Beck. Born in 1843
in Aichelberg, Wurttemberg, Beck joined the Mormon Church in 1862 and served
as a missionary in Switzerland and Germany before leaving for Utah in 1864.
In the early 1870s he made a fortune with his Bullion Beck mine in the Tintic
Mining District. A number of German-born Mormon converts were hired by Beck
to work in his mines.
Germany produced two of Utah's most famous architects: Richard K.A. Kletting,
architect of the Utah State Capitol and a number of other significant buildings;
and Karl Neuhausen, who designed the Cathedral of the Madeleine and the
Thomas Kearns Mansion--the current Utah Governor's Mansion.
The decades between 1850 and World War I saw a steady increase in the number
of German-born immigrants coming to Utah. Although there were only sixty
German or Swiss residents in the Utah Territory in 1850, by 1910 the number
had reached 7,524. While this figure equalled only about two percent of
the total state population of 373,000, the German presence was felt in a
number of areas beyond those of education, mining, and architecture which
have been mentioned. John Held's band played concerts from the 1890s to
the 1930s. The John Held collection, housed at the Utah State Historical
Society, is one of the finest collections of band music in the United States.
Alexander Schreiner, a 1912 immigrant from Nuremberg, became the best known
of all the Salt Lake Tabernacle organists. Breweries operated by German-born
brewers Henry Wagener and Albert Fischer in Salt Lake City and Gustav Becker,
the son of a German immigrant, in Ogden were important.
As German immigration peaked around the turn of the century, German organizations
flourished. The Salt Lake Beobachter, begun in 1890, was a German-language
newspaper which served to foster the German language in Utah, provide news
of the homeland, and maintain a network for German-born immigrants residing
not only in Utah communities but also in Idaho and Wyoming.
World War I brought a significant change to Utah's German-American community.
Deeply concerned about events affecting their former homeland, most Utah
Germans demonstrated their loyalty to Germany from the war's outbreak in
August 1914 until America's entry into the war in April 1917. Some returned
to join the German army. Most followed, as best they could, the fate of
relatives and friends fighting on the eastern and western fronts. German-Americans
resented the pro-English press and urged strict adherence to President Woodrow
Wilson's neutrality policy. With the resumption of unrestricted submarine
warfare by Germany, the United States entered the war as an ally of the
British and French. Faced with the dilemma of perceived dual loyalties,
Utah's German-Americans demonstrated their unswerving loyalty to the United
States through meetings, parades, proclamations, the purchase of war bonds,
fund-raising drives, registering for the draft, and joining the army. Still,
their loyalty often was suspect and German clubs, including the LDS German
organization, were forced to suspend activities. Official action even was
taken to end the teaching of German in Utah schools. However, unlike other
parts of the country, the Salt Lake Beobachter was allowed to continue
to be published but only under the masthead, "American in everything
World War I also brought a contingent of German prisoners of war to Utah's
Fort Douglas. More than five hundred German seamen, captured on board the
German cruiser SMS Cormoran at Guam and the SMS Geier at Hawaii
when America declared war on Germany, were interned at Fort Douglas between
June 1917 and March 1918. Fort Douglas was also the prison for enemy aliens,
conscientious objectors, and others arrested for violations of wartime legislation.
World War I halted immigration from Germany to Utah for nearly a decade.
By 1920 there were nearly 1,400 fewer German-born residents in Utah than
in 1910. After about 1924 immigration resumed as a significant number of
members of the LDS Church came to Utah. But they served only to slow the
rate of decline in the number of German-born residents in Utah, as the newcomers
only partially replaced the passing generation of nineteenth-century and
During the 1930s, the combination of worldwide depression, felt especially
severely in Utah, and the ascent of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist
Party in Germany, significantly reduced the number of German immigrants
to Utah. Whereas 7,524 German- and Swiss-born immigrants resided in Utah
in 1910, by 1940 the number had dropped to 4,889. Still, the 1920s and early
1930s was a period of significant activity as newly arrived young immigrants
founded the Germania Athletic Club, sponsored outings, and performed choir
concerts and German operettas in German. Germans marched proudly in Salt
Lake City's July 24th parade and memorialized the German war dead through
commemorations at the graves of German prisoners who died at Fort Douglas
during and just after World War I. A monument to those twenty men was created
by the German-born stonecarver and immigrant to Utah, Arlo Steineke, and
dedicated on Memorial Day 1933 after an extensive fundraising campaign.
During World War II, more than 7,000 German prisoners of war captured on
the battlefields of North Africa, Italy, and France were brought to twelve
different camps in Utah. The largest number were interned at the Tooele
and Ogden Defense depots. Utah's German community was involved to a limited
degree with the prisoners of war; some sought to carry out missionary work
among them on behalf of the Mormon Church among them while others petitioned
their representatives unsuccessfully trying to make arrangements for relatives
and other members of the LDS Church to be sent to Utah. All prisoners of
war were returned to Germany after the war. A few returned to Utah in the
1950s along with more than 3,000 Germans who came primarily because of their
ties to the LDS Church.
By 1960 there were 5,585 German-born residents in Utah, nearly 1,500 more
than the 4,104 residents in 1930, but still two thousand fewer than the
peak number of 7,524 in 1910. Many of the post-World War II arrivals had
lost their homes in the eastern parts of Germany during the Russian advance
and occupation that followed. Others lost their homes during British and
American bombing attacks. Many different forces drove them from their German
homeland and pulled them to Utah. Once in Utah, many skilled workers were
able to find ready employment, while others had to accept more menial positions.
These postwar immigrants tried to adapt to the local way of life as quickly
as possible. Some did this by severing all ties with Germany, German culture,
and the German language as quickly as possible. For some, Utah was a place
of exile to which they were banished because of the war and related circumstances.
Adaptation to Utah came slowly and with great difficulty, and in a few cases
was not achieved at all. Others maintained German customs, taught their
children to speak German, became active in German organizations, fostered
German music and theater, and returned to Germany for periodic visits. At
the same time, they worked with, lived by, and attended church and social
events with non-German Utahns while developing a strong attachment to the
community and the surrounding land.
Although the Salt Lake Beobachter ceased publication in the mid-1930s,
today's German community remains tied by a weekly German radio program produced
by Klaus Rathke, a Berlin-born Salt Lake City businessman. The German chorus
Harmonie offers an annual concert series; its membership is comprised mostly
of those who came as adult immigrants in the 1950s and early 1960s. An annual
commemoration is held at the Fort Douglas cemetery under the direction of
the German Air Force liaison officer at Hill Air Force Base on the German
National Day of Mourning on the second Sunday in November. A German-American
Society of Utah, organized in 1983 after a highly successful celebration
of the three-hundredth anniversary of German immigration to the Untied States,
also serves to coordinate, facilitate, and promote activities to preserve
the German language and customs and to encourage good will and a better
understanding between Utah and Germany.
As is the case with other countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and
Greece which once supplied hundreds of emigrants to Utah, few emigrants
today are leaving Germany's shores. Still, several factors suggest that
German influence will remain an ongoing element of Utah life. More and more
Utahns are traveling to Germany, and German remains behind Spanish the most
popular foreign language offered in Utah schools. German restaurants and
delicatessens are popular with both German-born and other Utah residents.
Finally, Germans come to Utah in greater numbers than ever before, but now
they come as tourists rather than as immigrants. Utah's national parks in
particular have become one of the most popular draws, and Germany ranks
as the leading country for overseas visitors to Utah with more than 100,000
Germans visiting the state each year.
See: Utah Historical Quarterly (Fall 1984); Allan Kent Powell, Splinters
of a Nation: German Prisoners of War in Utah (1989); and Davis Bitton
and Gordon Irving, "The Continental Inheritance," in Helen Zeese
Papanikolas, ed., The Peoples of Utah (1976).
Allan Kent Powell