"I was never one of those Fraeuleins": The impact of cultural image on German war brides in America

Astrid Hastak, Purdue University


In analyzing the forces that cause immigrants either to pursue assimilation to American culture or to maintain their own cultural traditions, immigration historians have largely ignored the impact of anti-emigrant attitudes in Old World countries. By focusing on German women who married American GIs after World War II, this research shows how deeply this group of immigrants was influenced by negative stereotyping. Many American occupation soldiers saw German “Fräuleins” as part of the spoils of war, while for their countrymen losing “their” women to the victors often became the ultimate mark of defeat. Dating their wartime enemies and eventually leaving Germany completely devastated by war, these women were seen by many as opportunistic deserters. Utilizing interviews, questionnaires, and correspondences with war brides, as well as published oral histories and memoirs, this thesis establishes the importance of cultural image on their assimilation process. Even fifty years after immigrating, being approached by a researcher led to emotionally charged reactions by many war brides. Fear of continued stereotyping, popular assumptions of collective guilt for Nazi atrocities, and taboo topics such as postwar rape and survival prostitution made many war brides wary of disclosing their stories or even identities. This thesis asserts that with respect to ethnic identity, negative cultural image led to three different responses, which were triggered by personality and circumstance rather than social, economic or cultural forces. One group of war brides reacted by trying to “pass” as American and not reveal their German background. They have become the ultimate example of assimilation. Others have come to peace with their background and were in old age able to laugh at their earlier trials and tribulations. Through this acceptance they were able to comfortably maintain some German traditions and merge them with an American lifestyle. A third group went a step further and actively tried to reclaim agency over the cultural image of “the German war bride” by publishing memoirs or participating in book projects and television documentaries. Using “creative memory” where they saw it fit, many “cleaned up” parts of their past they wished they could have influenced in reality.




Gabin, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American history|Womens studies

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