The Jewish Eye
German-Jewish Immigration to the United States 1820-1914
By Avraham Barkai
Holmes & Meier Publishers: 2001
The many thousands of Jews from German-speaking lands who came to the United States throughout the nineteenth century played a major part in laying the foundations of the Jewish community in America. The author considers these immigrants a branch of German Jewry, compelled to seek overseas the political and civil rights denied them at home. In this volume of the Ellis Island Series, the fascinating story of this mass immigration of mostly poor, enterprising, young people is told in vivid detail. Drawing on rare letters, diaries, memoirs, period newspapers, journals, and other firsthand accounts, Barkai traces the process of family-oriented chain migration, resettlement, and acculturation, exploring as well the group's relations with the Jewish community in Germany and with German and Jewish immigrants in the New World. Often starting out as peddlers and storekeepers, the immigrants moved back and forth from East Coast towns and cities to settlements in the South, Midwest, and Far West, helping to expand the American frontier and to develop cities such as Cincinnati St. Louis, Milwaukee, and San Francisco.
The narrative chronicles their experiences in the goldfields of California, on Indian reservations, and during the Civil War, in which German-Jewish soldiers in the Union and Confederate armies struggled against bigotry to assert their civil rights. These engaging personal narratives are woven into an account of the formative role played by German-Jewish immigrants in establishing the institutional framework of the American-Jewish community. Their influential network of mutual aid and philanthropic organizations would be challenged, at the turn of the century, by the great mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe. The author's presentation of the dramatic encounter between these two groups sheds new light not only on this critical period in American-Jewish history but also on the dynamics of cultural change in a pluralist society.
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