I am interpreting the lives of German ex-soldiers who migrated to the United States after the First World War. While nation-states are usually considered to have been the final arbiters of a just conclusion to the World War, migrating combatants’ lived experience reveals a different quest for individual justice, one that allows historians to render more completely the history and meaning of the First World War. Scholarship on war has taken an “affective turn” in the past decade, according to historian Jay Winter. Historians of migration have borrowed from anthropologists such as Maruška Svašek to reveal the impact of emotions on the politics of war and migration. This personal search for restitution contributes to the notion of the “long war” (1914-1923), which did not conclude neatly with the 1919 peace treaty.
Surviving German soldiers confronted their futures with wary eyes. Military regimentation had offered them little control over their lives in battle; some soldiers hid their weapons in anticipation of a postwar revolution through which they expected to fashion their own futures, a future that included their own “brutalization,” according to historian George Mosse. The German state either tried to keep its citizens from leaving the country, or it encouraged them to export German Kultur abroad. Jason Crouthamel’s The Great War and German Memory discusses veterans who suffered from a host of calamities that precluded their ability to emigrate. He also uncovers veterans’ disillusionment toward nationalism and their inability to re-integrate into German society, both of which may have encouraged them to consider emigration. Broadly speaking, I am examining soldiers whose response to the war and its aftermath was flight.