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Material Connections: German Schools, Things, and Soft Power in Argentina and Chile from the 1880s through the Interwar Period

  • H. Glenn Penny (a1)


From the late nineteenth century through the interwar period, the production and consumption of German things played critical roles in delineating and connecting a wide variety of German places in Latin America. Such places became ubiquitous in Chile and Argentina. They flourished because there was ample room in the German imagination for the multiplicity of German places and the cultural hybridity that accompanied them to extend beyond Imperial Germany's national boundaries and colonial possessions. They also flourished because host societies found virtue in having those German places in their states. This essay uses German schools in Argentina and Chile as a window into the emergence of such German places and the soft power that accompanied them. Scholars often overlook that power when they focus on colonial questions or formal and informal imperialism in Latin America. More than any other institution, German schools became sites where the production and consumption of German things were concentrated and multilayered, and where the consistencies and great varieties of Germanness that arrived and evolved in Latin America gained their clearest articulation. Because those schools were both centers of communities and nodes in a global pedagogical network that thrived during the interwar period, they provide us with great insight into a nexus of motivations that created German places in Latin America. Life around these schools also underscores the importance of studying immigrants and their things together.


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1 Conrad, Sebastian, Globalisierung und Nation im Deutschen Kaiserreich (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2006), esp. ch. 6.

2 That reputation was old and not limited to Latin America. See, for example, Bartlett, Roger and Schönwälder, Karen, eds., The German Lands and Eastern Europe: Essays on the History of Their Social, Cultural and Political Relations (London: Palgrave, 1999). For an overview, see Maxwell, Alexander and Davis, Sacha E., “Germanness beyond Germany: Collective Identity in German Diaspora Communities,” German Studies Review 39, 1 (2016): 115 .

3 For the classic statement, see Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino, Facundo: Civilization and Barbarism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

4 For an introduction, see: Fröschle, Hartmut, ed., Die Deutschen in Lateinamerika: Schicksal und Leistung (Tübingen: Erdmann, 1979).

5 Basu, Paul and Coleman, Simon, “Migrant Worlds, Material Cultures,” Mobilities 3, 3 (2008): 313–30, 317.

6 Reagin, Nancy R., “German Brigadoon? Domesticity and Metropolitan Perceptions of Auslandsdeutschen in Southwest Africa and Eastern Europe,” in O'Donnell, Krista, Bridenthal, Renate, and Reagin, Nancy, eds., The Heimat Abroad. The Boundaries of Germanness (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), 248–66.

7 Ibid., 248.

8 For recent work on German hard power in Latin America, see Cedillo, Juan Alberto, Los Nazis en Mexico (Mexico, D.F.: Random House, 2010); Drekonja-Kornat, Gerhard, Nationalsozialismus und Lateinamerika: Neue Kontroversen (Innsbruck: Studienverlag, 2006); and Farías, Víctor, Los Nazis en Chile (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 2003).

9 Rinke, Stefan, Im Sog der Katastrophe: Lateinamerika und der Erste Weltkrieg (Frankfurt: Campus, 2015).

10 Ibid.

11 Conrad, Globalisierung und Nation; Rinke, Im Sog der Katastrophe.

12 Isaac F. Marcosson, “The German in South America,” Saturday Evening Post 1925: 36–37, 78, 80–86, here 36.

13 Ibid., 82.

14 Ibid.

15 See, inter alia, Richard F. Behrendt, “Germans in Latin America,” Inter-American, Apr. 1943: 18–23, 37; Carlton Beals, “Swastika over the Andes: German Penetration in Latin America,” Harper's Magazine, June 1938: 176–86.

16 Marcosson, “German in South America,” 36.

17 Ibid., 78.

18 Müller, Jürgen, Nationalsozialismus in Lateinamerika: Die Auslandsorganisation der NSDAP in Argentinien, Brasilien, Chile und Mexico, 1931–1945 (Stuttgart: Hans-Dieter Heinz, 1997).

19 Cohate, Mark I., Emigrant Nation: The Making of Italy Abroad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

20 Green, Nancy L., “The Politics of Exit: Reversing the Immigration Paradigm,” Journal of Modern History 77, 2 (2005): 263–89, 276.

21 Rinke, Stefan, “Der letzte freie Kontinent”: Deutsch Lateinamerikapolitik im Zeichen transnationaler Beziehungen, 1918–1933, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: Hans-Dieter Heinz, 1996).

22 Penny, H. Glenn, “Latin American Connections: Recent Work on German Interactions with Latin America,” Central European History 46, 2 (2013): 362–94. Cf. Daughton, J. P., “When Argentina Was ‘French’: Rethinking Cultural Politics and European Imperialism in Belle-Epoque Buenos Aires,” Journal of Modern History 80, 4 (2008): 831–64.

23 Walther, Daniel Joseph, Creating Germans Abroad: Cultural Policies and National Identity in Namibia (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002), 6485, 130–52.

24 The classic text in English is Schoonover, Thomas, Germany in Central America: Competitive Imperialism, 1821–1929 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998). For the German, see Kloosterhuis, Jürgen, “Friedliche Imperialisten” Deutsche Auslandsvereine und auswärtige Kulturpolitik, 1906–1918, 2 vols. (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1994). For a recent example in Spanish, see González-Izás, Matilde, Modernización capitalista, racismo y violencia: Guatemala (1750–1930) (Mexico, D.F.: El Colegio de México, 2014).

25 Manz, Stefan, Constructing a German Diaspora: The ‘Greater German Empire’, 1871–1914 (Oxford: Routledge, 2014); and Penny, H. Glenn and Rinke, Stefan, “Germans Abroad: Respatializing Historical Narrative,” Geschichte & Gesellschaft 41 (2015): 173–96. For Brazil, see Schulze, Frederik, Auswanderung als nationalistisches Projekt: ‘Deutschtum’ und Kolonialdiskurse im südlichen Brasilien (1824–1941) (Cologne: Böhlau, 2016).

26 Brubaker, Rogers, “Ethnicity without Groups,” Archives of European Sociology 43, 2 (2002): 163–89.

27 See, inter alia, Schulze, Auswanderung als nationalistisches Projekt; Chu, Winson, The German Minority in Interwar Poland (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Demshuk, Andrew, The Lost German East: Forced Migration and the Politics of Memory, 1945–1970 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

28 Manjapra, Kris, Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

29 Applegate, Celia, “Senses of Place,” in Smith, Helmut Walser, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Modern German History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 4970 .

30 Penny and Rinke, “Germans Abroad,” 182. See also Giusti, Miguel and Nitschack, Horst, eds., Encuentros y Desencuentros: Estudios sobre la Recepción de la Cultura Alemana en América Latina (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, 1993); and Kaulen, Andrea Krebs, Guerrero, Sor Úrsula Tapia, and Anwandter, Peter Schmid, Los alemanes y la comunidad chileno-alemana en la historia de Chile (Santiago: Titular, 2001).

31 Auslander, Leora, “Beyond Words,” American Historical Review 110, 4 (2005): 1015–45, 1017–18.

32 Bauer, Arnold J., Goods, Power, History: Latin America's Material Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 8, 13, 129–64.

33 This is true even for many who write about soft power; for example, Trommler, Frank, Kulturmacht ohne Kompass: Deutsche auswärtige Kulturbeziehungen im 20. Jahrhundert (Vienna: Böhlau, 2014).

34 For a general discussion, see Werner, Harry, ed., Deutsche Schulen im Ausland, vol. 1 (Berlin: Westkreuz-Verlag, 1988); and Nasagari, Peter, ed., Deutsche Schulen im Ausland, vol. 2 (Berlin: Westkreuz-Verlag, 1989).

35 Penny, “Latin American Connections,” 379–81.

36 On the global character of German schools abroad, see Manz, Constructing a German Diaspora, ch. 6.

37 Cohate, Emigrant Nation, 108, 118–19.

38 For an introduction to German schools, see Gert Geißler, Schulgeschichte in Deutschland: Von den Anfängen bis in die Gegenwart 2. Auflage (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2013).

39 Bundesarchiv Lichterfelder-West (henceforth BA), R/901/38178–202 (1867–1912). That support, important as it was, never made up more than a fraction of the costs of any given school.

40 Fröschle, Die Deutschen in Lateinamerika.

41 Kwan, Jonathan, “Transylvanian Saxon Politics, Hungarian State Building and the Case of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Schulverein (1881–1882),” English Historical Review 77 (2012): 592624 .

42 See, for example, César Paiva, Die Deutschsprachigen Schulen in Rio Grande do Sul und die Nationalisierungspolitik (PhD diss., Hamburg, 1984).

43 Weidenfeller, Gerhard, VDA: Verein für das Deutschtum im Ausland. Allgemeiner Deutscher Schulverein (1881–1918). Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des deutschen Nationalismus und Imperialismus im Kaiserreich (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1976).

44 Reagin, “German Brigadoon?” 257.

45 BA R/901/38178–202 (1867–1912).

46 Goebel, Michael, “Decentering the German Spirit: The Weimar Republic's Cultural Relations with Latin America,” Journal of Contemporary History 44 (2009): 221–45, 233.

47 For a typical articulation, see Deutscher Ambassador in Chile to Bülow, 1 Feb. 1904, BA R/901/38849. For a public statement of the same, see Gustav Lenz, “Die deutschen Schulen in Chile,” Das Echo 1103, 22 Dec. 1903.

48 That was true in many parts of the world, not just Latin America. For an overview, see Manz, Constructing a German Diaspora, app. III.

49 Rosariner Zeitung, 18 Oct. 1913, Archive of the German Foreign Office, Berlin (henceforth PAAA), RZ 508 R 62367.

50 Manz, Constructing a German Diaspora, 4. See also Penny and Rinke, “Germans Abroad.”

51 “Jahresbericht des Deutschen Schulvereins zu Rosario de Santa Fe,” Die Deutsche Schule im Auslande (1907): 204–9.

52 Manz, Constructing a German Diaspora, 243–44.

53 Robert Gabert, “Lehrplan für die Deutsche Schule in Rosario de Sta. Fé,” BA R/901/38672.

54 “Das deutsche Schulwesen in Argentinien,” Das Echo 1397 (23), 10 June 1909.

55 Waldthausen to Reichskanzler Bülow, 16 Dec. 1905, BA R/901/38644, pp. 112–22.

56 Ibid.

57 Busche to Reichkanzler Bethman-Hollweg, 7 Sept. 1911, BA R/901/38646, pp. 102–5.

58 Busche to Reichkanzler Bethmann-Hollweg, 2 May 1912, BA R/901/38646, pp. 144–49; and Busche to Reichkanzler Bethmann-Hollweg, 12 Aug. 1913, PAAA RZ 508 R 62367. On the German-Jewish settlements, see inter alia, Schwarz, Ernst and Te Velde, Johan C., “Jewish Agricultural Settlement in Argentina: The ICA Experiment,” Hispanic American Historical Review 19 (1939): 185203 .

59 Busche to Reichkanzler Bethmann-Hollweg, 12 Feb. 1912, BA R/901/38646, pp. 140–41.

60 Rinke characterizies Keiper as “the most important contact person” between the German schools and the German Foreign Office; “Der letzte freie Kontinent,” 356.

61 Wilhelm Keiper, Das Deutschtum in Argentinien (unpub. MS, Berlin, 1943), in Ibero-Amerikanischen Institut Berlin, B 10/1660.

62 Ibid., 36–40.

63 Ibid., 1.

64 Ibid., 221.

65 For a broader discussion, see Franka Bindernagel, Migration und Erinnerung: Öffentliche Erinnerungskultur deutschsprachiger Migrant/innen in Buenos Aires, 1910–1932 (PhD diss., Berlin, 2014).

66 Keiper, Das Deutschtum in Argentinien, 269.

67 Ibid., 276.

68 Ibid., 278–79.

69 Ismar, Georg, Der Pressekrieg: Argentinisches Tageblatt und Deutsche La Plata Zeitung 1933–1945 (Berlin: WVB, 2006).

70 For immigration numbers, see Newton, Ronald C., German Buenos Aries, 1900–1933: Social Change and Cultural Crisis (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), 7882 ; and Sauveur-Henn, Anne Saint, Un siècle d’émigration allemande vers l'Argentine 1853–1945 (Cologne: Böhlau, 1995).

71 Newton, German Buenos Aries, 26, 67, 124.

72 Belgrano School Board to Waldthausen, 18 Apr. 1907, BA R/901/38654, pp. 83–86.

73 Keiper to the German Foreign Office, 4 Apr. 1922, PAAA RZ 508 R62473.

74 Berger to German Foreign Office, 11 Nov. 1922, PAAA RZ 508 R 62473.

75 Keiper to Gesandt Pauli, 17 May 1923, PAAA RZ 508 R 62473.

76 33. Bericht der Deutschen Schulvereinigung (Belgrano und Germania), 31 Mar. 1930, Buenos Aires, 18.

77 For further discussion, see Benjamin Bryce, “Making Ethnic Space: Education, Religion, and the German Language, 1880–1930” (PhD diss., York University, 2013).

78 Keiper, Das Deutschtum in Argentinien, 528. For a broad discussion of Germans in Chile, see Blancpain, Jean-Pierre, Les Allemands au Chili, 1816–1945 (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1974).

79 Young, George F. W., The Germans in Chile: Immigration and Colonization, 1849–1914 (New York: Center for Immigration Studies, 1974), 116 .

80 Ibid., 144.

81 Ibid., 153.

82 Kaulen, Los alemanes.

83 Professor Dr. Gustav Lenz (Darmstadt), “Die Deutsche Schulen in Chile,” Die Deutsche Schule in Auslande 2, 11 (1903): 499–504. For the broader context, see Cerda, Carlos Rodrigo Sanhueza, Geografía en acción. Práctica disciplinaria de Hans Steffen en Chile (1889–1913) (Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria, 2014).

84 See, for example, Max Friedman, Paul, Nazis and Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

85 Dufner, Georg, Partner im Kalten Krieg: Die politischen Beziehungen zwischen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und Chile (Frankfurt: Campus, 2014). On schools in particular, see Hein, Kerstin, Hybride Identitäten: Bastelbiografien im Spannungsverhältnis zwischen Lateinamerika und Europa (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2006).

86 Reichenau to Reichskanzler Bülow, 1 Feb. 1903, BA R/901/38854.

87 Korvettenkapitän und Kommandant SMS Falke Behncke to the Kaiser, 30 Dec. 1904, BA R/901/38854.

88 Eckert to Reichskanzler Bethmann-Hollweg, 27 Nov. 1913, BA R/901/38854.

89 Deutsche Arbeit in Chile: Festschrift des Deutschen Wissenschaftlichen Vereins zu Santiago. Zur Centenarfeier der Republik Chile (Verhandlungen des Vereins, Band V Heft 3–6) (Santiago de Chile, 1910).

90 Festschrift zur 50-Jahrefeier der Deutsche Realschule Concepcíon-Chile. Concepción, Chile: Soc. Imprint y Litographer “Concepción,” 1938).

91 At (accessed 27 Jan. 2017).

92 Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism (London: Gage Publications, 1995), 68 .

93 Ibid.

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