“We the undersigned, together with many of our most respected friends and fellow citizens, have decided to leave Germany and to seek a new homeland in the states of North America. This intention awoke in us once we had become convinced that, as far as we are concerned, conditions in Germany, neither now nor in the future will satisfy the demands that we as persons and citizens must make of life for ourselves or our children. This is since we have become aware that only a life such as is possible in the free states of North America can suffice for us and our children. The political situation of that growing state is well known to those who are informed. Lands, especially in the almost immeasurable regions west of the Mississippi, have opened only in the most recent times by the perfection of the means of transportation, lands with which almost non on earth may be compared for richness and the beauty of nature. Swiftly the primeval forests are being cleared, swiftly arise country estates and cities, and the great waters permit the liveliest commerce with all parts of the earth. It is our idea that the better part of the many Germans who have decided to emigrate should settle as a group, united as a whole in keeping with the purified and presently existing political form and received into the great federation of states, so that in this way the survival of German customs, language, etc., should be secured, so that a free and popular form of life could be created. This is our idea, whose execution appears grandiose and desirable, appears to us to be possible and not too difficult.”
This treatise went on to provide the major reasons for the creation of their society, their plan and their goals. After its’ conclusion it was signed by the organizers:
Paul Follenius, Court Advocate in Giessen and Friedrich Münch, Grand Ducal Hessian Pastor at Nieder-Gemünden (Alsfeld District)
During the summer of 2009, I received an unusual email from Peter Roloff asking “if there was anything left of the Germans in Missouri?” Not knowing Herr Roloff, I thought the question strange, wondering where on earth was this person that they would ask such a question. Roloff was in Berlin, Germany and was head of the Traveling Sommer-Republik, a group of Germans interested specifically in the Giessen Emigration Society. I answered his email immediately with “of course! Missouri is very German!”.
The TSR had come together, after a question from Roloff’s close friend and script writer, Henry Schneider, asking him if he was aware of a group of over five-hundred Germans called the Giessen Emigration Society who had fled Germany in 1834. There had been summer
meetings in Bremen of Germans focused on the GES since 2004. Back in 1833, an emigration society had been formed by two young Germans, Paul Follenius (brother of Karl Follen) and Friedrich Muench, best friends, brother-in-laws, and former students at the University of Giessen. After reading Gottfried Duden’s Report on Missouri in 1829, and several years of youthful energy and involvement in the failed Revolution of 1832 Follenius had agreed to join his friend Muench if their project could be “done on a grand scale” so that many could benefit.
When founders Muench and Follenius published A Call for an Emigration at Large hoping to convince a few of their youthful friends to join them in September of 1833, they were amazed when thousands from all walks of life, and religions, wanted to join them. Plans began in earnest, the rules and Statutes were established and the lives, and the lives of their descendants, would be changed forever. Murphy’s Law establishes that everything does not always go as planned, and this group was certainly no exception. Their story as emigrants is dramatic and inspirational, as an example of what emigrants from Germany to the U.S. experienced in the 19th Century. It is the power of over 500 Germans who came together with one dream. The Germans that would remain behind, as their descendants today will explain, described the group as going to “their Utopia.” A fact that many Americans today have forgotten, is that America would ever even be considered such a place.
The TSR’s own adventure began that summer with their own visit to Missouri that they called “A Trip to a Forgotten Utopia” that was filmed for their fellow researchers (writers, artists, screen writers, photographers) back home. When the film was released at the next gathering of the TSR in 2010 I was invited to join them in Bremen. I was amazed to find myself in a film of my own back yard, explaining history of Missouri, to hundreds of Germans who were extremely interested, knowledgeable and aware of the story! In the days that followed our conversations led to a discussion to doing more collaborations. In 2011, the TSR would return to Missouri and with the Missouri Germans Consortium, would share the story and generate even more interest in the collaborative project..
The discussions, and back and forth and subsequent visits, led to a decision to produce a collaborative book, in both English and German, that was about the GES, by writers and scholars who had studied the group and the subject. Then, Roloff secured funding for the
This story reminds us that we were all most likely, once an emigrant. To flee one’s country, the only home one has known, and to leave one’s family, friends and treasures behind, is not a decision made lightly. To place faith and hope in a dream that they will find refuge in a safe haven for one’s family is all one dares to wish for. My favorite quote, by Winston Churchill is “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” speaks to this issue. As I look back today on the close of Utopia, just one year ago in America, I see a Germany experiencing a similar situation to what Missouri and the U.S. did in the 19th Century, as millions of refugees seek a safe haven.
The pride that we Americans feel in being considered a Utopia when we hear the story of the Giessen Emigraton Society, is the same pride that the thousands of Germans welcoming refugees today feel, and one day thousands of their children will feel. They will be descendants of those today in Germany that are “stepping up to the plate” as we Americans call it, to “do the right thing”. The entire world watches, and hopes and dreams for peace. A lasting peace that will allow those who have fled to return to their homeland safely.
America no longer has the open door that allowed the Giessen Emigration Society and millions of more emigrants to come in the 19th Century. But I believe that the American spirit that makes us want to help our fellow man is still alive. Hopefully, while some choose to help those here at home, some will recall their ancestors and their struggle. German is still the largest ethnic group in America, and if they can look back, then the vision going forward could really be a brighter one for millions of refugees. While an emigrant chooses a destination and is hoping to make a new home, a refugee flees for many of the same reasons, only with hopes to return home someday. I believe that the human spirit and desire to help, no matter what one’s race or religion, remains alive in people of all countries. The Utopia exhibition is an example of what can happen when a few people work together in a collaboration, just imagine what the world would be like today if entire countries could work together in a partnership like this.
Pauline Muench was born in the small village of Nieder Gemünden, in Hesse (Germany) in the same house that her ancestors had been born for several generations before her. Her father Friedrich Muench remarried after her mother died when she was just three. As co-founder of the Giessen Emigration Society he led over 500 Germans to Missouri in 1834, and Pauline would spend her seventh birthday aboard the ship the Medora. Her family settled in a small log house in southern Warren County (Missouri) where she would live until her 21st Birthday and her marriage to Gordion Busch, from Bielefeld, Germany whose family had settled in Franklin County.
Pauline’s diary begins shortly after her wedding day on her 21st birthday, June 30, 1848. Through its pages we learn the story and the lives of one German emigrant family until Pauline’s death in 1891. Her journal entries share the births, the marriages, the Civil War, the good times and the sad. How the loss of her son left her with an inability to write for three years. She bore 13 children, adopted 2 others, and raised 3 children of her husband’s sister after their mother’s death. Pauline’s diary gives us a rare glimpse into the life of a German emigrant woman during the 19th Century in Missouri.
For more about Pauline and her diary, see the next issue of Der Anzeiger.