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Höhn, book cover

The Fight For German Morality

Book Essay on: Maria Hohn, GIs and Fräuleins: German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany
(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 357 pages. UCSB: HM458. R53 H64 2002

by Johnathan Rosecrance
December 5, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Fall 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
Amazon.com page

About Johnathan Rosecrance

I am a senior Poly-Sci major who has studied much Western European history. I have taken multiple courses which covered Germany during and after WWII. I was interested in this book due to its unique perspective on German American relations after the war.

Abstract (back to top)

Maria Hohn's book GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany gives a detailed view of the German, American encounter after WWII. Hohn is able to illustrate how West Germans accepted a unique form of Americanization which eventually lead to modernization. Americanization, while seen as good, did cause a conservative backlash which led to strengthened attempts to control women's sexuality and increased racial segregation. In her book Hohn is able to describe how Americans attempted to blend in with the German population and foster a feeling of unity against the soviet threat. While Germans rejected some aspects of Americanization many German views began to change. One form of German resistance to Americanization was the conservative movement to decrease secularization and to control women's sexuality. But as German views shifted many Germans began to discriminate in a very American way using racial segregation. Many Germans were influenced by American racism and became much more racist due to American culture. Hohn is able to show the many good aspects of American occupation but she also clearly shows some of the negatives of the Americanization process.

Essay (back to top)

More than fifteen million Americans have lived in West Germany since 1945. These foreign occupants brought with them consumer goods, a trendy culture, and racial division. Maria Hohn examines in her book GIs and Frauleins the interactions between average Americans and their West German counterparts. She points out the initial hesitance of conservative Germans to accept “immoral” American culture and attempts made by Americans to gain approval. After a period of time relationships between American GIs and German women became the focus of conservative angst. These relationships especially between black GIs and white German women were severely frowned upon. Hohn argues that “U.S. military presence was an 'encounter,' rather than a one-way process of Americanization” (Kuhlman 1). Germans learned to live with Americans and accept parts of their culture while rejecting others. Hohn reveals that unfortunately there were some negative aspects of mixing American and German culture. As Germans began to practice aspects of American society they accepted the idea of racial segregation. While initially local Germans rejected these racial views they gradually became popularly accepted. Americanization caused many Germans to shift their prejudices from Jews to blacks and exacerbated many conservatives' views, on the need to control women's sexuality. Hohn drew from a variety of sources while writing her book. She used government records, newspaper articles, films, church archives and a collection of oral histories from the Interdisziplinärer Arbeitskreis für Nordamerikastudien to gain new insight on German cultural history. She interviewed many Germans who lived near Americans along with several GIs from various time periods to go along with several secondary sources. This book uncovers many interesting aspects of American-occupied Germany which were previously overlooked. Hohn is able to illustrate how West Germans accepted a unique form of Americanization which led to modernization but strengthened attempts to control women's sexuality and increased racial segregation.

In the first years of American occupation many West Germans were skeptical of American intentions “By 1952 20 percent of Germans wanted Americans to leave, and 22 percent claimed they had no opinion” (Hohn 55). Americans needed to convince this substantial portion of the population of their good intentions. American leaders were intent on tying Germany into the Western bloc. The first step taken to appease Germans was to convince them American troops were a protective force and no longer occupation troops. Military leaders were instructed to show American, English, French and Benelux troops marching together as often as possible to demonstrate Western unity. Military parades were promoted to impress the German population with American military might, and German dignitaries were invited as guests of honor. The Korean Boom was the event which actually pushed the largest numbers of Germans to support a continued American presence in the country. During the Korean Boom West Germans were exposed to a “new world of rock and roll, flashy cars, and consumer riches that Americans offered and the younger generation eagerly embraced” (Hohn 8). During the “Golden Fifties” the economy was booming and many Germans were beginning to recover financially from WWII. Germans finally had enough money to buy consumer commodities and their appetite was developed by Americans who attempted to convey to Germans the superiority of the American way of life. U.S army bases hosted open houses that allowed Germans a glimpse of modern American appliances and domestic technology. Young Germans took the most to American ideals, they were crazy for consumer goods and admired the much more relaxed American way of life. In time many Americans lived off the military bases and developed a kinship with their German neighbors. While reluctant of U.S at first, a reinvigorated economy, access to material products and an intriguing new culture caused many Germans to think very fondly of their American visitors.

While many aspects of the American German encounter were positive, some negative side effects began to take center stage. Conservative Germans were very concerned American culture would ruin German moral foundation and the family structure. Conservatives claimed the Nazi regime was a consequence of secular materialism, turning away from God had caused a “German catastrophe.” To rectify these problems conservatives attempted to restore the “God-ordained” nuclear family. It was alleged American consumerism could only increase the secular materialism conservatives were attempting to overcome. Members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) believed the best way to fix moral degradation caused by American culture, was to restrain women's sexuality. The unparalleled amount of freedom during the war women had while husbands and fathers were away fighting needed to be overcome. The CDU took measures to restore women to their natural roles: “Crucial for their project of restoring the Christian Abendland and keeping materialism at bay. This was the role conservatives assigned to women” (Hohn 9). Conservatives often bristled at common law marriages which existed between American GIs and their German brides. Oftentimes soldiers could only get marriage licenses four months before they shipped out and thus usually lived with their wife long before they were officially married. German women who had relations with GIs were given “the derogatory name ‘ Veronika' or ‘Soldier's bride'” (Hohn 126). Many women, who lost family, were refugees, had no job, or dreamed of meeting a rich American, flocked to the army bases. Conservatives were attempting to rebuild a “class based bourgeois society which was to be a patriarchal, nuclear family based on traditional gender roles” (Hohn 130). These women were in complete violation of conservative morality and were thus considered a threat to political stability and national integrity. These women dressed and acted like Americans. To many Germans they were half foreigner and “lived in sin.” They did not bother with German laws and often flaunted their sexuality. Conservatives cringed when women claimed they had the right to their way of life and could live as they pleased. In 1951 a law was finally passed to “ensure decency, discipline, and order which define us as Germans” (Hohn 140). Prostitution or being a “ Veronika” was made illegal in towns smaller than 20,000. This law was meant to limit relations between GIs and German women but in practice it only stopped black GIs from mingling with German women. Eventually conservatives accepted the relationships between German women and white GIs and began to focus their attention the evils of interracial relationships.

During early American occupation and before the Third Reich Germans were known for their relative tolerance of other races. But German tolerance faded away rather quickly during the Nazi period. Germans were taught to hate minorities and most of all Jews. When American occupation forces first arrived in Germany, black service men were treated well and it was a pleasant escape from the racial segregation in the U.S. As Germans became more Americanized they began to pick up bad aspects of American culture along with the good. Within ten years blacks replaced Jews as the inferior members of German society. “The fact that Americans arrived in Rhineland with segregated troops and all the social problems associated with the ongoing integration helped to reinforce German prejudices against black soldiers” (Hohn 95). White Americans would often boycott German bars which served blacks and thus forced segregation in many areas around the Army bases. Racial discrimination was most obvious when it came to relationships between Black GIs and German Women. Most Germans considered interracial marriages offensive and unnatural. One Protestant minister in 1952 claimed “Racially mixed marriage is against nature and culture; true love cannot exist between the two, only sexual confusion” (Hohn 104). Once anti-prostitution laws were passed in Germany, mixed race couples began to become targets of abuse. Due to segregation black bars were usually in the worst part of towns and law enforcement began to declare any women outside a black bar a prostitute. Since the description of a “Veronika” was so vague police had the discretion to determine if woman fell into this category or not. In all white areas enforcement was low because white GIs could have “genuine relationships” with German women. While in black areas a women could be arrested as a prostitute for walking with her black partner. The American military made it extremely difficult for blacks to get married by not allowing them to procure marriage licenses “American commanders relied on Jim Crow and miscegenation laws to control black soldiers” (Ganaway 3). This meant almost all blacks in relationships were not married and thus considered taboo in German society. Black GIs and their German partners had to deal with severe discrimination from both America and Germany.

While Hohn makes many convincing arguments in her book, her attempt to separate Americanization in Germany from Westernization is not very convincing. “Maria Höhn attempts to make a case against the so-called “Westernization school” (Wierling 4). Hohn claims there was a long term mutual influence between Americans and Germans which developed a unique form of transformation. She made it clear not to classify this as generic westernization, Germans underwent ‘Americanization.' This is a very important distinction in the book. “She seems to suggest otherwise: that Americanization is excluded from the concept of Westernization”(Wierling 4). It was unclear why this difference was necessary because westernization and Americanization are quite similar and other areas with large U.S troop populations did not value this distinction, while Hohn claims many Germans did. Hohn does make it seem as if Americans were what made Germans become more racist, some scholars would disagree “It seems doubtful the ‘Americanization' of German assumptions ultimately will be the most productive way to think about the German-American encounter on the subject of race” (Schroer 2). Hohn does seem to paint the Germans as merely receptors of American racism. This is misleading and Germans need to take more responsibility for their own racism. Hohn should not paint them as the reluctant victims. Germans often used American racism as an excuse to be racist, Americans were not always the reason for German racial segregation.

Hohn 's research into the relationships between GIs and the German population is an invaluable asset on a topic that was previously overlooked. By focusing on three points of interaction Hohn is able to develop a clear and concise method of explaining the outcomes of this German American encounter. The initial steps taken by the Americans to win the German people over were invaluable to their prosperous long term relations. By quickly shedding the title of occupier and actively working to enforce the notion of U.S protection against communism, America was able to build off the Korean economic boom. With the economy surging many Germans began to support a U.S military presence and became Americanized themselves. Hohn stresses that while Germans accepted many aspects of American culture they were reluctant to embrace others. Conservative religious Germans were afraid the American presence would ruin national morality, secularism and consumer goods were thought to be the downfall of the family and the German way of life. As Germany prospered conservative focus shifted and became substantially more Americanized. Conservatives originally attempted to control the sexual relations between GIs and German women but now began to focus on the racial segregation of blacks. Anti-prostitution laws were soon passed, but were only enforced on the “worst of the worst …of the German prostitutes” (Hohn 141), those who mingled with black GIs. At one time a woman could be arrested for being a prostitute for just walking with a black GI boyfriend. Americans had a very positive impact on the German way of life after WWII, but the negative aspects of the American German encounter cannot be overlooked. Hohn is able to illustrate the prosperity and social freedom America brought to Germany while highlighting the descent of social and racial tolerance during the long American presence. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who is interested in the role of women and minorities in German society. The book would also be a helpful resource for anyone who is curious about German-American relations during the post WWII Occupation.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 12/x/08)


  • Ganaway, Bryan. "Book Reviews GIs and Frauleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany." Journal of Popular Culture 37, no. 3 (Spring2004 2004): 548-550. Academic Search Complete, EBSCO host (accessed October 16, 2008)
  • Kuhlman, Erika. "GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany." Journal of Military History 72, no. 1 (January 2008): 285-286. Academic Search Complete, EBSCO host (accessed October 16, 2008).
  • Schroer, Timothy. "GIs and Fräuleins: The German-American Encounter in 1950s West Germany (Book)." Journal of Social History 37, no. 3 (Spring2004 2004): 780-782. Academic Search Complete, EBSCO host (accessed November 13, 2008).
  • Wierling, Dorothee. "How Postwar Germans Became Americanized." Diplomatic History 29, no. 1 (January 2005): 199-202. Academic Search Complete, EBSCO host (accessed October 16, 2008).
  • UCSB Hist 133c review by Emma Westman (2008)
Books and Web Site
  • Pyle, Ernie. Here Is Your War: The Story of G.I. Joe (Nebraska : Bison Books, 2004), 246 pages. (amazon link)
    Pyle gives a very descriptive view on the lives of American solders. He tells how people from a large cross section of America learned how to become solders. He explains how victor was built of bravery, sacrifice and the American sense of humor. Pyle wrote about many of the small details of American solders life while in Europe from the battles to their interactions with locals he leaves very few stones unturned.
  • Schrijvers, Peter. The Crash of Ruin: American Combat Soldiers in Europe during World War II (New Y ork: New York University Press, 2001), 352 pages. (amazon link)
    Schrijvers offers a compelling account of the experiences of US ground forces during WW2. He describes their struggles with terrain and enemies while also giving many descriptions of solders dealings with the local civilian population. These soldiers came to believe the plague of war formed an inseparable part of the Old World's decline and fall. Schrijvers draws on letters, diaries, memoirs, military reports, and contemporary psychological assessments to describe the US encounter.
  • “History of German-American Relations.” U.S Diplomatic Mission to Germany. 2008. About the USA. 3 Dec. 2008 <http://usa.usembassy.de/garelations4555.htm>
    This is a website written by the U.S Embassy, it gives a detailed description of the goals and plans the American Government had for Germany. It explains the main goals for German occupation were to eliminate Nazism, develop democratic institutions and rebuild the German economy. The website explains the reasons behind various positive actions taken by the U.S in West Germany highlighting the Berlin Airlift. It also covers various anti U.S protests over the Vietnam War while discussing Germanys “economic miracle” during the 1960s.
  • “African American Civil Rights and Germany.” German Historical Institute. 2008. Dec 3. 2008 <http://www.ghi-dc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=536&Itemid=263>
    This web site is sponsoring a movie and a photo display examining the fight of black soldiers in Germany for civil rights. It explains how black soldiers worked with German student movements and developed the idea of black power. These soldiers used the relative equality they initially had in Germany to point out problems with Jim Crow laws. The website explains how blacks worked to end racism in Germany as well as in the U.S military. The creation of a transnational African American civil rights movement would give activists more power to fight racism.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 12/x/08; last updated:
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