When printing in German became verboten

News-DemocratMarch 20, 2014 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of a series of occasional columns that will appear on Belleville's history in conjunction with the city's bicentennial celebration.

Mary Reeb of Belleville was blessed or cursed, depending on your viewpoint, with a mother who saved a lot of things.

So when Mary went into her attic recently she was able to drag out tons of old photos, newspapers and other historical collectibles.

She called me about several stories that involved her family and sent me a copy of a St. Louis Globe-Democrat article about a relative, Albert Goelitz, who helped found Goelitz Brothers Candy Co. He was still on the road selling candy at age 80.

She also had copies of the Belleville News-Democrat and the Daily Advocate from 1917 which told the story of Belleville stopping the printing of City Council proceedings in the German language.

That was a family story because her grandfather, Herman Semmelroth, was the publisher of the Belleville Post & Zeitinger, the town's German language newspaper.

When the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies in April 1917, it became a tough time for German-Americans.

The patriotic fever that swept the nation meant that suddenly the language many in this area were familiar with, German, became verboten, or forbidden.

Churches and parochial schools where German still was used as the principle language were under great pressure to change. I can only imagine what it must have been like in Germantown.

Even the city of Belleville got into the act.

"Mayor puts lid on German printing," a headline proclaimed in the Aug. 29, 1917, issue of the Daily Advocate.

Belleville Mayor R.E. Duvall decided that the city would no longer pay the German newspaper, The Post & Zeitung, to print the proceedings of the City Council.

"At an informal meeting of the council, the mayor presented a resolution for discontinuing the printing of the proceedings in the German language," the newspaper wrote. "A number of the aldermen were opposed to the resolution and it was not brought up on the floor of the meeting."

So Duvall decided to stop it by himself.

He explained his rationale in a letter to Semmelroth, publisher of the German newspaper and The Morning Record, the English morning version of the paper. Duvall listed two reasons.

He wrote that there was "no warrant for paying out of public money for the printing of the council proceedings in the German language."

He also decried, "the attitude of the two newspapers, which you publish, towards the United States government in its present crisis. Both the Post & Zeitung and the Morning Record have repeatedly printed articles that were detrimental to the best interests of this government."

Duvall didn't list any of these instances.

He threw a bone to "loyal German-Americans," and their patriotism and loyalty but also wrote, "It has been proven too often but there are certain types of this class of citizens and of others who can lay no claim to being of German descent, who are pursuing a course of conduct that is 'giving aid and comfort to the enemy.'

"Disloyalty in all its forms should be put under the heel of disapproval with dispatch. It should not be tolerated an instant. Sedition should be dealt with as it deserves and I, for one, am not going to encourage the attitude your publications have assumed towards this government, by countenancing the illegal payment of money for the printing of the city council proceedings."

Despite the censure, the Post & Zeitung hung on through the war, becoming a weekly but folded in 1923.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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