The Presidential candidate has been exceptionally blunt when discussing migration, stating that Mexicans are ‘bringing drugs, crime and rapists’ into the United States and referring to Syrian refugees as terrorist ‘Trojan horses’. He has even suggested constructing a giant wall across the Mexican-American border to stop all forms of illegal migration.
Dr Stefan Manz, a Reader in German at Aston University, believes that the construction magnate’s verbal attacks on Mexicans and other immigrant groups in the United States betray his own family’s history and background. The academic, who has published extensively on the history of German emigration, showed that Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, lived a migrant life in the US on the edge of illegality and rejection.
Friedrich Trump migrated to New York from Germany in 1885, one of 1.8m Germans to emigrate during the 1880s and 1890s in a huge wave of mass migration. After working for six years as a barber, Friedrich was caught by the Gold Rush, moved west and opened up a chain of restaurants and hotels in Washington State and British Columbia. Hospitality did not only include food and lodging, but also alcohol and prostitution.
By 1901, he had made a small fortune and planned to return to Germany for good. The German authorities, however, would not let him. They claimed Friedrich had left the country as an illegal emigrant, evading taxes and the compulsory two-year military service. Trump and his family were evicted from Germany and resettled to New York.
Later, during World War I, German-Americans were ostracised, labelled as ‘alien enemies’ whose true allegiance lay with the Fatherland. Nativist spokesmen agitated against ‘hyphenated Americans’ as potential spies and saboteurs. Use of the German language was viewed with suspicion and there were incidents of public violence.
The dangerous mix of paranoia and xenophobia directed against German-Americans during World War I had profound and long-lasting effects. The Alien Enemy Bureau was established in the early days of the war with a brief to identify and arrest disloyal foreigners. It was headed by J. Edgar Hoover, then a young civil servant in the Justice Department. Here he picked up the tools he would use later as all-powerful director of the FBI.
All this was reason enough for the business-minded Trumps to deny their German heritage, claiming they hailed from Sweden instead. Donald’s father Fred invested heavily in New York real estate, laying the foundations for the Trump business empire. It was only from the 1980s that Donald Trump started to stand by his German roots.
Dr Manz said: “Trump’s own grandfather was an illegal emigrant whose income stream included alcohol and prostitution at a time when these were legally contested. He was an unwanted returnee to Germany, and then a potential “enemy alien” within the United States who had declared his loyalty to the German Kaiser – but ultimately made an immense economic contribution spanning generations.
“Today, his grandson lambastes Mexicans as criminals, intends to erect a wall to keep them out, and warns of Syrian refugees as Trojan horses. If Donald Trump wins his party’s nomination, historians will have many a field day digging out the contradictions between his anti-immigrant rhetoric and his family background.”