Cool Things - World War I Memorial Card
This memorial card is for Paul Knoblauch, an American soldier who died on the battlefields of World War I. What makes the card unusual is that its text is printed in German, and Germany was the aggressor during the war. Paul, a German-speaking American, died fighting for the United States less than 150 miles from the birthplace of his parents.
The patriotism of immigrants is always an issue when countries are at war. This is particularly true when a man's adopted country is in conflict with his ancestral homeland. Paul Knoblauch was born and raised in a small Kansas farming community west of Wichita. His parents settled in the area with other German Catholics families who wished to farm and raise livestock. Of all the immigrant groups settling Kansas in the 19th century, Germans were by far the largest. By the mid-1880s they numbered over 1/4 of the state's total overseas immigration.
A series of wars unifying the German states had pushed these immigrants from their homeland in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Meanwhile, a promotional campaign on the other side of the Atlantic drew them to the United States. Huge allotments of public land had been granted as subsidies to American railroads. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF) alone received almost three million acres in Kansas. Anxious to attract farmers who would ship grain on its line, the ATSF formed an army of land agents supplied with promotional literature as its weaponry, and deployed it across the United States and selected parts of Europe. Thousands of pamphlets and fliers were printed in the German language, and nearly all the settlers who responded were experienced farmers. Among these new immigrants to Kansas were Paul Knoblauch's parents.
Although born almost twenty years after his parents emigrated, Paul nevertheless was raised in a German-speaking community. Many immigrants in the American Midwest were able to preserve their native language and customs for decades because rural settlements isolated them from the predominant culture. Farmers in the 1800s could get by on a smattering of English, using the language only when necessary to negotiate sales of grain and livestock. Land travel was slow and difficult, making visits from outsiders infrequent. It was a perfect situation for settlers hoping to preserve their German traditions.
Despite being isolated from mainstream American culture, young men from these German communities enlisted in the armed forces when the U.S. entered the war. Paul joined in late 1917 and went to Europe with the Seventh Infantry Regiment of the Army's Third Division.
The Third participated in three major operations, including the Marne, where it stopped the final German offensive, and the Meuse-Argonne, the American forces' largest operation. Paul died on a battlefield northwest of Verdun on either October 15 or 28, 1918 (records differ on the date). The armistice ending the conflict took effect on November 11, less than one month after his death.
Roughly translated, his memorial card reads:
In Memory of
Corporal Paul C. Knoblauch
Born 15 March 1892, wedded
with Miss Margaret Tenbarge in
August 1917. Drafted into the Army
where he loyally did his Duty and died
a Hero's death for his Country on 28
October 1918 and was laid to Rest at
the Soldier's cemetery in Clery,
Grand Meuse, in France.
In deep grief are his young Widow and
his Child, his Parents, Brother and Sisters.
The memorial card almost certainly dates from 1919. As with many other soldiers' spouses, Paul's widow, Margaret, did not receive official notice of his death until many months after the armistice. Although originally buried in a French cemetery, Paul's remains were moved to Kansas after the war when the U.S. government offered to repatriate fallen soldiers at its own expense. Today, Margaret lies between Paul and his brother Peter, whom she married after the war, in a cemetery near their farm (see photo, bottom right).
Many German-Americans were patriotic citizens despite preserving their Old World traditions. Kansas' German towns entered the mainstream only gradually. The anti-German sentiment of two world wars suppressed the native language and customs, while technological advances like the automobile increased outside influences on the communities. By the early 1950s, the distinctive European character of these small towns had nearly disappeared.
This memorial card, as well as others from German Americans, is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Cool Things - World War I Memorial Card
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2007
Date Modified: March 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.