USA & ALSACE

Alsace – homeland of the Statue of Liberty, of the Yiddish and Amish languages –  is without any doubt the region in the world that brought the most to the United States in terms of history and culture.

Let us herewith share some views about the exceptional contribution of Alsace to the United States history.  I started to work at the Press Service of The United Nations Sept 11, 2001…a traumatic experience. I guess that those who lived this day are New Yorker forever.

We will try to be as impartial as possible.  But when I say exceptional, we should say unique!  Let’s just remember that beside the Statue of Liberty Alsace presence on the East coast is marked by sister city relations of Princeton with Colmar and Boston with Strasburg

I defy you to find in the world another community of 2 million people who gave so much to the history and specificity of the United States.  Two million people, in the heart of Europe, that sounds tiny… But definitely there is no better illustration than Alsace for the expression “small is beautiful”

Our experience of 5 changes of citizenship in 75 years gave us a particular vision of the world. Each change of nationality was a source of suffering, a new wound that would take time to heal… this experience gave an obsession to the Alsatians, an obsession for conviviality and sharing, which may explain that out of the 100 greatest chefs in the US, 5 are Alsatian, namely Jean Georges VONGERICHTEN, elected best chef in the USA in 2010, Gabriel KREUTHER chef of the restaurant of the MOMA, Jacques HAERINGER best Chef of the Washington area, Hubert KELLER the creator of the most expensive burger in the World, Andre SOLTNER, formerly from the prestigious “Lutece restaurant” , Jean Yves SCHILLINGER and Pierre SCHAEDELIN, who shared 5 years of preschool with me before becoming the executive chef of Le Cirque in 1999 and later the personnel chef of Martha Stewart. Also here are the brothers SUTTER.  One year after opening, their “718” restaurant was recognized as the best restaurant inQueens by Zagat!!

Tomy UNGERER, one of the most famous former New York Alsatians, conveyed this philosophy in one of his drawings, featuring an Alsatian depicted as an ostrich, subtitled “Mange bien, bois bien, dis rien”…”Eat well, drink well, shut up”

But let us remember that 2 million was the population of the USA on a certain 19 October 1781…The French War veteran and the president of “The American Association of Le Souvenir Français” know how important this date is for the French-American Brotherhood.

The first contribution is a demographic contribution. Alsatians came by tens of thousands…Several times in the XIXth century French authorities had to stop authorizing immigration to the US. Only in 1817, 10% of the County of Wissembourg lost 10% of its population to the US.

Since we are only a few hours from the 125th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, let me stress another October contribution of Alsatians, this time to the birth of the United States 230 years ago during one week in Yorktown Virginia.

Yorktown 

On that 19 Oct in 1781, 400 soldiers from the Regiment Royal de Strasburg made the final assault on the British defenses inYorktown.  General Washington particularly praised his German soldiers from the Regiment of Strasburg — German meaning people speaking a Germanic language — not a citizenship.

I remember when I visited Boston for the first time in the 1994, I was asking for directions on the street. I was asked where I was from. I said I am from France…he answered…”why do you have a German accent”!

But let’s go back to history..


Matthias Ringmann

In the beginning of the 16th Century, Matthias Ringmann, cartographerhumanistand  poet, born in Alsace in 1482 (1511), named America on the map of his friend Martin Waldseemüller.  To form the word Amerigen, Ringmann combined the name Amerigo Vespucci with the Greek word gen, the accusative form of a word meaning “earth” and by doing so coined a name that means, as he himself explained, Land of Amerigo. Latinized and feminized, Amerigen became America.


The Amish and Yiddish 

At the beginning of your March to the west, America needed Farmers to farm Pennsylvania and Ohio. Alsace sent you the Amish, close to 400 000 Alsatian-speakers in Northern America. You needed diversity, we gave you Yiddish, which was born in the Rhine Valley.


General Pershing and other military

You needed a great General who became an icon of WWI, we gave you the Pershing family in 1749.  Yes, even your most famous missiles of the cold war have Alsatian Roots.  It is said that John Joseph Pershing forefathers came to America in 1749 (according to “Balfour, Viviani and Joffre” by Francis Halsey, Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1917, page 361) with the name of Pfoershing, which could mean PEACH in Alsatian…I Guess PEACH Missile would have been less credible.

Alsatians have been on every battlefield on UShistory, even at Little big horn.  If you go to Little Big Horn inMontana, you will be able to find  the list of the 200 men who died beside General Custer in the Museum of the battle field and of course there are some Alsatians noted.  Alsatian Louis Haegy has been identified as being killed beside Custer.

In Vietnam, we have an Alsatian hero, Colonel Larry Biediger, an Alsatian-speaking pilot from the Little Alsace of Texas, who was shot down overHanoi in 1967. He later died in a prisoner camp in North Vietnam, his remains only returned to the US in 1982.

One of the most interesting anecdotes of Alsatian contributions to the US Army is the case of US NAVY officer Edouard Izac.  Born inIowa in 1891, Edouard Izac  (according to The Navy’s First POW Hero, an article by David T. Zabecki) was the first prisoner of war from the US Navy. As the surviving officer in charge, he was taken prisoner on the U-Boat that sunk the USS President Lincoln on May 30, 1918.  Izac, whose parents came fromAlsace grew up speaking Alsatian.  Thanks to his mother language he understood everything around him and gathered critical intelligence in the U-Boat. He fled his prison camp in Germany through Switzerland and became the first US Navy recipient of the Medal of honor for heroism as a POW.  Later he became a US House representative as a Democrat from California. Izac Died in January 1990 at age of 98 and was buried with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Let’s turn to the economy and show business


Firestone

FORD needed to develop the greatest car industry in the world, he found the FEUERSTEIN family who changed its name in Firestone in Ohio…Harvey created the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in 1900.

You needed to produce planes, and we sent you Wilhelm Boïng, who was born in Germany but settled in Southern Alsace.  He created a plane production company called «Aviatik » but was bankrupt due to WWI.  Finally he moved to Seattle where he created the BOIENG company.  His first aircraft were made from parts from the Aviatik company of Mulhouse.

You needed the first greatest blockbuster film and we gave you William Wyler (born Weiler in Mulhouse), who directed the first Ben Hur.

You wanted entertainment and we sent you the « Marx Brothers » from Schiltigheim — New-Yorkers who may have been members of L’Union Alsacienne.

You needed a Godfather, we gave you Marlon Brando, whose parents BRANDEAU came from northern Alsace

You wanted to get closer to the moon, we gave you Russell Schweickart (Lembach) who took part in the first manned flight of the lunar module.  He served as lunar module pilot for Apollo 9 on March 3-13, 1969, logging 241 hours in space.

You needed your first black American president, sorry I should say Black Alsatian, we gave you the ancestor of Barack Obama, from a little town called BISCHWILLER… strange coincidence, Barack Obama’s first official trip to France was to Strasbourg, capital of Alsace few miles away from Bischwiller.  Going back to the sixth generation of the maternal branch of Barack Obama’s family, Johannes Gutknecht, from Switzerland, settled in Bischwiller in 1715 where he married Marie-Madeleine Grünholtz.  Once in America, Christian changed his surname into Goodnigh and lived as a farmer in Pennsylvania. American genealogists assess Obama’s German-Alsatian roots to 4.6865 %, finding that another part of the family came from Heilbronn, in Germany.

Our philosophy is guided by a saying of Albert Schweitzer, who wrote : “Whatever you have received that is more than others you must pay a price for”.

We do not forget that 10 000 American soldiers gave their life on alsatian soil between November 1944 and February 1945…This price is unbearable, the best way for Alsace to pay this debt is to keep sending to your wonderful land of opportunity more Marlon Brando, More Marx Brothers, more general Pershing and More Obama.

In the name of conviviality and quality of life, I invite you all as a gift to the 125 years of the Statue of Liberty to promote what I call a new USA, the United States and Alsace

Thierry Kranzer

28 October 2011, Novotel, New York

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