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York County registration of “enemy aliens” during World War I

Civil War veteran, age 90 needed to register as German enemy alien. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration)

This year is the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I.  The war had been raging since 1914, but America was reluctant to get involved until Germany started sinking American ships with their submarines.  It didn’t take long for German-Americans to feel affected by suspicion, especially recent immigrants.  My recent York Sunday News column below outlines what was required of those local citizens who hadn’t completed naturalization. Most surprising to me was the possibility that a woman born and raised in York County, and never having left here could still be obliged to register as an enemy alien.

Uncovering the World War I ‘enemy aliens’ in York County

The bulk of York County’s settlers came from Germanic lands.  The majority of these were the Pennsylvania Germans or “Pennsylvania Dutch” that came to America before 1800.  There was another influx into the area in the mid-19th century–also long before America became involved in World War I against Kaiser Wilhelm’s German Empire.

I heard that many local families started to downplay their German heritage at the time of World War I, which the United States officially entered on April 6, 1917.  Research, mostly in the York Daily newspaper at the York County History Center, provided further insight.

A week after the United States declared war against Germany, headlines read “PASTOR WALKER URGES LOYALTY, SAYS MEMBERS OF GERMAN LUTHERAN CONGREGATION STAND BY AMERICA.”

Henry Walker, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church on West King Street, said almost all of his congregation had German roots, so it might be natural to suspect them. But he said Germany should be remembered as the “land of our fathers, not our land,” and that the church members stood by their country, America.

The same article announced, in accordance with an order York Chief of Police Fred Kottcamp received from the U.S. Department of Justice, that all enemy aliens [those who are citizens of a country with which we are at war] must turn their “firearms or other dangerous weapons” into the police department. Receipts would be given and the items returned when the war was over. Those not complying within 24 hours of public notice would be subject to arrest and banned articles seized and forfeited to the United States.

Registration of enemy aliens was called for nationally, as England and France had done; on Nov. 16, 1917, President Wilson issued a proclamation that all alien enemy males ages 14 and up would be required to register.  This included those who had taken out their first naturalization papers but were not yet fully naturalized. Information gathered would include names, residences, family, occupations and business connections. Enemy aliens living in cities and towns of more than 5,000 according to the 1910 census (York and Hanover) would register with their police chief.  All others would register with their postmaster, including those on rural routes delivered out of a city post office.

The Daily reported on Jan. 5, 1918, that Chief Kottcamp must report the estimated number of non-naturalized Germans living in York to U.S. Attorney General Gregory. They were to contact Kottcamp immediately in person, by telephone or mail, with their names and addresses.

Three weeks later, Kottcamp announced receiving the necessary registration forms and gave notice that the government had set the dates, February 4 through February 9 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., for registration. All enemy aliens were to “appear without further notice or be liable for summary arrest and internment.”  Each needed to furnish four unmounted photographs of themselves, not larger than 3-by-3 inches, on thin paper with a light background, each signed on the front, not obscuring features.

The applicant would fill out three copies of the registration affidavit blank and swear to its accuracy in front of the registration officer (police or postmaster).  In the registrant could not write, he would make his mark and leave his left thumb print.  The enemy alien was then instructed to come back between 10 and 15 days after the last registration day to obtain his registration card, which he would sign or mark and thumb print in the registration officer’s presence.  They then needed to carry their card to avoid possible arrest and detention until the end of the war.

Leaflets with instructions and suggestions were given to the unnaturalized men, telling them they “…should understand they are giving proof of their peaceful dispositions and of their intention to conform to the laws of the United States,” and advising them to ask questions about anything they didn’t understand before filling out the forms, and that registration officers were instructed to aid with explanations and advice.   The process must have been intimidating, especially since, as the week went along, names and addresses of the registrants were published in the newspaper.

Residents surely took notice when the Feb. 8 Daily ran a short article headed: “REV. ENDERS AN ENEMY ALIEN, PASTOR OF CHRIST LUTHERAN REGISTERS WITH OTHER GERMANS.” A longer piece the next day, “DR. ENDERS EXPLAINS,” clarified that Dr. George W. Enders, pastor of one of York’s largest churches, Christ Lutheran, for the past 35 years, filed an affidavit that he “…conscientiously believes, that he is a citizen of the United States…,” since his father was naturalized while Enders was still a minor.  He registered because he did not have papers proving his father’s naturalization.

Reverend Enders, born in Norheim, Germany, in 1841, came to the United States when he was 13 with his family. His father died when George was about 16.  Enders became a Lutheran pastor, serving in New Jersey, Gettysburg and Indiana before being called to Christ Lutheran in 1882.

He received a U.S. passport in Philadelphia in 1870, traveling with it to England, France, Switzerland and Germany on his wedding trip, and he served in the militia during the Civil War. Enders voted in U.S. elections after turning 21, claiming citizenship under information that his father had been naturalized, until voter registration was mandated and he was challenged because he could not produce proof of his father’s naturalization. He stated that he was “…thoroughly pro-American against all the world, and believes that he is not an alien enemy within the scope of the president’s proclamation, but registers [as an enemy alien] because he feels it his duty to comply with such proclamation.”   A total of 28 men registered with the York police that week in February.  Soon women with German citizenship would also have to register, following the same requirements and procedure as the men. The difference was the confusing status of women’s citizenship, as women assumed the nationality of their husbands upon marriage under a law that was not repealed until 1922.

Therefore, a woman of American parents, who was born here and lived here all her life, would have to register as an enemy alien if her husband had not completed the naturalization process. The York police chief expressed concern that some women might face arrest and detention for the duration of the war because they did not understand their status.    A total of nine women registered during the June 19 through 26 registration period, making a total of 37 German enemy aliens in York city.  I plan to look for additional information on county registration.  If any of your family members were required to register as an enemy alien, I would like to hear their story. I can be contacted at ycpa89@msn.com.

This link will take you to my previous column on World War I Liberty Gardens in York County.