Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Did Escaped Nazis Settle in Richmond, Virginia ?

Did escaped Nazis from Germany secretly settle in Richmond, Va and run a college prep school after the war?

That may not sound very likely at first glance but read on, there is some history here.

The two top college prep schools in Richmond, Va when I lived there were St. Christopher's and The Collegiate School (for boys and girls).  The girls school goes way back, to the 1920s, but the boys school was more recent.  To put things in context, Tom Wolfe (e.g. The Right Stuff, From Bauhaus to Our House, etc) attended St. Christopher's across town and famously wrote about basketball games they used to play against Collegiate.  I attended the Collegiate School for Boys.

Collegiate was a non-denominational protestant Christian school which in practice generally meant Presbyterian, Episcopalian (which is our version of the Church of England, by the way) and a few others.    I was, I think, one of the three Jews in the school, in the classic Virginian, assimilated, reform sense,  for what that is worth.   But wait, this is leading up to something.  Every morning, school began with a brief chapel service, the Lord's Prayer and an inspirational talk of some sort.   And of course the school song, Hail Collegiate.

   Hail Collegiate, We Thy Children
   This Libation, Here we Pour
   As we learn to read thy vision
   Something, something, something, something, something, something, something

   Hail Collegiate !

The music, I was told, was composed in Austria about a hundred years ago, and adopted by the Girls school with different words in the 1920s.  Well, that turns out not to be exactly true, but it is not too bad.  The music was composed by Joseph Haydn of all people in 1792, originally to the words of the poem "God Save Franz the Emperor", but later to the words of the poem written in 1841 by von Fallersleben.  It became the national anthem of Germany in the post WW1 Weimar republic in 1922.   The third verse of his poem, "Las Leid der Deutschen", is still the national anthem of a united Germany.

The song had a role in the national unification movement of post-WW1 Germany which one can argue was an important part of what led to WW2 (WW2 started after a series of annexations by Germany  of primarily German speaking regions of Europe that were part of the territories of non-German speaking countries.  Its extension into Poland caused England & France to honor their treaty obligations and declare war on Germany). Wait, we are getting to the good part.

So I don't know any of this history, I just know I had been trying to sing, badly, this song while I am trying to wake up for many years now, every morning, and it is not my favorite thing to do.

Then one night, on late night TV, I see a documentary about the rise of the National Socialism  in Germany, and of course there is a scene of marching soldiers, with National Socialism banners, and they are singing the national anthem,   "Deutschland Uber Alles".

    Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles !
    Uber Alles in der Welt !
    Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
    Something, something, something, something, something, something, something !

    Deutschland !  Deutschland !

And just in case you have not guessed the punchline yet, the song that the Nazi's are goosestepping to is of course my school song, but in German.

"Holy Batshit !", I said to myself, "Of course !  That explains everything!"

"Nazi war criminals must have escaped from Germany after World War 2 and came to Virginia and ran a prep school!   How they must laugh as they have hundreds of kids sing the Nazi national anthem every morning!  What fools we are!"

[revised 6/26/2013]


  1. A careful reader of Global Wahrman has pointed out that it is unlikely for escaped Nazi's to come to Virginia in the 1920s. That is true, but I did not think of that until later. Now, I have to speculate that they cleverly planned to infiltrate America that early, and then repurposed that activity after the war. That is just one thought.

  2. Obviously, they were not escaped Nazis, as Nazis had nothing to escape from at that point in time. It is clear that they were in fact escaped spies for the Kaiser from WWI which had ended just a few years prior. I learned this same song in Beginning German class in college -- the WWI version, before Deutschland Übered Alles.

    Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser
    Unser guter Kaiser Franz!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Dear Readers,

    Upon reflection, it seems clear that I was wrong to think that use of this tune indicated National Socialist origins of my high school. A review of the timeline indicates that this clearly did not happen.

    I have had two other comments from people, which I am adding here because they are too busy to post their own comments.

    The first is that the tune is in use in a lot of places in Europe, and people take offense at the idea that the National Socialists have appropriated it. I understand their point of view, but don't blame me. I didn't issue all those documentaries with goosestepping aryan youth marching to the song.

    The second issue is that my faithful readers have strong opinions about the proper and improper use of apostrophes. And the use of the inapproiate apostrophe in "Nazi's" has provoked outrage from many quarters. I promise to be more careful in the future.


  5. how thing?

    Growing up as a Church of Ireland gasun here in Ireland. we too would beat out a different well known hymn to the same aire, see (cool it has an embedded audio should you wish to goosestepping around the living room)

    I suspect despite the efforts of the Roman Catholic church in getting out some of the top brass of the fallen regime. I suspect they would not have had Virginia high on the list of destinations. Preferring place like Bariloche in Patagonia. That said off the best place to hide is right under the noses (see woody Allens Zelig).