Now that the posts about casual encounters between German women and allied men are out of the way, I thought it was time to do one about the couples that got hitched. The Allied Museum in Berlin has some great information about this in the book to its former exhibition “It Started With a Kiss.” I’ll focus on marriage to American GIs in this post.
It’s pretty well known that GI marriages were a phenomenon. By 1949, about 20,000 German brides and fiancés had moved to the United States. No small feat considering marriages were allowed only since December 1946. Apparently, the first American GIs requested to marry Germans in the fall of 1944 while the war still raged!
People can fall in love under any circumstances, of course, but German women and GIs started out with the kind of baggage no relationship needs. Nonfraternization laws banned romance at first, but when even officers ignored the rules, they were abandoned. The concept of collective guilt cast a shadow over all Germans, even teenage girls who spent most of their lives under Nazi rule. Romance with the victor equaled treason for some Germans.
Some Americans felt the same way. The media reported intensely about the moral dangers of Germany for the boys, and the public debated if and how German women should be allowed into the US. Women called “Nazi-Gretchens” in the US press weren’t necessarily going to be welcomed in American homes.
But there’s no stopping love. The War Brides Act in late 1945 and similar acts in later years laid the foundation for wives and children of US personnel to enter the country.
First they had to meet. Maybe at work, where Germans often took menial or clerical jobs in allied facilities and organizations. Maybe in cafés, restaurants or dance clubs. One German GI bride met her future husband on a Berlin street as she was rushing to catch a bus. She was 19, he was 24. They hit it off right away, but their road to a life together in Brooklyn had more than its share of bumps. Ursula lived in the Soviet sector of Berlin, and couldn’t get the papers to emigrate. She had to finagle an American Sector address via friends. She didn’t talk to many people about her plans out of fear someone would inform on her to the Soviet authorities. Her boyfriend returned to the States in October 1945 and worked from there to cut through the bureaucracy. Only in April 1947 did she board a flight from Tempelhof Airport to New York.
She was one of the lucky ones. She never felt foreign in her new home, since practically everybody was foreign in Brooklyn. Two years after she married, she became a US citizen.