Vikings to U-Boats: The German Experience in Newfoundland and Labrador.


378 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-7735-3124-6
DDC 971.8004'3




Christopher English is a history lecturer at the Memorial University of
Newfoundland and a recent law-school graduate.


Histories that depend on oral interviews present challenges beyond the majority, which mine written sources. Interviewees may be skittish; they may resent their views and reminiscences being questioned; memories are fallible; informants may insist on final editorial control. And, finally, time is precious and the life expectancies of aged interviewees is often uncertain. All practitioners of oral history regret missed opportunities.


These concerns serve to underline the many years that, beyond reading contemporary and scholarly studies and a range of newspapers, were spent interviewing 42 people about their experiences as German-speaking immigrants to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1945. Many have since died. None was especially prominent so we receive a nicely nuanced picture of the lives of ordinary men and women trying to make a new life in a new land. Bassler has succeeded in retaining what must have been the flavour of their remarks without quoting them verbatim. For the most part they were transients, only a minority settling permanently. There were exceptions—notably the Moravian missionaries of the north Labrador coast and some middle-class businessmen who represented European firms—but for the most part they moved on or back home, and are lost to our gaze.


The resulting archive offers fascinating insights into clashing attitudes and values in an age which seems far distant. The size of the “German” community, concentrated in St. John’s, comes as a surprise, but is difficult to estimate precisely because many anglicized their names, and most proved to be transitory residents. Two complementary factors account for this absence of permanency: the times, especially the two world wars in which Germany was the major enemy, and local public opinion. Profoundly anglophile and nativist, Newfoundlanders were quick to identify all persons of German-speaking or cultural background as suspect, sympathetic to if not actively collaborating with the enemy. To be different was to be alien, an automatic candidate for internment. Even Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich were suspect. Fortunately for “the Germans” and for the province’s self-respect, internment was considered too costly and was not resorted to.


Through his unique archive Bassler has rescued from oblivion a theme in the making of Newfoundland and Labrador which is relevant and applicable to other regions of the country.


Bassler, Gerhard P., “Vikings to U-Boats: The German Experience in Newfoundland and Labrador.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 17, 2024,