Reviewing our organization’s history, its growth from an idea to the largest German-American organization shows an amazing track record. Germans, since colonial times, represent a significant portion of our country’s population, with significant contributions to its growth and prosperity, and even to its successful struggle for independence. German cultural and social societies were once popular and thriving; then came World War II and its aftermath, when almost anything German was disparaged and the activities of Germanic organizations looked at suspiciously. Many schools dropped the teaching of German language and anything even remotely interpreted as “political” activities was opposed.
Gradually, with the rising Communist threat, the relationship between post-war democratic Germany and America improved to the point where German-Americans became active once again. German immigration was increasing and German-American societies began growing. There were local active Gesangverein, social and cultural organizations, but no organization representing German-American interests on a national level. Being the largest ethnic segment, and having become again an important factor in America’s public life and economy, something had to be done giving German-Americans a strong national voice.
The Beginning of DANK
Something was done. Mr. Leonard Enders, who was at that time the editor of the German-language newspaper Abendpost und Sonntagspost began campaigning intensely in the newspaper sowing the idea of a new national-level German-American organization, and speaking to numerous German-Americans about it. His editorial, “The Greatest Necessity” brought in a deluge of letters and phone calls from the community. He invited a few people, who had unselfishly served on behalf of their German-American compatriots, to a meeting. They all knew it was high time to unify the Americans of German descent on a national level. It took months of hard work determining the concept of a new organization able to carry out the goals and intent of the founders. This meeting, attended by the president and boards of the German-American ethnic community and their representatives and guests was held on December 12th, 1958 at the Chicago Donauschwaben Hall.
During this historic meeting the following motion was made by the Abendpost:
“The leaders and representatives of the German community of Chicago, and the lands around it, their German societies, associations and clubs are assembled here in the Haus of the Donauschwaben, do hereby resolve and decree the founding and creation of the German-American Congress.”
On the following day, headlines in the German-American newspapers proclaimed: “NEW BEGINNING IN THE USA. THE GERMAN-AMERICAN CONGRESS WAS FOUNDED.” The paper went on to say: “December 12th, 1958 will be a historic date in the annals of the German-Americans.” The fledgling organization’s first board was elected on January 30th, 1959.
The new organization set its goals and tasks:
- To unite German-Americans in a respected, influential, non-confessional and non-partisan organization
- To preserve with all legal means the interest of the German-American community
- To defend and maintain the principles of the Constitution of the United States of America
- To stand up against every slander and defamation of the American and German name, and especially every anti-German propaganda.
- To promote the existing friendship between our homeland America and or ancestral lands of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other territories of the German language and cultural regions.
- To foster more deeply the German culture and customs and to promote the preservation of the German language, and to contribute to the mutual understanding among the people of all nationals, especially the young
- To promote the cooperation of all German-American societies of whatever kind and nature
These statues set down by the founding fathers of the German-American National Congress, which is more commonly known as DANK (the abbreviation of the organization’s name in German: Deutsch-Amerikanischer National Kongress), still govern and guide the work in the organization.
Growing DANK Throughout the Country
National President Walter Kollacks led the organization into early prominence with his weekly radio speeches. He also led a group of 52 participants on a friendship trip to Argentina in 1973. The organization continued growing. DANK Chapter Chicago South, and DANK Chapter Chicago were founded in 1959. Chapter Chicago Northern Suburbs was born. A few years after the founding of the organization, the German-American National Congress purchased its first real estate: The DANK House at 4740 N. Western Avenue in Chicago, which also houses the Scharpenberg Museum, named after Willy Scharpenberg, a major benefactor and supporter of DANK. In later years, two more DANK Haus' were established by the Benton Harbor, MI Chapter and the Chicago South Chapter.
Youth has always been DANK’s foremost concern. Miss DANK USA Pageants were annual highlights. Mrs. Pradella-Ott founded the DANK Spatzen children’s choir, a prominent part of our organization with many appearances through the United States, Germany, and even Sweden. The founding of DANK German language weekend schools commenced and the DANK Education Fund was created to help support such schools throughout the nation.
Already in the early days of the organization, it was decided to issue a monthly newspaper to keep members and the public informed of the organization’s activities and report on a wide range of subjects of interest to German-Americans.
300 Years of German Immigration in the US
On October 6th, 1983, National President Elsbeth Seewald and her husband George were invited to attend a state dinner at the White House in honor of the official visit of German President Karl Carstens and Mrs. Carstens commemorating 300 years of German immigration to the United States of America. DANK's recognition even succeeded in persuading the U.S. postal authorities to issue a special postage stamp for the 300th Anniversary of German immigration. The German government issued an identical companion stamp for the event.
On October 6th, 1987, President Reagan proclaimed the first German-American Day in a ceremony conducted in the White House Rose Garden. The founding of this national German-American Day must indeed be considered as the foremost achievement of DANK.
The idea of the Indiana German-American’s, Mrs. Richmann and Dr. Tolzmann, was realized when the Joint Congressional Resolution was passed by 51 US Senators and 218 U.S. Congressmen. The necessary votes were secured mainly through efforts of the German American National Congress and its President Elsbeth M. Seewald. The first German-American Day was also the impetus for the founding of the German-American Joint Action Committee (GAJAC) held on March 8th, 1988. DANK along with the Steuben Society of America and the United German-American Committee of the USA, Inc. founded this partnership. On the agenda of the committee were action plans to prepare appropriate ceremonies for the dedication of the German-American Friendship Garden in Washington, D.C. and the proclamation of German-American Day by the President and ceremonies of the day in the nation’s capitol as well as throughout the nation. These three leading organizations pledged continuing cooperative efforts to promote friendship and interests of the German-American community.
Associate Member Organizations
Another milestone in the history of DANK was the expansion of its Associate Member Organizations, particularly the Heritage Societies such as the German-American Society of St. Louis. These societies, while independent of DANK with their own boards, cooperate with DANK and participate in both local and national events, like the Steuben Parades, German-American Day ceremonies, Volkstrauertag, German Fest, and more, while strengthening the voice of German-Americans throughout the country.