The German American Heritage Center presents “The War Within: World War I and the Assault on German Identity in Iowa" -- June 11.

Sunday, June 11, 2 p.m.

Presented by the German American Heritage Center

Based on extensive research in century-old German congregational manuscripts, period documents, and oral history gathered decades ago, the German American Heritage Center's June 11 virtual program The War Within: World War I & the Assault on German Identity in Iowa will detail a largely forgotten chapter in the history of Iowa and the life of a faithful congregation, one still capable of eliciting strong emotion and providing a sobering, thought-provoking lesson on which to reflect.

Anti-German hysteria in Iowa during World War I, already manifest in 1917, reached a linguistic crescendo in the spring of 1918, and resulted in an unprecedented assault on German identity, constitutional liberties, and ultimately the extraordinary measures taken by a German-American Lutheran congregation in far northern Iowa. Wartime zealotry, countenancing no form of German identity, culminated in an edict by the governor of Iowa restricting spoken language and consequently, for some, the free exercise of their religion.

In response, the parishioners of St. Peter Lutheran in rural Mitchell County gave up the use of their church and moved Gottesdienst, German worship services, a few miles north, into Minnesota, meeting, at night, in a member’s farm grove. Thomas Jefferson once observed, “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it.” Through the virtual presentation The War Within: World War I & the Assault on German Identity in Iowa, participants will face the question: On which side of Jefferson’s alternatives shall Americans in the 21st century choose to stand?

As a youth, program presenter Russell Baldner’s early affection for the German language and history led to B.A. and M.A. degrees in history, undergraduate and graduate study in German, and a career in education, teaching in those and related fields. Baldner first conducted serious primary source historical research in the original 19th-century German manuscripts of his family’s ancestral German–Lutheran congregation, of which his immigrant great-great-grandfather was a founding member. Four years later, on the first of nine sojourns in ancestral Germany, Russell lived in his ancestor’s birthplace. Baldner specializes in the history of Germany, ethnic German history and genealogy; historical documents written in Kurrentschrift, an archaic, long-abandoned and seldom-read German cursive script; and Late Prehistoric Native American archaeology.

A frequent public speaker, historian, and writer, Baldner’s recent publications include several 19th-century German Lutheran historical and manuscript studies; a three-part Introduction to the Reformation and Protestantism; and a four-part research series on the Late Prehistoric to Early Historic Native American petroglyphs and pictographs of northeast Iowa. In September of 2022, Russell and wife Cathryn co-hosted “Medieval to Modern Hearts of Germany,” a two-week group tour in northeastern Germany proposed and largely designed by Baldner in conjunction with and sponsored by the University of Northern Iowa, his alma mater. Included were pre-departure orientations by Russell focusing on Germany’s history, language, and social-cultural landscape; historical lectures and commentaries while on tour in Germany; and a renewed and welcome opportunity daily to converse in the language of his heritage.

The War Within: World War I & the Assault on German Identity in Iowa will be presented virtually on June 11, participation in the 2 p.m. program is free for members and $5 for non-members, and more information is available by calling *563)322-8844 and visiting

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