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‘To Be Truly British We Must Be Anti-German’

New Zealand, Enemy Aliens and the Great War Experience, 1914-1919


Andrew Francis

This book is a study of the treatment of New Zealand’s German-speaking settlers during the course of the Great War. As with Britain’s other dominions, New Zealand’s German and Austro-Hungarian residents were subject to a raft of legislation which placed restrictions on their employment and activities, while those considered a danger to domestic security found themselves interned for the duration of the conflict. This book examines public, press and political responses to their presence, and describes how patriotic associations, trade organizations, xenophobic politicians and journalists undertook a vigorous anti-alien campaign resulting, in a number of instances, in anti-German riots.
Central to this book is an examination of the extent to which proimperial sentiment, concepts of citizenship and national identity, increasing European settlement and a progressively volatile European scene set the tone for the manner with which the dominion’s British settlers treated its enemy alien counterparts. Themes discussed include the public’s reaction to war; the government’s internment policy; the establishment of anti-German trade organizations; and the challenges facing Prime Minister William Massey, whose wish to remain fair and just towards enemy aliens often brought him into direct conflict with the more hostile anti-German elements within New Zealand society.


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Chapter Five ‘The Red Hot Poker of Public Indignation’: Public Opinion and the von Zedlitz Af fair, 1915 153


Chapter Five ‘The Red Hot Poker of Public Indignation’: Public Opinion and the von Zedlitz Af fair, 1915 The treatment of George von Zedlitz, Professor of Modern Languages at Wellington’s Victoria College, provides an interesting case study of the anti-German hysteria that swept New Zealand during the Great War. Von Zedlitz, a German-born academic, had resided in New Zealand since his arrival from Britain in 1902. His significant social status did not immunize him from maltreatment, but it did delay, and then minimize, the type of treatment he received. Unlike other German residents who were dismissed from their posts at the outbreak of war and, in over 400 cases interned, von Zedlitz retained both his position and his liberty until October 1915. He was then dismissed following the introduction of the Alien Enemy Teach- ers’ Act, legislation aimed directly at forcing him from of fice.1 The fourteen months between the outbreak of war and von Zedlitz’s dismissal were punctuated by regular public condemnation of both Ger- many’s actions in the war and the New Zealand government’s perceived inertia concerning his continued liberty. In this climate, the pressure on Wellington’s academic community, which was viewed as providing safe haven for an inf luential enemy alien, grew steadily more intense. The Free Lance and Observer were the prime orchestrators of the populist campaign, and did much to stir anti-German feeling by turning the von Zedlitz af fair from a private university matter into a national crusade against one man. The von Zedlitz...

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