Our Rich History: Judge Nippert’s talk with Kaiser Wilhelm II; Wiedemann of Newport supported relief

By Don Heinrich Tolzmann
Special to NKyTribune

Part 71 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020.”

On 23 July 1916, the New York Times carried a lengthy article: “A Two-Hour Talk with the Kaiser: Judge A.K. Nippert Brings Message to President Wilson and the American People from Wilhelm II.” Nippert (1872-1956), Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Cincinnati, had just returned from Germany where he had participated in an international meeting of war relief organizations in Berlin. On his return home he met with the Kaiser at the Western Front, as well as with General Paul von Hindenburg, Chief of the General Staff of the German Army. The newspaper article conveys the message the Kaiser had for President Woodrow Wilson and the American people, while also providing Nippert’s perceptions of the Kaiser.

Judge A.K. Nippert (Provided)

A.K. (Alfred Kuno) Nippert was the son of Ludwig Nippert, a German-speaking Alsatian who came to America with his family as a boy, and became a minister for the German Methodist Church headquartered in Cincinnati. His father was sent to Germany as a Methodist missionary, and his son A.K. Nippert, was born in Frankfurt am Main. After the family’s return to America in 1886, his father served as a pastor at German Methodist churches, concluding ministry in Newport, Kentucky, and Cincinnati. His son attended schools at various locations, finally obtaining a law degree from the University of Cincinnati, and becoming a prominent lawyer in Cincinnati. His marriage to Maude Gamble, the daughter of James Gamble, connected him with the well-known Gamble, as well as the Procter, families.

Nippert was actively involved in Cincinnati’s German-American community, and when the war broke out he played a leading role in organizations for the war relief of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In March 1916, he was elected Vice President of the Cincinnati branch of the American Commission for the War Relief of East Prussia, which had been invaded by the Russian Army early on in the war in 1914. Under the direction of Hindenburg, the Russians were decisively defeated at the Battle of Tannenberg (26-30 August 1914) and the Battle of the Masurian Lakes (5-15 September 1914), but the border areas of East Prussia had been devastated.

Sixty cities and towns had been destroyed, and 12,000 captives were sent to Siberia. German cities elsewhere promised to contribute to the reconstruction of the devastated areas, but with the war underway, could not cover the costs. So, German-Americans formed the American Commission for the War Relief of East Prussia, headquartered in New York. Various branches focused on specific areas, and the Cincinnati branch concentrated its war relief efforts on the district of Ragnit, which had suffered greatly in the Russian invasion.

Programs were held at the Businessmen’s Club, Memorial Hall, and Turner Hall, with Nippert in fund-raising as well as being the main speaker at some of these programs. Large donations came from prominent members of the area’s German-American community, especially from beer barons Charles Wiedemann of Newport and Louis Hauck of Cincinnati. Other noteworthy contributors were: Frederick H. Alms, William F. Doepke, J.G. Schmidlapp, and members of the Moerlein, Wurlitzer, Gamble, Procter, Nast, Windisch, and Muehlhaeuser families. In a month’s time, more than 50 thousand dollars was raised.

The national organization called on its branches to elect representatives for an international meeting of war relief organizations to be held in Berlin, and Nippert was unanimously elected. Before his departure for Europe on 23 April, he obtained letters of support of war relief programs from Frank B. Willis, Governor of Ohio, and Robert Lansing, U.S. Secretary of State, and he also met with President Wilson who approved of his journey. After almost three months in Germany, Nippert returned to Cincinnati on 20 July, and received an honorary reception at Emery Auditorium on 28 July. There he spoke about the war, East Prussia, and his visit with the Kaiser, which was the subject of the article in the New York Times.

According to Nippert, the Kaiser wanted the American people to know that 3,000 men, women, and children had perished due to the Russian invasion of East Prussia, and that thousands had been captured and sent to Russia. It should be noted that due to the British having cut the Atlantic Cable, all war-related news was censored by them, so that news like this was unknown in the United States. The Kaiser stated that the U.S. “could exercise her great influence through her government and its President, to prevail upon Russia to release the surviving remnant of this vast number of those who have suffered,” and that Germany would be eternally grateful.

The Kaiser claimed that another winter in Russia “will mean the absolute annihilation of every woman, certainly every child, who is being held captive in the country beyond the Fatherland. Here is an opportunity for America to invoke the spirit of humanity and bring happiness and joy where today is only sorrow and distress.” Nippert promised he would deliver this message in person to President Wilson. He also noted that a total of $400,000 had been raised by the national organization he represented. The Kaiser also commented on what today is called “fake news” regarding the war, and hoped that Nippert could report on what had actually happened in East Prussia.

Regarding the Kaiser, Nipper reported: “The Kaiser is the healthiest mortal” he had ever seen, and that: “There is a fire in his eye, he shows quickness of mind in conversation, and an alertness of spirit – simply amazing…His complexion is brown as an Indian’s, his eyes blue and responsive in their expression to the emotion of the moment. They never leave the eyes of the person addressed. He will put a question quickly, fold his arms, and stand looking you straight in the eye, waiting for an answer…He likes a plain yes or no, and your reason therefor.”

Kaiser Wilhelm (Provided)

Nippert also reported how well versed the Kaiser was in American history, and took special pride in the fact that the first Major General of the American Army was Baron von Steuben. He also noted that he dined with the Kaiser and members of his staff, and that the meal consisted of: clabber, pike, veal roast, peas, beans, cauliflower and gravy, followed by ice cream and an assortment of wines. After dinner, they took a stroll and discussed Nippert’s war relief work. He also discussed his family history, and explained how important “the history, traditions and future of the German people” were to him.

After his visit with the Kaiser, Nippert met with officials of the district of Ragnit, learning more about the conditions there. After returning to Cincinnati, he reported he would continue his fund-raising efforts for East Prussia, and remarked that more than seven million people had immigrated to America from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other German-speaking areas of Europe. He was therefore hopeful that Americans of German descent would contribute to the cause. The article concludes: “German-Americans will be informed by Judge Nippert and his associates of the Kaiser’s optimism, and the American people will be appealed to for contributions for the relief of East Prussia.”

Not surprisingly, the Kaiser’s message for President Wilson fell on deaf ears. By this time, German-Americans felt that he had been less than neutral, and decidedly pro-British. The last straw for them was his insistence in the summer of 1916 that the platform of the Democratic Party contain an “anti-hyphen” statement. This was viewed not only as nativist, but also anti-German. As the presidential election approached, Dr. Charles Hexamer, President of the National German-American Alliance, issued a statement widely publicized in the German-American press, stressing the following point: “No self-respecting American of German birth or extraction can vote for President Wilson.”

War relief efforts continued, but were overshadowed by the downward spiral of U.S.-German relations, finally coming to an end with the U.S. declaration of war against Germany on 6 April 1917. However, war relief prior to that date actually contributed to the reconstruction of the district of Ragnit. Unfortunately, it also made Nippert an obvious target for the crusaders during the subsequent anti-German hysteria, a topic the author has discussed elsewhere (The Cincinnati Germans after the Great War, With a New Introduction, 2013).

Don Heinrich Tolzmann is a nationally and regionally noted historian of German Americana. He has written and edited dozens of books, and contributed to many others, including The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

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