Don’t Ask Trump Where Anyone Was Born

Shortly after the 2016 president election, the Guardian reported that Donald Trump’s grandfather had been banished from the Kingdom of Bavaria for failure to fulfill his military service requirement. In addition, he had temporarily emigrated to America without notifying the Bavarian authorities that he was leaving.

A historian has discovered a royal decree issued to Donald Trump’s grandfather ordering him to leave Germany and never come back.

Friedrich Trump, a German, was issued with the document in February 1905, and ordered to leave the kingdom of Bavaria within eight weeks as punishment for having failed to do mandatory military service and failing to give authorities notice of his departure to the US when he first emigrated in 1885.

Roland Paul, a historian from Rhineland-Palatinate who found the document in local archives, told the tabloid Bild: “Friedrich Trump emigrated from Germany to the USA in 1885. However, he failed to de-register from his homeland and had not carried out his military service, which is why the authorities rejected his attempt at repatriation.”

The decree orders the “American citizen and pensioner Friedrich Trump” to leave the area “at the very latest on 1 May … or else expect to be deported”. Bild called the archive find an “unspectacular piece of paper”, that had nevertheless “changed world history”.

At the time this royal decree was issued, the Kingdom of Bavaria was technically a federal state within the German Empire, so it would be accurate to say that Trump’s grandfather was both ethnically German and a German citizen.

His grandson, the current president of the United States of America, also avoided military service.

Back in 1968, at the age of 22, Donald J. Trump seemed the picture of health.

He stood 6 feet 2 inches with an athletic build; had played football, tennis and squash; and was taking up golf. His medical history was unblemished, aside from a routine appendectomy when he was 10.

But after he graduated from college in the spring of 1968, making him eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, he received a diagnosis that would change his path: bone spurs in his heels.

The diagnosis resulted in a coveted 1-Y medical deferment that fall, exempting him from military service as the United States was undertaking huge troop deployments to Southeast Asia, inducting about 300,000 men into the military that year.

The deferment was one of five Mr. Trump received during Vietnam. The others were for education.

It’s not surprising to see that Trump and his grandfather share this history, but it is at least a little curious that Trump is so keen to deport people after the way his grandfather was deported. You’d think the episode would be a key part of the family lore, and not in a way that was sympathetic to the Bavarian government.

[Friedrich] Trump was born in Kallstadt, now in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, in 1869. He emigrated to the US aged 16 initially to escape poverty, attracted by the gold rush.

…Returning on a visit to Kallstadt in 1901, Trump fell in love with Elisabeth Christ, whom he married a year later, returning with her to the US. But when she became homesick and wanted to return to Germany, the authorities blocked his attempts to settle there.

In an effort to overturn the royal decree dated 27 February 1905, Trump wrote an obsequious letter appealing to Prince Regent Luitpold, addressing him as “the much-loved, noble, wise and righteous sovereign and sublime ruler”.

But the prince rejected the appeal and the Trumps left Germany for New York with their daughter on the Hapag steamship Pennsylvania on 1 July 1905. Elisabeth was three months pregnant with Donald Trump’s father, Fred.

As you can see, our president’s father was conceived in Kallstadt but born in America. But that’s not what Donald Trump said yesterday during a press conference with the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. For clarity, Mr. Stoltenberg is Norwegian, so it’s unclear why Trump boasted to him that “my father is German, was German, born in a very wonderful place in Germany so I have a very great feeling for Germany.” Maybe he was simply trying to soften the blow of his criticism of Angela Merkel.

Either way, his father was not born in “a very wonderful place in Germany.” More remarkably, this isn’t the first or even the second time that Trump has made this claim. During different appearances in Europe during a July 2018 trip, the president said, “my parents were born in the European Union. I love these countries; Germany, Scotland…” and “don’t forget both of my parents were born in EU sectors – my mother was Scotland, my father was Germany.”

It’s true that his mother was born in Scotland, although not in the European Union, which only came into existence in November 1993. It would be a simple thing to say that his father was conceived in the “EU sector” but born in New York. Maybe he doesn’t make this accurate distinction because it would cause people to ask why they had set sail for America and that would remind everyone that they had been forcibly removed from the Continent. Or, maybe, he’s just a pathological liar who doesn’t really care if his comments will be fact-checked and debunked the second he leaves the room.

As a historical footnote, Friedrich Trump was a victim of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed somewhere between three and five percent of the global population. I guess his genes weren’t up to the natural selection test. Given his grandfather’s history, you’d think that Trump would have more compassion for the people he deports and more of a concern for public health. But it looks like all he inherited from his grandfather was draft avoidance and a willingness to write obsequious letters to kings and dictators.

One thing we know for certain is that Trump isn’t a reliable source on where people were born.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com