Event Title

1A1: Conflicted Loyalties: Austro-Hungarian Immigrants in Michigan and the Great War

Start Date

29-9-2018 9:00 AM

End Date

29-9-2018 10:00 AM

Description

On 1 July 1918, US Army PFC Mario Ruconich of 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Company L was killed by German machine gun fire near the village of Vaux, France. He had volunteered for the US Army in January 1917, mustering at the Columbus Barracks in Ohio, where he listed his home as Michigan. His military service record listed his nationality as “Austrian.” PFC Ruconich’s three older brothers also died, or were POWs. Yet they fought for the Central Powers as loyal Austrians on the Italian and Russian Fronts. The Ruconich family spoke Istriot (an Italian dialect) and Croatian came from Istria and – now part of independent Croatia, previously part of Yugoslavia, previously annexed by Italy, previously part of Austria (all within 90 years). During those years, the family named was forcibly Italianized to Rocconi and then forcibly Slavicized to Rukonic (descendants now have all three surnames). The case of PFC Ruconich opens issues of Austro-Hungarian immigrant identity in Michigan against the backdrop of conscription in World War One in the United States and the Habsburg Monarchy. Perhaps half of all Michiganders descend from the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy (southern Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, western Ukraine, Moldova, northwestern Romania, northern Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and northern Italy all were part of the Monarchy). The question of identity and loyalty for migrants involved a complicated understanding and a delicate balance rooted as much in Europe’s historical context as in that of Michigan – a balance that modern war utterly destabilized. In Austria-Hungary most men served loyally in the imperial Army (Mario’s brothers); some emigrated to avoid service (perhaps the case for Mario); and a few, under extenuating circumstances, served the enemy (perhaps the case for Mario, though his motives are unclear and he was fighting Germans not Austrians). Migrants fought loyally for the USA and embraced a new identity, but they also retained strong ties to their homelands. When called upon to serve in a war that ultimately pit their old homeland against the new, the choice was not always easy and more determined by contingency. And following the war, with the disintegration of the old political realities of Central and Eastern Europe, a process of nationalist reinterpretation of the past began that treated the history of each language group as a single, organic struggle for an ethnically homogenous nation-state; Austria-Hungary was now reimagined as an exclusively oppressive force against this allegedly natural, inevitable, and just struggle for ethnic self-determination while each national-ethnic group was reimagined as the oppressed minority. Former Austro-Hungarians readily integrated this new history into their identities and merged it with their new Michigan ones. They became Polish-Americans, Hungarian-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans, adopting many of the symbolic legacies we now find in each of these communities. And today they proudly assert their collective military service for the US as part of that identity – heedless of the fact that, had they been alive in the Great War in Europe, most would have fought loyally for the Austrian Kaiser.

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Sep 29th, 9:00 AM Sep 29th, 10:00 AM

1A1: Conflicted Loyalties: Austro-Hungarian Immigrants in Michigan and the Great War

On 1 July 1918, US Army PFC Mario Ruconich of 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Company L was killed by German machine gun fire near the village of Vaux, France. He had volunteered for the US Army in January 1917, mustering at the Columbus Barracks in Ohio, where he listed his home as Michigan. His military service record listed his nationality as “Austrian.” PFC Ruconich’s three older brothers also died, or were POWs. Yet they fought for the Central Powers as loyal Austrians on the Italian and Russian Fronts. The Ruconich family spoke Istriot (an Italian dialect) and Croatian came from Istria and – now part of independent Croatia, previously part of Yugoslavia, previously annexed by Italy, previously part of Austria (all within 90 years). During those years, the family named was forcibly Italianized to Rocconi and then forcibly Slavicized to Rukonic (descendants now have all three surnames). The case of PFC Ruconich opens issues of Austro-Hungarian immigrant identity in Michigan against the backdrop of conscription in World War One in the United States and the Habsburg Monarchy. Perhaps half of all Michiganders descend from the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy (southern Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, western Ukraine, Moldova, northwestern Romania, northern Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and northern Italy all were part of the Monarchy). The question of identity and loyalty for migrants involved a complicated understanding and a delicate balance rooted as much in Europe’s historical context as in that of Michigan – a balance that modern war utterly destabilized. In Austria-Hungary most men served loyally in the imperial Army (Mario’s brothers); some emigrated to avoid service (perhaps the case for Mario); and a few, under extenuating circumstances, served the enemy (perhaps the case for Mario, though his motives are unclear and he was fighting Germans not Austrians). Migrants fought loyally for the USA and embraced a new identity, but they also retained strong ties to their homelands. When called upon to serve in a war that ultimately pit their old homeland against the new, the choice was not always easy and more determined by contingency. And following the war, with the disintegration of the old political realities of Central and Eastern Europe, a process of nationalist reinterpretation of the past began that treated the history of each language group as a single, organic struggle for an ethnically homogenous nation-state; Austria-Hungary was now reimagined as an exclusively oppressive force against this allegedly natural, inevitable, and just struggle for ethnic self-determination while each national-ethnic group was reimagined as the oppressed minority. Former Austro-Hungarians readily integrated this new history into their identities and merged it with their new Michigan ones. They became Polish-Americans, Hungarian-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans, adopting many of the symbolic legacies we now find in each of these communities. And today they proudly assert their collective military service for the US as part of that identity – heedless of the fact that, had they been alive in the Great War in Europe, most would have fought loyally for the Austrian Kaiser.