Germany's Convict Exports

Richard Evans tells the little-known story of how 19th-century Germany attempted to solve its prison problems by secretly sending felons to the United States as immigrants.

In the course of the nineteenth century, as America became a magnet for Europe's poor and dispossessed, many European governments saw the opportunity to rid themselves of the burden of supporting the destitute by encouraging emigration to the United States. Their efforts were reinforced by numerous voluntary associations and societies dedicated to helping European paupers start a new life across the Atlantic.

A small number of European states went further than this and sent felons and convicts to the United States as out as well. This happened not just on a few isolated occasions but was carried out as a deliberate and consistent policy over several decades. Not only petty thieves, beggars and alcoholics, but also serious and violent offenders and even convicted murderers were shipped over. In some instances they were not merely deported after they had finished serving their prison sentences, but were sent off to the United States after being sentenced, as an alternative to imprisonment. Some states carried out this policy in an atmosphere of secrecy and deception, deliberately misleading the immigration authorities in America by providing the convicts with falsified documents of identity.

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