Though a pillar of Trump’s campaign is stopping the flow of immigrants entering the country illegally and deporting them en masse, he often voices his support of legal immigration. And his personal life has been full of émigrés.

Share story

In the middle of the night, Friedrich Trump left his house in Kallstadt, a small Bavarian town spotted with vineyards and a Lutheran church, for a northern port city that served as Germany’s gateway to the United States.

A few days later, on Oct. 7, 1885, Friedrich, then 16 years old, bought a steerage-class ticket on the S.S. Eider, the start of an adventurous life as a barber, restaurateur, saloonkeeper, hotelier, entrepreneur, gold rush prospector, shipwreck survivor and New York real estate investor.

It was an immigrant tale that would make any family proud. But for decades, the Trumps almost never talked about it.

Friedrich Trump’s son, Fred, came of age between the World Wars, a period marked by resentment of and even discrimination toward Germans in the United States.

More important, he was marketing his properties to the growing Jewish middle class filling up the old farmsteads of central Brooklyn and Queens.

During his presidential campaign, Fred’s son Donald has occasionally run roughshod over Jewish sensibilities, notably with a post on Twitter that featured a six-pointed star and a pile of cash. But for many years, the Trumps went out of their way to avoid disquieting their Jewish friends and customers by burying their German identity.

They told anyone who asked that they were Swedish.

“He had thought, ‘Gee whiz, I’m not going to be able to sell these homes if there are all these Jewish people,’” said Donald Trump’s cousin John Walter, the Trump family historian, who has worked closely with Fred and Donald.

And once they started portraying themselves as Swedish, they could not stop.

“After the war, he’s still Swedish,” Walter said. “It was just going, going, going.”

Even Trump, not known to be shy about embellishing facts, questioned the need. According to Walter, when Trump was working on his best seller “The Art of the Deal” in the mid-1980s, he asked his father, “Do I have to do this Swedish thing?”

In the book, published in 1987, he wrote that his father’s story was “classic Horatio Alger,” and that his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.”

Trump has been called to account for the discrepancy in the past, sometimes admitting it, sometimes not. In an interview in his Trump Tower office, he at first claimed not to know that his father pretended to be Swedish, saying: “Is that true? I don’t know.” He later acknowledged that the two of them would occasionally discuss the concealment of their heritage, explaining that his father “didn’t want to put any pressure” on his Jewish friends.

“It was a very tough time,” he said.

“We have a war, we are fighting a war with Germany,” said Trump, who was born a year after World War II ended.

Trump’s family history was recounted by Walter in an interview and was also the subject of “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a Presidential Candidate,” a family biography by Gwenda Blair. It is the kind of story that echoes the hopefulness and travails of many immigrants still today, and one that many a politician has trumpeted to gain an advantage.

Though a pillar of Trump’s campaign is stopping the flow of immigrants entering the country illegally and deporting them en masse, he often voices his support of legal immigration. And his personal life has been full of émigrés.

His mother, Mary Anne Trump, nee Macleod, emigrated from the Scottish Isle of Lewis at age 18, and two of Trump’s three wives were born overseas. In the interview, he even mistakenly said his father was an immigrant who “came here when he was 5.”

While Trump’s German grandfather came to and stayed in the U.S. legally, he had little choice but to remain: German officials refused to restore his citizenship when he tried to move back to his hometown from the United States.

“Well, he wanted to come over to this country,” Trump bristled. “And ultimately, he loved this country.”

Upon landing in New York in 1885, Friedrich Trump moved in with his older sister, who had left Kallstadt a few years earlier, and her husband at 76 Forsyth St., in what is today the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He worked as a barber, a trade he had apprenticed for in Germany after his father, a vintner, died, leaving the family in dire economic straits.

Trump and his sister’s family soon moved uptown to 17th Street, and then to 104th Street on the East Side, an area thick with his hometown’s dialect and wine.

But Friedrich wanted more. At age 22, he moved to Seattle, opened and then sold a restaurant and then, with some more cash from his mother, bought the first Trump real estate: a property near Monte Cristo, Wash., a mining boom town in Snohomish County. He staked claim to more property for gold prospecting and built hotels for prospectors.

“He was a very entrepreneurial person,” Trump said.

By late 1896, at age 27, he had become a justice of the peace and opened new restaurants that thrived as prospectors streamed through Seattle to the Klondike and Alaska.

Gold fever hit Friedrich Trump, too, but on the way to the Yukon he opened the popular New Arctic Restaurant and Hotel and the White Horse, which according to Blair’s book featured prostitutes as well as food and drink.

(“Totally false,” said Trump, who is not a fan of the book. “There are so many false stories.”)

In 1898, he and other prospectors bought a schooner and sailed toward the Yukon River, but ran aground on Chirikof Island in the Gulf of Alaska. For more than a month, the group lived off the ship’s provisions, and Friedrich began a farewell letter in German to his family. It ended abruptly: “We have hope that the United States government will now …”

He and other passengers were rescued by a passing steam barkentine.

Four years later, he returned to Germany and married a former neighbor, Elizabeth Christ, the daughter of a tinker, “in a lovely Lutheran church in Kallstadt,” according to Karen T. Ingraham, a granddaughter. He persuaded Elizabeth to move to the United States, sold off his properties in the West and invested in vacant lots in Queens.

In 1904, he returned to Kallstadt with his homesick wife, but German officials turned him away, viewing his absence as a willful attempt to avoid military service. He protested, declaring, “It was my intention to remain in America forever,” according to Blair’s book.

“We are loyal Germans and stand behind the high kaiser and the mighty German Reich,” he insisted.

But the mighty German Reich refused to restore his citizenship.

Unhappily, Friedrich and his wife, five months pregnant with Frederick Christ Trump, Donald’s father, returned to New York in 1905. Friedrich rented space for a barbershop on Wall Street, tried again to return to Germany but ultimately settled in Woodhaven, a German neighborhood of Queens.

In May 1918, Friedrich, with his thick mustache and bushy eyebrows, and Fred, with his blond parted hair, were walking along the German shops of Jamaica Avenue when Friedrich said he felt ill.

“Then, he died,” Fred Trump recounted in an interview for Blair’s book. “Just like that.”

Fred Trump grew up in a country suspicious of Germans, especially young German men, with fears of sabotage leading to laws barring them from boarding boats and even from entering some cities. Some sauerkraut sellers tried rebranding it “liberty cabbage.”

And so the Trumps became, quietly, Swedish.

In a 1950 Brooklyn Daily Eagle profile about Fred, Friedrich was identified only as a “former Klondike restaurant operator.” A 1984 cover story in The New York Times Magazine, a blown-up cardboard copy of which Trump keeps in his office, asserted that “the family is of Swedish descent.”

“The Art of the Deal” kept that story alive. Trump was soon confronted with the truth, but as late as 1999, Fred Trump’s obituary in The Daily News overlooked the fact that the story had been debunked, calling him the son of “a Swedish immigrant father.”

Walter, the family historian, said he had often discussed Friedrich’s life story with his cousin and how, at least in one crucial way, their grandfather was indeed not German at all.

“I told Donald,” Walter said, that “if Friedrich got his citizenship back, we wouldn’t be here.”