In 1896, Salvatorians settled in St. Nazianz, Wis., a village established by German immigrants in 1854. The villagers were proud of their heritage. They followed German customs and often spoke German. By April 1918, one year after America declared war against Germany, it was common to hear public expressions of hatred toward Americans of German decent. Villagers and businesses in St. Nazianz had received anonymous, threatening letters criticizing an “excessive pride in their German heritage.”
On April 5, a huge fire broke out in St. Nazianz that affected everyone in the village. The official cause is recorded as “explosion of a gasoline tank,” but many people believed it had been set deliberately. Some villagers “thought” they heard an automobile passing through before the fire started, but there was never official evidence of arson. No one was ever charged and there were no official suspects. Still, the question always remained.