Dwight Schrute’s Terrific German – Part 1: Who are the Schrutes? Posted by Sten on May 9, 2019 in Culture, Film, History, Intercultural, People, Television
You may remember Dwight Schrute, the quirky top paper salesman from NBC’s “The Office” (by the way, there is a German spin-off, called Stromberg). While the sitcom celebrated its finale back in May 2013, it is still one of the most watched shows today. And Mr Schrute is one of the audience’s favorite characters. Not only his dorky, freaky personality makes him uniquely popular, but also the emphasis on German stereotypes. From his strict sense of law and order to his upkeep of old Schrute family traditions, he proudly lives his German (Pennsylvania Dutch) heritage. Let’s take a deeper dive into all of Dwight’s Germanness throughout ALL 9 seasons of The Office. From his word use to nods to German culture and traditions. Today, we check out who the Schrutes are by what hints Dwight dropped throughout the years – from Nazi ancestors fleeing to Argentina to adhering to strict rules. Let’s dive in!
Dwight makes many offensive remarks and jokes. His background and beliefs are darker than they seem on a comedy show. It can be forgiven, as he is a blatant caricature with childish and naive responses – and obviously, a comedy character. He even describes himself as “merciless” and a “jackhammer”. But there is truth behind the jokes and stereotypes, and it is related to German culture.
What’s in a name?
Starting off this series, let’s look at the Schrute name. What does it mean?
Schrute sounds rather weird in German. In fact, it is not, to my knowledge, a German last name at all. The letter combination, with a long u and an e at the end is quite rare already. Add to that the less common schr-, and you have yourself quite an odd name.
However, upon einwandern (immigrating) to the United States, Germans often got their names changed. Part because the clerks just wrote what they heard, or because the name was difficult to pronounce in English. There are plenty records of German names like Schute, Schuth and Schrut. All these forms have a long u. It could be that the -e was added at the end for clarity, to avoid pronunciations with a short u, like in “hut”.
However, it can also be that his name came from a different name entirely. In episode 20 of season 2, Dwight says that his father and grandfather had the exact same name as he did, but that is great grandfather’s name was Amish: Dwide Schrude. Schrude is also not a German last name, but the origins of the name, how it ended up being Schrude in America, is not that clear.
Oh, and the name Dwight is as un-German as it gets. Also Dwide is far from it.
Thoughts on Jews
S1E2 “Diversity Day”
Dwight: Lots of cultures eat rice, doesn’t help me.
Dwight: Um… Shalom. I’d like to apply for a loan.
Pam: That’s nice, Dwight.
Dwight: OK, do me. Something stereotypical so I can get it really quick.
Pam: OK, I like your food.
Dwight: Outback steakhouse. [Australian accent] I’m Australian, mate!
Michael: Pam, come on. “I like your food.” Come on stir the pot. Stir the melting pot, Pam! Let’s do it. Let’s get ugly. Let’s get real.
Pam: OK. If I have to do this, based on stereotypes that are totally untrue, that I do not agree with, you would maybe not be a very good driver.
Besides Dwight’s obvious sexism, he also really sticks to stereotypes of different cultures. In this scene of the second ever episode, Michael begins a game where everybody wears a card on their forehead representing a culture or race. Everybody is supposed to act like they are talking to the people not as if they were their actual race, but as if they were the race on the card. Obviously a racist game to begin with, and a terrible idea. Pam shows that with her awkward, very general conversation, avoiding hurtful stereotypes.
But not so Dwight. He has a moment where he talks to Pam, who has “Jewish” slapped on her forehead. His first reaction is: “I’d like to apply for a loan”, based on the stereotype that Jews are rich bankers.
This is a first, loose hint to the anti-semitic roots of his family. Partly why people scapegoated the Jews for economic misery before World War II was that, stereotypically, they were rich, and were doing fine for themselves.
S1E3 “Health Care”
About picking a healthcare plan, which Dwight thinks is nonsense:
Jim: OK, well, if you’ve never been sick, then you don’t have any antibodies.
Dwight: I don’t need them. Superior genes. I’m a Schrute. And superior brain power. Through concentration, I can raise and lower my cholesterol at will.
The Nazis believed in a concept that put a certain race above others, as being the only one able to have culture. This is known as the Herrenrasse or Herrenvolk (master race), more specifically the germanische or arische Herrenrasse (Germanic or Aryan master race). Hitler claimed that the Germans were destined to create a new world, with a new, superior race. According to the execution of this ideology in the Third Reich, Dwight fits this race. It is likely that he holds the belief that Schrutes have superior genes due to that Nazi heritage.
Dwight’s Grandfather fought on the German side
S2E6 “The Fight”
Dwight: I come from a long line of fighters. My maternal grandfather was the toughest guy I ever knew. World War II veteran. Killed 20 men then spent the rest of the war in an Allied Prison Camp. My father battled blood pressure and obesity all his life. Different kind of fight.
Dwight speaks with pride of his grandfather, who killed 20 and then spent the rest of the war in a prison camp of the Allies. This implies that his grandfather was a German soldier, fighting for the Nazis.
Obviously, this does not automatically make his grandfather a Nazi. Many of the millions that fought in the war were forced into military service, or did not fight for the ideology, but simply to survive.
However, the way Dwight speaks about him shows that he is proud to have him in the family, like he “fought the right fight”. This appears to be what he grew up with – German soldiers with little remorse for their terrible actions during the war. Instead of seeing killing 20 men as cruel, he sees it as tough. Such callous bloodlust was not unique to the Nazis, but the extent of it makes them stand out.
Mannheim Family Cut and Run
S3E3 “The Coup”
Dwight: The Schrutes are a very loyal breed. But I also have Mannheim blood from my German grandmother. And the Mannheims knew when to cut and run. No sense going down with a losing regime. But the Schrute blood… It’s amazing that when these two bloods mix, the whole thing didn’t explode.
In this short interview section, Dwight confirms the points above. The Schrutes are loyal, which he follows up by talking about the actions of the Mannheim (a city in the southwest of Germany) part of the family in the war. He refers to how they knew when to cut and run, instead of going down with a losing regime, i.e. Nazi Germany. It confirms that his ancestors were not fighting for the Germans under force, but because they believed and supported the ideology.
Furthermore, he talks about how it is amazing that mixing bloods turned out fine, referring to the Schrute blood. It goes back to the “superior genes”, and the Nazi ideology of the Ethnische Säuberung (ethnic cleansing), meaning that you should keep the bloodline pure. Dwight is surprised by the fact that the incestuous procreation in his family did not lead to any “explosions”. This ideology was predominantly the motivation for the Völkermord (genocide) of the Jewish people by the Nazis. I told you, it gets pretty dark.
Brightening up a bit: His ancestors being from Mannheim makes sense with the origins of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Mannheim is a city in Baden-Württemberg, a Bundesland (German federal state) in the southwest of Germany, where most Einwanderer (immigrants) from Germany came from. This accuracy is a nice touch!
Grandpa Mannheim in Argentina
S4E2 “Fun Run Part 2”
Dwight: I’m gonna live for a very long time. My grandma Schrute lived to be 101. My grandpa Mannheim is 103, and still puttering around in Argentina. I tried to go visit him once, but my travel visa was protested by the Shoah Foundation.
As stated above, Dwight’s grandfather from Mannheim was a convinced Nazi, something that is further confirmed here. When his Mannheim family “cut and ran”, they moved to South America, apparently.
When the war was lost, many high-ranking Nazis fled via Spain and Italy to South America, particularly to Argentina, via so called “rat lines”. Argentina was preferred because Italy had a Einwanderungsabkommen (immigration treaty) with Argentina, making emigrating through Italy easier.
Another hint that Dwight’s maternal grandfather was a convinced Nazi is by the fact that Dwight’s travel visa was protested by the Shoah Foundation.
Dwight’s Grandfather is a member of the Bund
Andy: Dwight’s grandfather was a—[is interrupted by Dwight].
Dwight: Was a member of the Bund. Which is not technically the same thing as the Nazi party. So…[clears throat]
Andy: I was gonna say he was a tax evader.
Dwight: Oh. I was joking about that whole Bund thing. Oh ho, the look on your faces! Hahhahahahahah! Hahahahahah!
Like Germany and Italy in the World War
Jim: Aw, thanks, man.
Dwight: Once upon a time we were natural enemies, but we’ve overcome our differences. Much like Germany and Italy in World War—
Dwight: Good call. Together we run a no-nonsense office.
Next week, we will look at all of Dwight’s German vocabulary on the show! Subscribe to our blog to never miss a post!
Thanks to The Office for uploading many of the fragments that include the content of this post, and a huge thanks to officequotes.net, where volunteers wrote up transcripts of every single episode. It made this task much easier!
What is your favorite part about Dwight’s German/Pennsylvania Dutch background, and why? Did I miss anything? Please let me know in the comments below!