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It Did Not Happen Here: Nazi Infiltration of America in the 1930s

Paul Dunder HIS 4936 Dr. June Benowitz


The idea that the United States of America could have been susceptible to such radical ideologies in which Nazism was advocating seems absurd. National Socialism is an ultra-racist, ultra-nationalistic, German political system which promotes a strong tyrannical leader and the socialization of the country. It was entirely an anti-democratic movement which, thus, appears inheritably un-American. Despite being the antithesis of Americanism, Nazism did permeate American society prior to World War II. Throughout this time period, Americans were susceptible to Nazi influence from both internal and external forces. In fact, Americans had almost a childlike curiosity towards Nazism and other similar right-wing movements. In the hopelessness of the Great Depression, a Nazi, or right-wing fascist takeover of the country may have appeared to be imminent. Yet, the United States was certainly never in danger of becoming totally Nazified. The foremost method in which Nazism found a foothold in Americas conscience was the formation of organizations which romanticized and promoted National Socialism. The main group was the Friends of New Germany which later became known as the German American Bund. These types of groups were established before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Actually, their origins can be traced to the middle of the 19th century when Germans began immigrating to America. Between 1830 and 1848, the first wave of German immigrants came to the country seeking refuge from revolutions which ravaged their home country.1 In the years following these revolutions, Germans continued to steadily immigrate to America. By 1900, people who were either born in Germany or had one German born parent were by far the most populated ethnic group in the country, comprising 31.4 percent of all foreign Europeans, or

Carl Wittke, American Germans in Two World Wars, The Wisconsin Magazine of History 27, no. 1 (Sep 1943), 7.


6,873,103 people with direct German roots.2 Immigration would eventually decline in the first decades of the twentieth century and, by 1930, only 17.7 percent of Americas population could claim to have direct German roots. This decline shows that, though America had a strong element of German ethnicity, they were becoming more detached culturally and politically from their home country. Despite the decline, by 1940, a significant number of people, over five million, had been born in Germany or had German born parents.3 The early immigrants settled in Eastern cities, such as New York City and Newark, and also in the Midwest. By the turn of the century, the majority of Germans lived in the German Triangle which was comprised of Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee.4 These early immigrants were not easily assimilated into American culture. Many continued to speak German, read German-language newspapers, and follow events from their native land. When Germany defeated the French in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, German immigrants rejoiced and celebrated the victory and voiced their pride over Germanys unification.5 At the turn of the century, the children of the first wave of German immigrants began to assimilate; more so than their parents. No longer were these people just Germans, they were German-Americans. Throughout the 19th century, German-Americans faced less racial prejudice than other immigrant groups. No other immigrant group made a greater intellectual or cultural contribution to American society.6 However, their standing in American society was altered almost immediately after the onset of the First World War. During the war years, German-Americans were forced to endure one of the most challenging experiences any immigrant group has ever
2 3

Ibid., 6. Joachim Remak. Friends of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations, The Journal of Modern History 29, no. 1 (Mar., 1957) 41. 4 Roger Daniels. The Immigrant Experience in the Gilded Age, in The Gilded Age, ed. Charles Calhoun (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007), 87. 5 Wittke, American Germans in Two World Wars, 8. 6 Ibid., 6.


had to tolerate.7 Any influences, either culturally or politically, that the Germans enjoyed before the war evaporated after America became involved in The Great War. Because Germany was the enemy, many viewed German-Americans as the enemy as well. Many Americans felt that any action taken by the German immigrants to show even the smallest amount of support to Germany was their way of Prussianizing America.8 Not only did this lead to hardship, discrimination and mistrust, it also forced this group to become even more assimilated. Because their way of life was suddenly un-American, German-Americans had no choice but to assimilate or face discrimination. An example of this is the decline in German-language newspapers. In 1914, over five hundred German newspapers and periodicals were published in the United States, with a total circulation of nearly three and a half million copies. In 1933, fewer than a hundred and fifty remained; their circulation down to about a million and a half.9 This shows how GermanAmericans were consciously reading English newspapers as a way of assimilation. With the signing of the armistice in 1919, German-Americans worked hard to regain their image which was lost during the war. At the same time, they retained their new found aspects of American life and culture. Another basis of Nazi organizations in America was the conditions in the country between the two world wars. The 1920s saw Americans strive to return to normalcy. Financially, prosperity had come to some Americans, while others struggled to survive. At the end of the decade, the United States finally plunged into a massive depression which had already financially devastated the rest of the world. By the early part of the 1930s, Americans had become restless. Many believed that capitalism had failed and saw the election of Franklin Roosevelt as the last hope of staving off a revolution. It is under these types of conditions that
7 8

Ibid., 9. Ibid. 9 Remak, Friends of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations, 41.


any radical, revolutionary, movement flourishes. This includes the Nazi movement in both the United States and Germany. The first organized movement that touted National Socialism is a group known as the Teutonia Association. The group was founded in Detroit on 12 October 1924, less than nine years before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.10 It was led by a German immigrant by the name of Friedrich (Fritz) Gissibl. He arrived in America on 1 December 1923,11 less than a month after the infamous Beer Hall Putsch; a fact which was alluded to on numerous occasions by anti-Nazi groups in the 1930s. Many of the groups members were young German nationals who felt the need to escape the Weimar Republic. The group was ignored for much of its existence and did not exhibit any sign of growth until the effects of the Great Depression were felt within the German-American community.12 On the eve of Hitlers takeover of Germany, Teutonia had branches in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Cincinnati, and it claimed to have over five hundred members.13 These numbers are rather microscopic when compared to the five million plus people with direct German blood living in America at this time. This is a theme throughout the Nazi movement in America. Despite its rather irrelevant appearance, Teutonia is important because it laid the ground work for other, more popular movements. Teutonias ideology was similar to that of the German Nazi Party. Like all other pro-Nazis, first and foremost, they were vehemently anti-Semitic. The one difference between them and future pro-Nazi groups was that Teutonia altered specific party points to appeal to only new German immigrants.14 In striking difference to the goals of later groups, this groups objective


Sander Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974) 92. 11 Ibid. 12 Ibid., 94. 13 Ibid., 95. 14 Ibid.


was not to transplant American democracy with German National Socialism. They sought to educate Germans who had recently come to America on the perceived evils of communism and Jewry. The group leaders felt that, much like themselves, these immigrants were escaping the Weimar. The assumption was that, once Hitler took over in Germany, these refugees would then return to their homeland. They also catered to displaced party members.15 The Teutonia organization had very little concern for America; their focus was primarily with Germany. The Nazi groups which would arise after Hitler became Chancellor would be more concerned with their host country. In the 1920s, many members of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) living in America preferred to gather in the numerous disorganized German or Nazi cells in lieu of joining the Teutonia group. This was due to their belief that National Socialism was not right for the United States.16 In addition, the NSDAP in Germany did not have the financial means or interest in recognizing its sister party in America in the 1920s. This changed in 1931 when an unofficial New York City sympathizing cell was officially recognized by the party in Germany and renamed the NSDAP, New York Unit or Gauleitung-USA (Gau-USA). This group would soon replace the Teutonia organization which collapsed soon after the edict from Germany. The Gau-USA also quickly became unorganized and infighting was rampant. By the end of its existence, it had only forty-five members.17 Despite the Gau-USA being a failure, it is important for the story of Nazism in America. Most obvious is that it was the precursor to the Friends of New Germany organization. It also gave future organizations and Nazi sympathizers official encouragement from the NSDAP; something

15 16

Ibid., 96. Susan Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund. (Menlo Park, CA: Markgraf Pubns Group, 1990), 39. 17 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 100.


that they would keep coming back to throughout the 1930s. Since the party in Germany designated the Gau-USA as an official branch of the Nazi Party, future leaders felt that they had free rein to establish party affiliates in America that would speak for the NSDAP. Perhaps more importantly, the Gau-USA took the Nazi movement out of the Midwest and into the mecca of the United States: New York City. Teutonia, founded in Detroit, was chiefly located in mostly smaller Midwestern cities. When the Gau-USA came along, it absorbed many of the influential members and brought them together in one location. Many of the more influential Nazi sympathizers were relocated to a city which had the highest population of German-Americans in the entire country.18Another important fact, pertaining to German-Americans, was that the city was the location of an American branch of Germanys largest veterans organization, the Der Stahlelm.19 This meant that future organizations had access to German veterans who had fought in World War I and shared similar feelings towards the outcome of the war. In addition, New York City was the media capital of the country; any publicity that Nazi sympathizers were to receive would surely be picked up on wire services throughout the country. This was the perfect condition for Nazi sympathizers and they would assuredly take advantage of it. Hitlers usurpation of absolute power in 1933 radically changed the fortunes of American National Socialism.20 Prior to his ascension, in the so-called years of struggle, Hitler was relatively unknown in Germany, let alone in America. This changed in 1933; Hitler was now known throughout the world and his rise to power inspired the radical Nazi sympathizers in America. This inspiration can be seen in the formation of the Friends of New Germany organization which was founded in July 1933 by Heinz Spanknoebel. Much like the Gau-USA,

Dieter Berninger, Milwaukee's German-American Community and the Nazi Challenge of the 1930's, The Wisconsin Magazine of History 71, no. 2 (Winter, 1987-1988): 118. 19 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 101. 20 Leland Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism. (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1973) 8.


this organization was founded under the authority of prominent NSDAP member Rudolf Hess, the deputy Fuhrer of Germany.21 Spanknoebel took the Nazi movement to new heights in America, all the while playing the role of the American Fuhrer. Spanknoebel arrived in America in 1929 and worked for the Ford Motor Company until he was laid off in 1930. He was a member of both NSDAP and Teutonia before he was laid off. He began to aspire to become the leader of the American Nazi movement after he was out of work.22 He traveled to Berlin to convey these aspirations to the NSDAP and, after misrepresenting the figures of Nazi sympathizers in American, Spanknoebel was given the edict from Hess to start the Friends. With the backing that he received from the NSDAP, Spanknoebel was able to intimidate many of the sympathizers whom he alienated due to his arrogance and recklessness.23 In the July 1933 convention which began the Friends, Spanknoebel proclaimed that the American Nazi movement had formally begun and pronounced himself its leader. The organization was arranged according to the fuhrerprinzip or the unquestioned authority of the leader; an exact copy of the hierarchy in Germany.24 Since the Friends were an official extension of the NSDAP and Hitler was the unquestioned Fuhrer, Spanknoebel could not call himself The Fuhrer. Thus, he referred to himself as the bundsleiter. The Friends of New Germany copied their political ideology directly from the NSDAP. It was, in fact, a mirror image of Hitlers party.25 At the request of Hess, the Friends proclaimed their overall goals, or party platform, at the end of 1933. The statement claimed that the [movement] was a defensive movement organized by concerned German nationals to protect themselves from the Jewish-Bolshevik menace and to inform the American public of the events
21 22

Ibid., 13. Warren Grover. Nazis in Newark. (New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007), 76. 23 Ibid., 77. 24 Ibid. 25 Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 51.


in Germany.26 Its platform was extremely and violently anti-Semitic. There were attacks on Jewish merchants and reports of vandals painting swastikas on synagogues.27 Similar to the NSDAP in Germany, the Friends attributed much of their financial problems on the Jews. They based their entire political platform on the fundamental belief of racial superiority of the German race. Unlike the earlier organizations, however, the Friends hoped to unite not only newly immigrated Germans, but established German-American as well. In other words, they hoped to unite all racially pure ethnic Germans in America to be whatever Hitler needed them to be. The Friends of New Germany also attempted to intimidate other German-American societies to be pro-Nazi. These groups were warned by the Friends that if they resisted, their parents or other relatives who lived in Germany would be punished. Furthermore, there were attempts made to control these societies newspapers. In the summer of 1933, Spanknoebel went to Bernard Ridder, the publisher of a large German-language newspaper, the Staats-Zitung, and demanded they print less pro-Semitic stories and more pro-Hitler stories.28 Ridder did not comply with Spanknoebels requests. This was simply a way to attract more members to their cause. At the end of their two year existence, it is estimated there were approximately ten thousand members. While the numbers may seem impressive, it must be considered that approximately sixty percent of the members were citizens of the German Reich. Most of the other forty percent were comprised of German nationals who escaped the Weimar and fled to the United States.29 Similar to other pro-Nazi groups, the number of members was minuscule when compared to the five million German immigrants. Thus, the Friends had a hard time attracting, or tricking, GermanAmericans who had been assimilated into the country to their cause. A good number of these

26 27

Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 135. Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 53. 28 New York Times. Nazi Actions Here Bring an Inquiry. 10 October 1933, 11. 29 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 15.


people had come to America to escape the viciousness and bondage in Europe and a group which touted violence and the suppression of basic freedoms was not very alluring. These people also remembered the anti-German hysteria that had been prominent during World War I. Thus, they were careful to not align themselves with a movement that would provoke the same feelings towards them.30 The inability to effectively attract, trick, or pressure members of the GermanAmerican community to the Nazi cause hurt the movement throughout the 1930s. Not only did the Friends scare away German-Americans, it also scared away average Americans. The controversial speeches and violence which was perpetrated by the members of the group enticed media coverage. Unlike the groups which preceded them, the Friends made headlines and stories were written about them in the New York Times. Not only did the group bring about media coverage, they also received attention from the United States government. On 10 October 1933, four months after the formation of the group, Samuel Dickstein, chairman of the House Committee on Immigration, decided to investigate the Friends. He alleged that they were an extension of the Nazi government. In a statement, Dickstein said that the goal of the investigations was to: Study the charges that have been made against aliens who entered this country from Germany for the purpose not only of forming [in the United States] a brand of Hitlers government and Hitlers newspapers but to establish here racial and religious hatred and bigotry. The soil of the United States is being used as the grounds on which to hatch plots detrimental to the government and to the peace of this country by men and women, some of whom are being sent to the United States under the guise of diplomatic or capsulate attachs. I have information to the effect that about 300 persons have recently entered the United States as employees or servants of German consulates. The number is ridiculously large for the ordinary conduct of affairs by legitimate German consular offices in the United States.31

30 31

Grover, Nazi in Newark, 72. Ibid.



The investigation stemmed from an incident which occurred at the end of September, 1933. Spanknoebel was allegedly responsible for ordering vandals to attack New York synagogues during Yom Kippur. Complaints were made to New York City Mayor, John Patrick OBrien, and New York City Congressman Dickstein, who was also a member of the citys Jewish community. Thus, the House committees investigation focused on Spanknoebel and, within a few weeks, a warrant was issued for his arrest. The House Committee charged him with acting, or purporting to act, as an agent of the German Government in the United States without notifying the State Department.32 This was in violation of a law which was enacted in 1917. He was deported back to Germany and a new leader took over the Friends of New Germany. Besides being a malicious anti-Semite, Spanknoebel left a legacy which affected the future of Nazism in America. He organized the movement on a nationwide basis and filled significant party positions with dedicated National Socialists.33 In the earlier organizations, there were often struggles over which member was the leader. By introducing the concept of the fuhrerprinzip, the head of the organization was the undisputed leader and, theoretically, his power should not be challenged. Also, he found people who were devoted to Nazism to serve under him. These people will be influential members of the Nazism movement into the latter part of the decade. Despite having his name removed from the official history of the organization in later years, his importance to future successors cannot be overemphasized.34 Notwithstanding the success of removing Spanknoebel, Dicksteins committee still sought to rid the country of the Nazi menace. Between January 1934 and February 1935, the Special Committee on Un-American Activities investigated the extent of the Nazi menace. The committee heard the testimony of several hundred witnesses during seven public hearings and
32 33

New York Times. Arrest is Ordered of Spanknoebell as German Agent. 28 October 1933, 1. Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 128. 34 Ibid.



twenty-four executive sessions in major America cities.35 The new leader of the Friends, Fritz Gissibl, the former leader of Teutonia, was one of the people to testify in front of the committee. The goal of the committee was to purge the country of fascist and communist threats and propaganda. These hearings were played out both on the radio and in the newspapers.36 Unlike the previous decade, the majority of Americans became keenly aware of the Nazi sympathizers and their organizations. On 16 February 1935, the committees findings were published in an article on the front page of the New York Times. Their findings were as followed: This committee found indisputable evidence to show that certain German Consuls in this country violated the pledge and proprieties of diplomatic status and engaged in vicious and un-American propaganda, paying for it in cash in the hope that it could not be traced. This committee condemns the establishment and the propaganda of the Nazi principles in this country. We are unalterably opposed to any individuals or any group of individuals seeking to bring about discord among the people of this country, either as reprisal or as a means of changing our form of government.37 The findings of the House Committee were not the end of the Friends of New Germany. The final blow would come in December 1935 when Germany decided to no longer support the American branch of the NSDAP and forbade Reich citizens from being members in the organization.38 If nationals were to be found amongst the groups ranks, their passports would be suspended and they ran the risk of having their citizenship canceled. The German government never followed through on any of these threats. With officially withdrawing its support of the American Nazi movement, Germany ended its fascination with the German-American population. This allure with their American counterparts can be dated back to 1917 with the creation of the Deutsches Ausland-Institut (DAI). Before the war, Germany had anticipated sympathy for their cause from its people living in America. When

35 36

Grover, Nazis in Newark, 83. Ibid. 37 New York Times. Asks Laws to Curb Foreign Agitators. 16 February 1935, 1. 38 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 159.



this support did not happen, they created the DAI to reestablish business contacts that had been severed during the war and to preserving the German way of life in the overseas communities.39 In other words, it hoped to stop total assimilation among German-Americans while gaining business influence in the United States. When Hitler took power in 1933, the DAI was Nazified to fit with the racial ideals of the party. After this process was complete, they published a multivolume work which detailed the history of the German-American community with emphasis on their racial superiority.40 Yet, little else was done to influence the ethnic Germans who lived in America. For most of his life, Hitler had contempt for the United States; however, he did show some admiration for American economic capabilities.41 Any admiration he felt was gone by the time he became Chancellor. He believed that America was a Jew-ridden country of millionaires, beauty queens, stupid records and Hollywood.42 To this end, he felt that the ethnic Germans, living in America, were contaminated by its culture. He once said, Transfer a German to Kiev, and he remains a perfect German. But transfer him to Miami and you make a degenerate of him in other words an American.43 This was not, however, the stance of many in the Nazi government who felt that the German-American community could be influential in swaying public opinion in favor of Nazi Germany. The most outspoken of these officials was Joseph Goebbels who felt that, by influencing the German community, Germany could be perceived as a peaceful nation that was struggling to free itself from the Versailles Treaty.44 By 1935, Germany was more concerned with matters in Europe. Furthermore, after the allegations of the Un-

39 40

Ibid., 48. Ibid., 72. 41 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 9. 42 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 75. 43 Ibid., 76. 44 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 12.



American activities committee, the country was anxious to maintain affable relations with the United States than they were with swaying German-Americans who seemed to be unresponsive to their influences anyway. The most prominent of all the Nazi sympathizing organizations arose from the ashes of the Friends of New Germany. After the edict in December 1935, the Friends leader Fritz Gissibl returned to Germany. Upon his departure, he appointed his successor, leader of the Midwest branch of the Friends, Fritz Kuhn. He was born in Munich in 1886 and served as a machine gunner for the German army in France in World War I where he received an Iron Cross, the highest military honor in Germany. After the war, he joined the fledgling NSDAP while completing a degree in chemical engineering. He relocated to Mexico due to the inability to find work in Germany. He arrived in the United States in 1928 and, soon thereafter, became a naturalized citizen. In 1933, Kuhn joined the Friends of New Germany where he rose through the ranks to become leader of the Midwest branch. 45 Upon receiving the reins of the Friends, he consolidated his power and received assurances of loyalty from other members in the Friends. Kuhn called for a convention on March 29, 1936 in Buffalo where he proclaimed the Friends defunct and asked the members to adopt a new name: Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund or German American Bund.46 The Friends of New Germany were never viewed by average Americans as anything more than a foreign cancer, certainly not something that could lead to revolution. The Bund, under the forceful and intelligent leadership of Kuhn, was something completely different and, by 1939, it was a force to be reckoned with in American. Not only did the group change its name, it also changed its philosophy. Kuhn believed that from 1933 until 1936, the groups goal was to educate and explain Hitlers New Germany to

45 46

Grover, Nazis in Newark, 175-76. Ibid.



Americans. He apparently believed this had been accomplished and the groups set out a new goal: to lead America and the world in general in the same direction as Germany - in the fight against communism and the Jews.47 The amazing thing about this statement was that it was printed on the front page of the 1 April 1936 edition of the New York Times. No longer did the group target just those people with German blood; it sought all Americans under the banner of Americanism. Ideologically, the Friends and the Bund were exactly the same; eliminating communist and Jewish elements of society while moving German-Americans to support Nazi Germany. The one major difference between the two groups was that the Bund accepted the American element. Due to the edict from Germany, no Reich citizens could hold leadership positions in the Bund; only American citizens could be put in these positions.48 Having actual American citizens who believed in the movement in the leadership roles was thought to reduce the negativity towards the Nazi movement and the pressure placed upon it by the government. One of the first official acts of the Bund was a trip to Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games. This event was a showcase for Hitler and the Nazis. It also became an important event for the Bund. It was the center of much of the literature which the Bund produced in the spring and early summer of 1936. Fundraisers were held to send a delegation to Berlin for the Games. On 23 June 1936, Kuhn and around two hundred Bund members left for Germany and, upon their arrival, they met up with another two hundred members.49 The day after the Opening Ceremonies, Kuhn was granted an audience with Hitler. He presented the Fuhrer with a leather bound pictorial history of the Bund and more than two thousand dollars collected by the group for a Nazi charity. At the end of the meeting, Hitler reportedly said Go over there and continue the fight.50 As the

47 48

New York Times. Nazi Group Here Changes Its Name. 1 April 1936. Bell Failure of Nazism in America 586. 49 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 40. 50 Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 113.



story and subsequent photo of the two men circulated back in America, many thought that this was a clear indication that the Bund had Hitlers support. Yet, the meeting seems to be one of many that Hitler had that day as host for the Olympic celebration and the infamous quote was hearsay.51 The story and alleged support from the party was promoted by Kuhn and gave the Bund new life. Following the publicity that the Bund received in Germany during the Olympics, they began their first foray into the national spotlight which came in the 1936 Presidential Elections. Kuhn felt that, by uniting the German-American community under the Nazi banner, they would be able to exert pressure on the American government to adopt favorable policy towards Germany and against Communism.52 Thus, the Bund began to slander the incumbent, President Roosevelt, with untruths. They charged that his inner circle, the brain trust, were Jewish Communists. They referred to Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins as a friend of aliens and claimed she favored Jewish Communist control of the labor force. The New Deal was referred to the Jew Deal. Roosevelts opponent, Alfred Landon, offered the only hope to a humiliated German community in America, claimed the Bund. When Landon lost by a landslide, the Bund said the defeat was due to his solicitation of Jewish support.53 With the election, the Bund clearly stated its bigotry against the Jews. It was also the beginning of the venture into mainstream politics; something that other Nazi organizations had not done in the past. It did seem to be somewhat effective because Landon did receive more German-American votes than did Roosevelt. However, this could be attributed to a belief among German-Americans that the Democratic Party was to blame for Americas entry into World War I. They also thought that Democrats were anti-

51 52

Ibid. Leland Bell, The Failure of Nazism in America: The German American Bund, 1936-1941, Political Science Quarterly 85, no. 4 (Dec., 1970), 587. 53 Ibid., 588.



German.54 Whatever the reason for the German-Americans political affiliations, over the next three years, the Bund never exploited this sentiment; instead it focused on attacking the Communists and Jews. Similar to other Nazi groups, the Bunds ideology was the same as the NSDAP. Kuhn, however, took this a step further by establishing an organization which mirrored the NSDAP. The group was divided into three regions, or Gaue: East Coast, Midwest and West Coast. Within each Gau there was a Gauleiter, or party boss.55 Moreover, each Gau contained a party newspaper which was coordinated by the main branch of the Bunds newspaper in New York City.56 They stressed the importance of family togetherness amongst German-Americans. Their rallies were quite similar to those of the NSDAP. Smaller meetings were held in various halls and were designed more for sympathetic and usually German-speaking audiences. The larger rallies were held for the mass public. Swastika banners were displayed, patriotic German songs were sung and anti-Semitic speeches and literature was spouted.57 These were spectacles that sometimes attracted several thousand people, both staunch believers and curious onlookers. Similar to Hitlers SA, the Ordnugs Dienst (Order Service) would also be present at the rallies. They were fully outfitted in Nazi military style uniforms and they were expected to defend the movement against internal and external attacks with their lives.58 Perhaps the most disturbing of all similarities was the youth division of the Bund. It was patterned directly after the Hitler Youth, a mandatory camp for young boys and girls in Nazi Germany.59 The children received instructions on how to salute the swastika and sung Horst

54 55

Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 52. Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 83. 56 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 231. 57 Berninger, Milwaukee's German-American Community and the Nazi Challenge of the 1930's, 124. 58 Bell, The Failure of Nazism in America: The German American Bund, 1936-1941, 589. 59 Ibid.



Wessel Lied. They were given Nazi military style uniforms and the leaders stressed athletic activities to entice the childrens participation.60 The Bunds youth camps also stressed lessons in German language, culture, and the study of Mein Kampf. To Kuhn, the future of the GermanAmerican community and the Bund itself rested with the youth. He said that it is here [the youth] shall be strengthened and confirmed in National Socialism so that they will be conscious of the role which has been assigned to them as the future carriers of German racial ideals to America.61 Bund members apparently agreed with Kuhn as many of them sent their children to these camps. In essence, the youth camps served to erase assimilation in the German-American community by eliminating American influence on German children and having them act, as the Bund saw it, more German. Another similarity between the Bund and the NSDAP was the vagueness that was used by the party. The Nazi party was built on being ambiguous with their ideas and intentions. This was a ploy that the Bund used as well. They employed the word Americanism. The reason for this was twofold. First, it was a way to draw interest from outside the German-American community. Secondly, it allowed for a defense against critics in the press and the government. Unlike other groups which were strictly German, the Bund incorporated heroes from Americas past. Instead of only celebrating Hitlers birthday, they celebrated Lincolns and Washingtons birthdays with large public bashes. In 1937, members held their May Day Celebrations in Honor of National Labor in order to wake up [the nation] to the dangers of Jewish Bolshevism.62 They would also alter their rallies to reduce criticism coming from the government. For example, a Philadelphia OD member boasted to an investigative journalist for the Philadelphia Record that the Bund would replace the customary Nazi swastikas and regalia with purely American
60 61

Ibid. Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 241. 62 Bell, The Failure of Nazism in America: The German American Bund, 1936-1941, 590.



symbols.63 The Bund may not have been totally un-American. In fact, information taken from interviews with former Bund members and Kuhns own writings led historian Susan Canedy to believe that the Bund leader had total allegiance to the United States.64 After all, he was a citizen of the United States. Nonetheless, the Bund used the term Americanism as a way to deceive German-Americans and patriotic Americans alike. By the end of 1938, the Bund was suffering from vilification from the American and German fronts. Fist fights and minor riots broke out when anti-Nazi groups attended Bund rallies and events. In addition, the House Committee on Un-American Activities began to investigate the source of the Bunds support. Germany, in the midst of political struggles with England and France, did not want to fight a political battle against the United States over a fringe group of sympathizers. Hence, on 1 March 1938, the German foreign minister once again barred Reich citizens from membership in the Bund.65 Unlike the leader of the Friends of New Germany, Fritz Kuhn was an American citizen and he was undaunted by the German decree and the other turmoil that surrounded the group. In an act of defiance, he scheduled for a massive rally to take place in Madison Square Garden in New York City on 20 February 1939. The Madison Square Garden rally was the pinnacle of success for the Bund; it was also the beginning of its drastic downfall. The rally was billed as a monster demonstration of true Americanism.66 Its location, New York City, had become a powder keg for clashes between anti-Nazis, Bundists and communists in the months leading to the rally. Prior to the event, there were questions about whether or not the government of New York City would allow it to take place. On 18 February 1939, two days before the rally, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia allowed the

Philip Jenkins, It Cant Happen Here: Fascism and Right-Wing Extremism in Pennsylvania, 1933-1942, Pennsylvania History 62, no. 1 (Winter 1995), 41. 64 Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 81. 65 Remak, Friends of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations, 39. 66 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 84.



rally to proceed. In a statement, he said there would be no interference from the city so long as it was peaceful, orderly and there was no preaching of an overthrow of the United States government. He also said that he was permitting it to happen because the free speech in the city and country was not the kind of speech which was prevailing in the Reich under Hitler.67 The next day, La Guardia announced that one thousand New York City police would be on hand to police the rally.68 In addition to the rally taking place inside the Garden, a planned counter rally was scheduled to take place outside the venue by the communist Social Workers Party. There was even a bomb threat made the day of the event. Nevertheless, the rally, which was dubbed as George Washington birthday exercises, took place as scheduled. Originally, the city had projected that 30,000 to 40,000 people would attend the rally. The actual attendance for the rally was around 22,000, as reported in the following mornings paper.69 The violence and incidents were relatively small and insignificant. As Kuhn neared the end of his speech, a young Jewish man by the name of Isadore Greenbaum attempted to scale the platform. A dozen OD men grabbed him and threw him to the ground where police carried him out of the arena. He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.70 Other than this one incident, the rally was a success for the Bund. They had gained the publicity which they were looking for and were able to project their hateful ideals to a massive audience while grossing around 8,500 dollars.71 A week later, the Communist party held a rally at the Garden which only attracted 12,000 people.72

67 68

New York Times. Mayor to Permit Big Bund Meeting. 18 February 1939, 1. New York Times. Bund Rally to Get Huge Police Guard. 19 February 1939, 1. 69 New York Times. 22,000 Naizs Hold Rally in Garden; Police Check Foes. 21 February 1939, 1. 70 Ibid. 71 Grover, Nazis in Newark, 260. 72 New York Times. 12,000 Communists Rally at Garden. 28 February 1939, 14.



The actual size of the Bund is difficult to determine in 1939. Kuhn officially placed the membership at 8,299. The State Department found that there were 6,617 members in April 1939, 4,529 of which were located in New York City.73 The Departments numbers were much smaller than the attendance at the Garden rally. Thus, the majority of the people in attendance were, thus, not official members of the Bund. There are two possible reasons for this. First, people were attracted by the ambiguity of the advertisements for the rally. The pamphlet, addressed to all American patriots, said that the pro-America meeting was to defend the flag, constitution and sovereignty of the nation.74 The patriotic stance was confusing to some people who truly saw this as a pro-America rally. Secondly, people were curious about Nazism. In 1939, the scope of the atrocities of Hitlers regime was not known yet to the American public. Most of what they saw and heard was the propaganda coming from Germany. Americans heard how Germany had pulled itself out of their depression and how they had, allegedly, eliminated unemployment. On the other hand, the United States was still dealing with the depression and high unemployment numbers. Consequently, Americans who were still feeling the effects of the depression were curious about Nazism; no different than people who were curious about Communism. While the rally may have been a financial and emotional success for Kuhn and the Bund, it was condemned by many nationwide. Newspapers all over the country spoke out against the rally. Many called it an insult to George Washingtons memory while other editorials called for the deportation of many of the Bunds leaders.75 Life Magazine did a pictorial in which it showed pictures from the incident involving the Jewish man who rushed on stage. Later in the magazine, an article appeared that reminded Americans that the Bund was not the only Fascist group in America: In fear-ridden 1939, it now appears that an increasing number of [Fascists] are
73 74

Canedy, American Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma, A History of the German American Bund, 86. Ibid., 178. 75 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 87.



yielding again.76 The magazine also showed the anti-Semitic propaganda which was used by Fascist groups to trick and scare Americans. The Garden rally uncovered a threat which had been lurking for more than five years prior to the rally. In the 1930s, the overwhelming majority of Americans never participated in Nazi or other Fascist groups events. Yet, there was a fear amongst them that their country was screaming towards becoming a Fascist state. This anxiety is evident in the popular culture of the day. Perhaps the most famous work dealing with the fear of Nazism was a 1935 novel written by Sinclair Lewis titled It Cant Happen Here. The story is about a popular politician, Buzz Windrip, who wins a presidential election, seizes complete control of the nation and establishes a Nazi-style dictatorship in America. According to reviewer Herschel Brickell, Lewis gave his characters traits to resemble right-wing politicians familiar to his readers. Windrip resembled Huey Long and Bishop Prang was associated with Father Coughlin.77 The novel was successful and influential to Americas conscience. In fact, the Life Magazine article on the Garden rally was titled It Can Happen Here. Lewiss novel may have been the eras most famous work which dealt with Nazism; however, it was not the only medium to be caught up in the Nazi hysteria. Two months after the Madison Square Garden rally, a film premiered across the country: Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Similar to Lewiss novel, the movie documented the spread of Nazi ideology in America and straightforwardly cautioned that Fascism was a direct challenge to American democracy. The film received mixed reviews; many people attacked it as propaganda and war-mongering while others regarded its shocking disclosures as long overdue.78 What was striking about the movie was its release date which occurred at the height of the Brown Scare or,
76 77

Life Magazine. Fascism in America: Like Communism it Masquerades as Americanism. 6 March 1939, 57. Herschel Brickell. Review, The North American Review 240, no. 3 (Dec. 1935), 544. 78 Lewis Jacobs, "World War II and the American Film", Cinema Journal 7 (Winter, 1967-1968) 3.



as Life stated, fear-ridden 1939. This was not, however, the first time that movies were used as propaganda during the 1930s. Indeed, Nazi Germany used movies as an effective propaganda tool in America. Between 1933 and 1942, nearly five hundred German-language films were shown in the United States.79 Many of these films were screened by the Bund for its members. Perhaps the most important and influential of the Nazi movies was Leni Riefenstahls Olympia. She had sailed to America to sell the distribution rights to her film. When she arrived, she was publicly received by the Walt Disney Company.80 The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League lobbied against her and due to this backlash and Kristallnacht, her film was not picked up on her trip. This did not mean that the Bund did not screen the movie. Alongside her other film, Triumph of the Will, they showed their members a Germany which was unknown to many of them.81 The Bund began a rapid decline almost immediately after the Garden rally. In the months following the event, New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and District Attorney Thomas Dewey decide to investigate the Bunds finances in response to public revulsion towards the rally. In May, the Bunds leader, Fritz Kuhn was charged with stealing 14,584 dollars from the organization.82 His trial started on 9 November 1939, exactly sixteen years after Hitlers infamous Beer Hall Putsch. He was found guilty and sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.83 The loss of their charismatic leader hurt the Bund and the Nazi movement. Though it held on until 1941, the Bund would be relegated to being even more of a fringe group than it was in 1939. The Bunds influence was exaggerated in 1939. Their actual membership numbers were lower than the Friends of New Germany and represented a minute fraction of German immigrants.
79 80

Harry Waldman, Nazi Films in America, 1933-1942, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008), 3. Ibid., 185. 81 Diamond, The Nazi Movement in the United States: 1924-1941, 233. 82 Bell, In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism, 93. 83 Ibid., 95.



They failed miserably to attract German-Americans, many of whom came to America to escape radical political movements in Europe. They even failed to stay on friendly terms with Hitler and Nazi Germany. When summarizing the Garden rally, German consul-general Heinrich Borchers stated that, rather than sponsoring such groups as the Bund to continue fighting for National Socialism in America, they should encourage of Kuhns followers to return to Germany.84 For a country preparing for war, a few extra thousand people could have been more helpful. Therefore, the Bunds major contribution to American history was truing the government and public opinion against Germany. Many Americans thought that the Bund had the support of Nazi Germany, and parading young people in Nazi style uniforms in front of the country did little to diminish such thoughts. In the end, the Bund exposed to a curious nation the hateful and unAmerican ideas of National Socialism; a movement that could never happen in America.


Remak, Friends of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations, 40.




Bell, Leland. In Hitlers Shadow: The Anatomy of American Nazism. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1973.

Bell, Leland. The Failure of Nazism in America: The German American Bund, 1936-1941. Political Science Quarterly 85, no. 4 (Dec., 1970): 585-599.

Berninger, Dieter. Milwaukees German-American Community and the Nazi Challenge of the 1930s. The Wisconsin Magazine of History 71, no. 2 (Winter, 1987-1988): 118142.

Brickell, Herschel. Review. The North American Review 240, no. 3 (Dec. 1935): 543-546.

Canedy, Susan. America's Nazis: A Democratic Dilemma: A History of the German American Bund. Menlo Park, CA: Markgraf Pubns Group, 1990.

Daniels, Roger. The Immigrant Experience in the Gilded Age. In The Gilded Age, edited by Charles Calhoun, 87.New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2007.

Diamond, Sander. The Nazi Movement in the United States 1924-1941. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.



Grover, Warren. Nazis in Newark. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2007.

Jenkins, Philip. It Cant Happen Here: Fascism and Right-Wing Extremism in Pennsylvania, 1933-1942. Pennsylvania History 62, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 31-58.

Jacobs, Lewis. "World War II and the American Film." Cinema Journal 7 (Winter, 1967-1968): 1-21.

Remak, Joachim. Friends of the New Germany: The Bund and German-American Relations. The Journal of Modern History 29, no. 1 (Mar., 1957): 38- 41.

Waldman, Harry. Nazi Films in America, 1933-1942. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2008.

Wittke, Carl. American Germans in Two World Wars. The Wisconsin Magazine of History 27, no. 1 (Sep. 1943): 6-16.

Primary Sources:

Life Magazine. Fascism in America: Like Communism it Masquerades as Americanism. 6 March 1939, 57. New York Times. Nazi Actions Here Bring an Inquiry. 10 October 1933, 11. New York Times. Arrest is Ordered of Spanknoebell as German Agent. 28 October 1933, 1.



New York Times. Nazi Group Here Changes Its Name. 1 April 1936. New York Times. Asks Laws to Curb Foreign Agitators. 16 February 1935, 1. New York Times. Mayor to Permit Big Bund Meeting. 18 February 1939, 1. New York Times. Bund Rally to Get Huge Police Guard. 19 February 1939, 1. New York Times. 22,000 Nazis Hold Rally in Garden; Police Check Foes. 21 February 1939, 1.