New York City, New York October 30, 1939

On this date in the Manhattan borough of New York City hun­dreds of Amer­i­can Nazis paraded in front of the head­quarters of the German Amer­i­can Bund (Amerika­deutscher Bund; bund means “alli­ance” in English). Among German speakers, Bund mem­bers, and fascist sup­porters the orga­ni­za­tion was simply “Bund.” Carrying the Stars and Stripes, the Bund flag, and the German national flag, the swas­tika, and pre­ceded by a marching band, thou­sands of uni­formed Bund mem­bers and fans lined both sides of the street for blocks in sup­port of German Fuehrer Adolf Hitler’s decla­ra­tion of war against Poland (quickly van­quished), Great Britain, and France just 9 weeks before. For the German Amer­i­can Bund, fascist sym­pa­thizers, and con­ceiv­ably for by­standers that day too, Nazi Germany’s launch of a global war justified a big parade.

German immigration played an important role in popu­la­ting the United States. Over 7.2 mil­lion Germans had settled largely in urban areas between 1820 and 1920. Port cities along the East Coast had large German-speaking pop­u­lations. Mid­western cities like Chi­cago, St. Louis, Cin­cin­nati, and Mil­wau­kee were favorite desti­na­tions too. So were Texas and the West Coast. Germans fleeing eco­no­mic and polit­i­cal dis­order in their coun­try during the 1920s increased the German Amer­i­can popu­la­tion in New York City to 683,338. By 1938 New York City had the third largest German-speaking popu­la­tion in the world. Thus New York City was the logi­cal nur­sery for ethnic, cul­tural, social, and polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tions, including right-wing groups that pro­moted favor­able views of Nazi Germany. The German Amer­i­can Bund was the largest of these groups, founded in 1936 in New York, but it built on the suc­cess of the Friends of the New Germany, founded in 1933 in New York City in a merger of two ear­lier orga­ni­za­tions by German immigrants supporting Nazism and Hitler’s Third Reich.

The leader (Bundesfuehrer) of the German Amer­i­can Bund was Fritz Julius Kuhn, a German-born U.S. citi­zen (as of 1934). Geo­graphi­cally, the Bund divided the U.S. into 3 regions (Gaue) and 69 local branches (Orts­gruppen), the admin­is­tra­tive model being Nazi Germany. As might be expected, Gau Ost (East) had 40 local branches with the major­ity (17) in New York state, followed by Gau Mid­west (19) and Gau West (10). The Bund estab­lished a num­ber of training camps that also served as summer youth camps (see photo essay below). The camps were sites for rallies replete with Nazi insig­nia, troops marching in crisp uni­forms practicing their Hitler salute and Heil Hitler-ing every­body, and much ranting against the admin­is­tra­tion of Presi­dent Frank­lin D. Roose­velt, Jewish Amer­i­can groups, “Jewish-controlled” media, com­mu­nism, “Moscow-directed” trade unions, and Amer­i­can boy­cotts of German goods. For youngsters and youth there were out­door summer activ­i­ties like pic­nicking, swim­ming, canoeing, hiking, singing around the camp­fire, archery and rifle prac­tice blended with generous helpings of Nazi ideo­logy, Aryan (white) supremacy, and anti-Semitism—all for a weekly cost of $4.00 per person.

The year 1939 was the best of times and the worst of times for Bundes­fuehrer Fritz Kuhn. Con­victed of tax eva­sion, forgery, and embezzle­ment ($14,000 from the Bund), Kuhn was sent up­river to New York state’s Sing Sing Pri­son on Decem­ber 6, 1939, to begin serving his sen­tence. While there his 1934 U.S. citizen­ship was revoked owing to his status as a foreign agent of the Nazi govern­ment, and with that he was trans­ferred to a federal intern­ment camp in Texas as a dan­ger­ous enemy alien. Other leading Bundsmen were also interned, others jailed for various offenses. After the war Kuhn was deported to Germany and died at age 55 in Munich in 1951. As for Kuhn’s German Amer­i­can Bund, by 1940 it was on life support, its pro­grams under intense govern­ment scru­tiny and its precious camps as a conse­quence suffering signi­ficant drops in atten­dance and acti­vi­ties. Dispirited Bund stal­warts returned to Germany. The Bund’s Unter­gang came when it was offi­cially dis­banded days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Germany’s decla­ra­tion of war against the United States on December 11, 1941.

The German American Bund and Its Summer Youth Camps on the Eve of World War II

German American Bund parade, New York City, October 30, 1939Nazi American Rally, Madison Square Garden, New York City, February 20, 1939

Left: Carrying U.S. and swastika flags, Amer­i­can Nazis parade down East 86th Street, one street up from the national head­quarters of the German Amer­i­can Bund at 178 East 85th Street in York­ville, com­monly referred to as German­town, on Manhat­tan’s Upper East Side on Octo­ber 30, 1939. Although not offi­cially part of Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party, the Bund acted as if it were. Even their official attire approx­i­mated German Nazis right down to brown shirts and leather jack­boots. Bundists had to hold Amer­i­can citizen­ship. Para­doxi­cally, for all the media and popu­lar atten­tion the Bund attracted during its hey­day, pre­cise mem­ber­ship figures are guess­ti­mates, ranging from 25,000 dues-paying Bundists to as low as 6,000.

Right: An all-white crowd estimated at 20,000–22,000 American Nazi acti­vists and enthu­si­asts from all over the coun­try attended the German Amer­i­can Bund’s heavily guarded “Pro-American Rally” at New York’s old Madi­son Square Garden at Eighth Ave. and Fiftieth St. on Mon­day, Febru­ary 20, 1939. Behind center stage was a 30‑ft-tall por­trait of George Washing­ton, claimed as an icon by the Bund, which called him “the first Fascist” and asserting Washing­ton “knew demo­cracy could not work.” The key­note speaker was the bump­tious 43‑year-old Bundes­fuehrer Fritz Julius Kuhn dressed in his usual gray and black para­military uni­form. Kuhn was a former German infan­try offi­cer in World War I, a woman­izer, an alco­holic, and a petty thief, the latter trait leading to his repeated arrests in his native Germany. (See YouTube video below.) All during the rally scuffles occurred out­side the indoor arena where 10,000 or more anti-Nazi and so-called “Jewish mili­tia” pro­testers massed, occa­sionally rushing the cordon of 1,700 tear-gas-armed police­men in attempts at forcing entry, only to scuffle with Kuhn’s busy storm­troopers once in­side the audi­to­rium. Kuhn, who spoke English with a thick German accent and whom the media nick­named the “vest-pocket Hitler,” was him­self the target of a punch when a 26‑year-old unem­ployed Jewish plumber attempted to attack him on the rostrum as he launched into an anti-Semitic harangue. Kuhn’s strong-arm men came to his rescue. The riotous “Garden Party” made national and international headlines.

Nazi Bund Camp Nordland flag lowering 7-21-37Nazi Bund Camp Siegfried near Yaphank, New York

Left: Youths at Camp Nordland, a German American Bund camp in Andover Town­ship, New Jersey, stand at attention as the Amer­i­can flag (left) and the German Amer­i­can Youth Move­ment flag (right) are lowered in a cere­mony at sun­down on July 21, 1937, four days after the camp was opened. A sign in the form of a shield to the right of the troop of boys con­tains a sig rune (or Siegrune, which roughly equates to “Victory Letter”) and the words “Deutscher Junge, Deutsches Maedel, Auch Du gehoerst zu uns!” (German boy, German girl, you are one of us!). From 1937 to 1941, the Bund’s 204‑acre resort camp on the shore of Mac­Donald Lake played host to Italian-Amer­i­can fascist leaders and held joint rallies with the Klu Klux Klan. In April 1941 a Sussex County sheriff and 10 depu­tized Amer­i­can Legion­naires descended on the camp, which resulted in its clo­sure and confis­ca­tion. In time the camp became the township’s “Hillside Park.”

Right: Thousands of German Americans give the Nazi salute to columns of young men marching down Adolf Hitler Strasse in crisp Hitler-esque brown shirts, black ties, Sam Brown belts, and dark trousers. The event cele­brated German Day and took place at Camp Sieg­fried, the German Amer­i­can Bund’s camp near the bucolic village of Yaphank in Suffolk County, Long Island. German Day festi­vities drew 40,000 attendees in August 1938 according to the New York Times. An impres­sive pres­ence of some 2,000 uni­formed mem­bers of the Bund’s para­military Ordnungs­dienst (police ser­vice) pro­vided secu­rity. Camp Sieg­fried was 50 miles from New York City. Every Sunday during the sum­mer the Long Island Rail Road ran a Camp Sieg­fried Special that carried many hun­dreds of Bund mem­bers, Nazi admirers, and sundry fascists from New York’s Penn Station to Yaphank.

Nazi Bund Camp Wille und Macht, New Jersey 1934Nazi Bund celebrates Hitler’s birthday, Los Angeles, 4-20-35

Left: The boys in this photo are campers at Camp Wille und Macht (Will and Power) at Griggs­town, New Jersey, in 1934. The boy on the right holding up the Iron Cross flag is wearing a sig rune arm­band. On the flag­staff behind the Iron Cross flag hangs a por­trait (par­tially hidden) of Paul von Hinden­burg, Germany’s presi­dent from 1925 to his death, age 86, in 1934. It was Hinden­burg who reluc­tantly appointed 43‑year-old Adolf Hitler to the chan­cellor­ship on Janu­ary 30, 1933, following a series of elec­toral vic­to­ries by Hitler’s Nazi Party. For more stories on Nazi sum­mer camps in the U.S. (there were even­tu­ally 21 camps coast to coast), click here.

Right: Bund members and Nazi admirers on the West Coast cele­brate Hitler’s 46th birth­day at the Deutsches Haus hall, restau­rant, and tavern on West Fif­teenth St., Los Angeles, on April 20, 1935. A color guard carrying the Amer­i­can flag, the Bund flag, and the German national (swas­tika) flag take center stage. Under the large German eagle (left in photo) is a photo of Hitler in mili­tary uni­form. Birthday festi­vities included a film show and a good old-fashioned torch­light parade attended by more than 2,000 people.

German American Bund Rally, Madison Square Garden, New York City, February 20, 1939