INTRODUCTION/ ABOUT ME
My name is Nick Dias, and I am a third year History and Political Science double major at University of California, Santa Barbara. I am from San Francisco and plan on attending law school upon graduation.
Growing up, my family had a trailer in Lake Berryessa, Napa county, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. As a kid, I loved the pool, spending almost every summer evening swimming laps, or simply enjoying the cool water in the 95F degree heat. This enjoyment quickly came to an end, as on one hot afternoon, my Mom said we couldn’t go to the pool anymore because men with Swastikas tattooed were there.
I was confused. How could one tattoo dictate what I could and couldn’t do, and how could this symbol, this ‘Swastika’ hold so much weight in our society. This was my first exposure with neo-nazism in the United States, and despite not knowing the history behind the movement, this confusion quickly grew into fear. The image of the Swastika, and neo-nazism grew in my head, created a hysteria and frightened interest with this symbol.
As I grew older, this fear of Neo-Nazism has dissipated but it has been countered by a seemingly stark rise of white nationalists movements within the United States. It seems that these movements and ‘pro-white’ rallies have grown tenfold since my childhood, and especially in today’s time, it appears that they aren’t going to dissipate any time soon.
As exemplified by the ‘Unite the Right’ riots in Charlottesville in 2016 followed by the President’s dismissal of their actions stating that there were “Some Very Fine People on Both Sides” these groups still exist, and by not condoning their actions, we are allowing them to persevere.
With this information, I decided to research what started this Nazi movement within the United States, and how this movement gained so much support. My research began with analyzing the German-American Bund, but I quickly came across one particular event in which this group gained a lot of notoriety. That being the Pro America Rally at Madison Square Garden, 1939.
Altering my research, this paper primarily focuses on this event, but also upon the preparation for it, and the general response of the public. With this in mind, I hoped to gain a better perspective to analyze the ‘Unite the Right’ rally today, and how our response as a nation measured up throughout history.
My research was based upon an array of books, articles, and newspapers. I started with books specifically on the German-American Bund, but by looking at their footnotes and references, I was able to expand my research. I found the original primary sources that these authors credited their findings too.
Many of these original sources were in fact newspapers, and through the New York Times archive, I was able to base a lot of my findings on their first-hand reporting. I also based a lot of my research upon an extremely interesting document, a pamphlet detailing the actual speeches from the rally, which offered a fascinating first hand account of the parties platform, straight from their leaders’ mouths. With my research process in mind, I now present my paper. It is split into five sections, and details not only the rally, but the rise and fall of the German-American Bund.
HISTORY OF THE BUND
The United States sector of the Nazi party started as the National-Socialist Teutonia Association, primarily composed of recent German immigrants fleeing the economic hardships inflicted upon post World War One Germany. This narrative has been debunked though as historians, primarily Bradely Hart, have found that financial concerns weren’t the only factor initiating this desertion from home.
The true reason that the United States saw an immediate increase in German immigrants was attributed to the fact that many associates of the National sSocialist German Workers Party, attempting to escape prosecution and jail time, escaped prosecution and found a safe haven within the United States. Many found this sanctuary in Detroit Michigan, leading to the birth of the Teutonia in 1924.
This group’s aim, to create a home for members of the Nazi party exiled to the United States quickly changed course as in 1931 this group was replaced by the Gauleiteng-USA Party, later still to be replaced by the Friends of Germany in 1933 upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.
This concept of a Nazi party in the United States followed the aspirations of the German DAI (Detsches Ausland-Institut), an organization aimed at studying and stimulating German interests abroad with a primary focus on maintaining German culture through schools, theaters and churches within the United States.
Despite these efforts, the recently formed Friends ran into troubles as it quickly grew a poor reputation for its openly admitted connection to the Nazi hierarchy, bringing sharp criticism from both the American and German governments.
All this culminated in the 1936 order from German officials that all nationalists within the group return home. Instantly decimating its ranks, its astound leader, Fritz Julious Kuhn quickly salvaged the remnants of American Nazism and in 1936, formed the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund, today known as the German-American Bund.
While the Bund represented the most prominent of these Nazi organizations, it was not alone. Since the National-Socialist Teutonia Association, Nazi groups had been competing for support around the United States.
It should be mentioned that not all German-American groups believed in the anti-Semitism supported by the German Nazi party, as there were Nazi groups openly denouncing Hitler’s anti-Semitic rhetoric. Despite these fault lines within German-American groups in relation to the Nazi party, the Bund was the most popular sect within the nation engulfing other groups as its following grew.
With its membership averaging $9 a year and its headquarters on East 85th street in Yorkville New York City, this newly formed group rapidly rose in popularity, surpassing the accomplishments of Nazism in past movements within the United States. With a sect in every state, save Louisiania, the Bund bolstered a self tallied membership fluctuating between 10,000-30,000 with 100,000’s of sympathizers. The membership qualifications followed strict Nazi sentiment as only those of ‘Aryan descent, free from Jewish or Colored Blood” were allowed to join.
Exercising similar policies as the Nazi Party overseas, the Bund instituted a band of its most dedicated and fanatical fighters into a special rank, the Ordnungsdienst (OD), whose primary duties drew comparisons to those of the SS in Hiter’s regime.
In their attempts to popularize the idea of a German American community, the Bund went as far as to distribute pamphlets titled “one great, nation-wide, respect-commanding movement” as well as glorifying Hitler and the movement through Bund Newspapers, Nazi films, primarily The Triumph of the Will, and finally through the distribution of Hitler’s own Mien Kampf.
Going as far as to form Hitler Youth across the country, the Bund was clearly growing in notoriety and popularity within the United States. This popularity would quickly dissipate, as the events of February 02nd, 1939 showed citizens across the country the true threat of the movement at the ‘Pro America Rally’ in New York City.
PLANNING THE RALLY
Planned by Francs Kuhn, this rally was held in celebration of an overturning of an unfavorable decision against the German-America Settlement League as well as in honor of the birthday of one of our founding fathers, George Washington.
Selling thousands of tickets($1.10 for a seat on the main floor, 40¢ for one on the balcony), this event took center stage at Madison Square Garden, the heart of New York City. Following an agreement with New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Kuhn promised not to display any anti-Semitic sentiment, nor exhibit any anti-Semitic speeches in order to gain the city’s blessing for the rally.
Leading up to the rally, it has been reported that Kuhn actually wanted authorities to cancel the rally as the Bund, low on money, believed that a deprivation of free speech would increase their popularity. Despite Kuhn’s hopes, the rally continued as planned, even garnering support form the American Jewish Committee, exemplifying their endorsement in an open letter, later published by the New York Times,
“The German-American Bund is, in our opinion, completely anti-American and anti-democratic. It is a foreign-inspired organization endeavoring to arouse in the United States the same hatreds which in Germany have brought the condemnation of the entire civilized world. Nevertheless, because we believe that the basic rights of free speech and free assembly must never be tampered with in the United States, we are opposed to any action to prevent the Bund from airing its views.
It is natural today, when our American system is being attacked from many sides, that people should seek to suppress their enemies. We are confident, however, that citizens of the United States will reject all un-American propaganda without resorting to any such violation of the liberties guaranteed to all by the Bill of Rights.”
Singed by Edward S. Greenbaum, Chairman of the Survey Committee of the American Jewish Committee
Mayor LaGuardia realized the dangers posed by this rally and dispatched the highest amount of police to a single event in the city’s history. 1,700 uniformed police officers patrolled outside the venue as well as 600 undercover detectives and non uniformed officers scattered throughout the hall, and even 35 firefighters, armed with a heavy-duty fire hose in preparation of a riot.
Bomb squads also combed the arena in response to a threat received a week earlier, boasting a series of time activated devices to explode during the event. New York was ready for the influx of Nazi rallyers, and was prepared to protect their guaranteed rights at all costs. Chief Inspector Louis F. Costuma illustrated this commitment to safety, telling the press, ‘We had enough police here to stop a revolution’ in an interview in preparation for the rally.’
While Madison Square Garden had prepared itself for the German Bund, many around New York City didn’t consider the Nazi sect so welcome in their city. About 100,000 anti-Nazi protesters gathered around the arena in protest of the bund, carrying signs stating “Smash Anti-Semitism” and “Drive the Nazis Out of New York.”
A total of three attempts were made to break the arm-linking lines of police, the first of these, a group of World War One Veterans, wrapped in Stars and Stripes, were held of by police on mounted horseback. The next, a ‘burly man carrying an American flag’ and finally, a Trotskyites group known as the Socialist Workers Party, who like those before, had their efforts to fight anti-semitism halted by police. Chief Inspector Costuma’s Police force acting security was exposed to an odd form of protest as well, characterized by the New York Times as:
“One of the most mystifying disturbances came from a blaring speaker set up in a second-floor room of a rooming house at the southern corner of Forty-ninth Street and Eight Avenue. Shortly before 8 o’clock it began blaring out a denunciation of Nazis and urging “Be American, Stay at Home.”
Upon investigation, the room was found untenanted and the voice of these ‘denunciations’ coming from a record attachment, set off by a time set to go off at 7:55pm. Full of dramatics, the night’s main act saw Joseph Goldstien, a former New York magistrate, exit a taxi cab in front of the rally holding a summons for the arrest of Fritz Julius Kuhn in relation to a criminal libel suit filed earlier.
Goldestien, like all other opposing efforts to gain admittance to the Garden, was stopped by police, this time Inspector Costuma himself, denying the former magistrate entry based on the failure to present a ticket. As the night went on, outside Madison Square Garden, a total of 13 people were arrested in protest of the rally. Their names, ages, charges and sentences(if available) are included below:
- Isadore Greenbaum (26) – disorderly conduct (rushing the stage) – $25 fine
- John Doe (Fred Ryde) – disorderly conduct – $2 fine
- Lawerence Paladri – disorderly conduct – $2 fine
- Peter Saunders(34) – disorderly conduct and cruelty to animals (lunged on a mounted officer)
- George Mason(19) – yelled ‘keep the Nazi’s out of New York’ – $10 fine
- Stephen Carmalt(20) – disorderly conduct – suspended sentence
- Robert Lee (39) – disorderly conduct – $10 fine
- J Walter Flynn(32) – $10 fine
- Michael Naradich(26) – disorderly conduct
- Peter Shopes (22) – disorderly conduct
- Lionel Sheppard (26) – disorderly conduct
- Abe Dollinger (27) – disorderly conduct
- Enfrim Lidew (50) – disorderly conduct
Bolstering a 30ft picture of George Washington surrounded by American flags and Swastika-emblazoned banners of the Bund, the atmosphere of the rally drew obvious commonalities to scenes in Berlin. Surrounded by posters voicing such messages as “Wake Up America – Smash Jewish Communism”, “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian America” and “1,000,000 Bund members by 1940”, Fritz Khun immediately broke his promise to Mayor LaGuardia, foreshadowing the rest of the night with a clear anti-Semitic theme.
Described as ‘Orderly enough’ three thousand OD members acted as ushers as nearly 20,000 Bund members poured into the arena. Many dressed in uniforms and adorned the Nazi salute upon entering as all anticipated a night of unity and German excellency as Madison Square Garden quickly turned into a microcosm of Nazism within the United States.
The stage was clad with members of the Hitler youth from across the nation, and an orchestra played as members marched through the aisles and calmly took their seats. Copies of Mein Kampf and Father Coughlin’s Social Justice were sold in the hallways normally used by hockey or fight fans to buy beer and hotdogs. Nazi posters lined the upper balcony and the Reichsadler hung above Founding Father George Washington’s head, bolstering the image of American Nazism, creating a scene many deemed unimaginable within the United States.
As with any American event, the rally opened with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, sung by Margarete Rittershaush, shortly followed by a range of speeches by elite officials of the bund.
James Wheeler-Hill, national secretary, opened the night presenting the fact that “If [George] Washington were alive today, he would be a friend of Adolf Hitler ” to roaring applause. Calling upon his ‘fellow Christian Americans,’ Wheeler-Hill preached a challenge to restore America to ‘True Americans’ while condemning President Roosevelts Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, for attacking Nazi officials.
George Froboese, Midwestern Gau leader, pushed themes of ‘Jewish world domination’ blaming the ‘oriental cunning of the Jew Karl Marx-Mordecais’ for the class warfare felt across the country.
West Coast leader, Hermann Schwinn chose to denounce the Jewish control of Hollywood and news industries, following a common theme of the night with a fantastically anti-semitic run-on sentence, “Everything inimical to those Nations which have freed themselves of alien domination is ‘News’ to be played up and twisted to fan the flames of hate in the hearts of Americans, whereas the Menace of Anti-National, Gold-Hating Jewish-Bolshevism, is deliberately minimized.”
Last to speak, the Bundersfuhrer himself, Fritz Kuhn continued to push the anti-Semitic theme, going as far as to refer to President Roosevelt as ‘Rosenfield’ and the man to which he promised to make no anti-Semitic remarks, Fiorello “Jew Lumpen” LaGuardia. himself.
All came to an immediate halt as in the middle of Kuhn’s final speech, a man dressed in blue broke through the lines of OD men and ran onto the stage and charged at the speaker. Quickly swarmed by the Ordnungsdienst, he was subdued in an effective routine of punches and stomps exemplifying an ‘uncanny replication of Nazi thuggery’ [as] a pack of uniformed men blaste[ed] away with fists and boots on a lone Jewish victim.”
Later identified as 26 year old plumbing assistant Isadore Greenbaum, the lone victim was pulled away by a team of police, saving the young man from serious injury. Attempting to control the riled up crowd, Kuhn delivered his rousing finish, advocating for an America ruled by White Gentiles, free from a Jewish Hollywood and news.
“The Bund is open to you, provided you are sincere, of good character, of White Gentile Stock, and an American Citizen imbued with patriotic zeal. Therefore: Join!” As Kuhn exited the stage, 20 thousand Bund members chanted “Free America! Free America! Free America” in the biggest Nazi rally in our history. The order of speeches is included at the end of this document.
Just like that, it all was over. At 11:15 members of the Bund buttoned up their overcoats, conveniently hiding their uniforms, and were escorted through police lines along Fifty-Second amid the crowds of protesters waiting outside. Ralliers were greeted with a roar of catcalls, jeers, and even a few punches, but by midnight, all was quiet, or as quiet as it could be in downtown New York.
Isadore Greenbaum never intended to run onto the stage. A former deck engineer and chief petty officer, Greenbaum snuck into the rally, but his anger quickly took hold of him as he listened to Kuhn speak. Speaking years later in 1989, Greenbaum characterized his actions as “I went down to the Garden without any intention of interrupting, but being that they talked so much against my religion and there was so much persecution I lost my head and I felt it was my duty to talk.”
When asked about the cause of his actions, Greenbaum quickly rebutted with “Gee, what would you have done if you were in my place listening to that s.o.b. hollering against the government and publicly kissing [Adolf] Hitler’s behind – while thousands cheered? Well, I did it.” For his actions in disturbing the biggest Nazi rally in the United States, Greenbaum was sentenced to 10 days in jail, but instead paid the $25 fine.
Reactions of the press went wild in response to the scenes in New York. Drawing similarities to Nazi Germany, The Los Angeles Times reported the horrors of storm troopers and Nazi salutes in honor of George Washingtons birthday. Basking in this new found popularity, Kuhn’s bliss was short-lived as May LaGuardia, outraged by the violence at the rally, ordered an investigation into the Bunds financial records. Investigators found what they were looking for as the Bund’s books showed more than $14,000 raised at Madison Square Garden was unaccounted for.
Kuhn was later arrested and accused of embezzlement, and even pursued by the Dies committee in January 1939. LaGuardia even instituted a new edict outlawing the use of personal bodyguards at rallies, stating that ‘only duty licensed special police man may be used,’ in an effort to ban further Nazi rallies.
After Kuhn’s arrest, the Bund’s days were numbered. Outraged by the embarrassment of the rally, the Nazi Party released a statement disowning and disavowing any connection to Fritz Kuhn and the Bund. Stockholders of the Bund began to cash in their shares while readers of Bund newspapers quickly canceled their subscriptions.
The German-American Bund in the United States was ending, and all of its rank and file members defected en masse. Bund members attempted to create an image of Kuhn as a Martyr to Jewish revenge, but nonetheless, the group was running out of money as membership declined.
Williame Kunze replaced Kuhn as Bundesfuher, but an ineffective leader, was unable to captivate the respect and obedience of remaining members. By the summer of 1941, the Bund was ordered by the United States government not to hold public meetings, and after the Pearl Harbor attacks of December that year, an executive committee within the United States Government unanimously adopted to disband the Bund, and three days later, the Treasury Department raided the Bund’s National Headquarters, and seized all records, thoroughly ending its reign and denouncing Nazisim in the United States.
Through this research, I was able to analyze the German Bund and the Pro America rally, and specifically focus on the role that outside actors played on its occurrence and perception throughout the country. I found that repercussions for this rally were harsh, as even the German government spoke out against it, and denounced its following.
The rally was met with nationwide retaliation at the German-Bund, as citizens were appalled by what they heard through their radios. Furthermore, this event happened before the Holocaust, so while the Nazi party was disliked, it hadn’t amassed to the hated entity it represents today. Nonetheless, the anti-Jewish platform held centerstage for this group, exemplified by their speeches, and violence.
The American Government, quickly realizing their mistakes, work to ban this group, arresting their leader, Fritz Kuhn, while seizing their records in an attempt to destroy Nazism in the United States. In this sense, the Government immediately condoned the actions of this group, denouncing their hate, while ensuring safety and freedom within the country to all.
Bringing this back to the current White Supremacy movement, we are witnessing similar occurrences, but completely different reactions. While looking back at the occurrence of a Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden, my first reaction was disbelief that something like this could happen in our country, but yet, I was reminded that these rallies are still occurring, and that white supremacy and the alternative right have merged with neo-Nazism, and created a hate-filled movement in our country.
It is easy to look back in history and immediately denounce actors for what they are doing, but it is harder to do that in real time. We are witnessing hatred and prejudice in our lives everyday with the existence of these groups, but yet, these groups continue to persevere.
This research left me pondering how will modern day rallies be perceived in the future, and furthermore, how will the reactions our country be recognized. White supremacy and hate is becoming socialized today, whether it be masked neo-Nazi’s marching Washington, or white supremacists threatening a ‘civil war’ if Trump isn’t re-elected in 2020. With a quick search of ‘White Supremacy United States’, I was immediately exposed to many news articles on hateful events, that I never knew even occurred.
White Supremacy and furthermore neo-Nazism must be spoken about more, especially under a President who actively defends their actors. These movements aren’t recognized for their hateful platform nor their actions, and are just becoming another news story in today’s media. Through my research, I was able to conclude that the only way to stop this movement of hate is top down, driven by the government in order to protect us all. If the government continues to ignore this issue, time will only tell how we look back at our actions of today.
ORDER OF EVENTS
- Star Spangled Banner, sang by Margarete Rittershaus
- Reverend Sigmund von Bosse – clergyman from Roxborough, Pennsylvania
- James Wheeler-Hill – National Secretary of the Bund
- Rudolf Markmann – Leader of the Eastern Gau
- George Froboese – Leader of the Midwestern Gau
- Hermann Schwinn – Leader of the West Coast Gau
- Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze – national public relations director, and second-in-command
- Fritz Kuhn – Bundesführer of the German American Bund
Gray Rosie, “Trump Defends White-Naitonalist Protesters: ‘Some Very Fine People on Both Sides’ The Atlantic, August 15, 2017
This article offered the Donald Trump quote I was looking for to illustrate the current administrations defense of White Supremacist movements in the United States. It was found with a quick google search of ‘Trump, White Supremacy.’
Hart Bradley W, Hitler’s American Friends; the Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018
I based a majority of my research on this book as it demonstrated the origins of the Pro-America Rally, as well as the series of events that unfolded during the rally. I also used this book to find more primary sources to research the bund and the rally further. I rented it from the UCSB library.
Diamond, Sander, The Nazi Movement in the United States 1924-1941, (London: Cornell University Press, 1974)
In this, Diamond details the origins of the Bund, and how it grew to such fruition. As with the above source, I used its references to find more primary sources to base my research upon. I also rented this book from the UCSB library.
Bell Lelland, “The Failure of Nazism in America: The German American Bund, 1936-1941, Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 85,  (December 1970)
This article, found on the JSTOR database, was extremely helpful to find the true origins of the Bund. It paired well with the Diamond book, and referenced it a lot. As with the above source, I referenced this article in relation to the origins of the bund, and its creation. I found this article by searching for information about the German-American Bund on the UCSB library website
“Turn Verein Scores Hitler,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 5, 1933
This newspaper details further information about the rally, primarily the fact that Fritz Kuhn didn’t want the event to actually happen. I only used it to really pull that one fact. I found this paper because it was referenced in the Hart book.
“22,000 Nazis Hold Rally in Garden; Police Check Foes” New York Times, Tuesday, February 21, 1939.
I found this newspaper on the New York Times database. It was referenced throughout all my secondary sources, and I used to to find further primary information. It was extremely informative, specifically the publication of the arrest report in relation to the public protest against the rally.
“Bund Rally Bomb Rumor Fails to Worry Mayor,” New York Times, February 21, 1939
This was also used throughout my secondary sources. As with the above source, I found it on the New York Times database.
Bernstien, Arnie, Swastika Nation, Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund, (New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 2013)
This secondary source by Bernstien served as one of my most referenced sources throughout this paper. I found a lot of the information I needed, primarily details about the actual rally. I also used it to find primary sources, like the newspapers mentioned above.
“Record Detail of 1,700 Cuts off the Area to Protesters – Thousands in Vicinity” New York Times, Tuesday, February 21st
I found this newspaper on the New York Times data base, and it served as another primary source that spoke about the rally.
“Free America! The German American Bund at Madison Square Garden, February 20, 1939. Speeches by J. Wheeler-Hill, Rudolf Markman, George Froboese, Hermann Schwinn, G. William Kunze and the Bund Fuehrer: Fritz Kuh,” February 1939, 2.
This was just a fascinating source which I found referenced in the Diamond book. It is a record of the speeches at the 1939 rally distributed after the fact. It presented an amazing first hand account of the bund, and what it stood for.
Maloney Russel, “Heil Washington!” The New Yorker, April 4, 1939
“Heil Washington!” Was referenced in the Bernstien book, and spoke a lot a bout Isadore Greenbaum, primarily his rush to the stage.
Bump Philip, “When Nazis rallied in Manhattan, one Working-Class Jewish Man From Brooklyn Took Them on” The Washington Post, February 20, 2019
This piece by Bump was an interview with Greenbaum in 1989. I was able to pull a lot of quotes from this interview, and it offered a first hand account of what it felt like to rush the stage. I found this document with a quick google search of ‘Isadore Greenbaum’
“Many Injured in Bund riots,” Los Angeles Times, February 21, 1939, 1.
This newspaper article was referenced in the Bernstien book, and details a perspective of the rally from outside of New York.