I've spent half a century writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
The German-American Bund was established in the 1930s to promote Nazism and the “Aryan race.” One of its activities was the building of summer camps where ethnic German families could enjoy each other's company while learning about National Socialism. One such camp covered 187 acres on Long Island.
The German-American Bund
First, there was The Free Society of Teutonia. It was founded in 1924 in Chicago as a social club for German-Americans, but increasingly it became political and adhered to extremist right-wing views. It mirrored the anti-Communism and anti-Semitism that was developing in Germany and it encouraged its members to also join the Nazi Party.
The society morphed into other iterations before emerging as the German-American Bund in 1933. (Bund means federation). The group copied the Nazis in Germany with similar uniforms, swastikas, Sieg Heil salutes, and racist ideologies.
The Bund was led by Fritz Kuhn, formerly a native of Munich who became an American citizen in 1934. The membership, though only between 5,000 and 10,000 held dreams of Nazism ruling the United States.
They held miniature Nuremberg-style rallies and created an imitation Hitler Youth movement. Members started harassing Jewish-owned businesses and handing out Aryan-themed pamphlets. They campaigned against Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1936, accusing him of being part of a Jewish-Bolshevik plot (the similarities with today's political conspiracy theories are startling).
To further its ideological beliefs, the Bund set up camps such as Camp Hindenburg in Wisconsin, Camp Nordland in New Jersey, and Camp Siegfried in New York.
Let's go to Yaphank, New York. It's about 60 miles from Brooklyn on Long Island. It's here that the Bund owned land beside a small lake and set up Camp Siegfried. It was operated by a subsidiary, the German-American Settlement League.
The area was subdivided and crisscrossed by streets with names such as Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels Streets. The Bund wanted “National-minded Americans of Aryan blood” to build summer cottages on the land; those who took up the offer would own their homes but the Bund retained ownership of the land. This was a maneuver to ensure that only “the right people” were part of the community.
Nazi iconography was prominent in Camp Siegfried in the form of swastikas built into the stonework of houses and shrubs planted with the same symbol. There were uniforms, of course. Men dressed in outfits similar to those of the Third Reich, women in traditional dirndls. Children also marched around in garb that looked a lot like those of Hitler's Nazi youth organizations.
On some mornings, “Camp Siegfried Specials” pulled out of the New York Penn Station and, when they arrived in Yaphank, they were greeted by people dressed in Nazi military uniforms, delivering the straight-arm salute and yelling “Heil Hitler.” Then, it was off for a fun day of indoctrination, marching, and singing of patriotic (German not American) songs.
Arnie Bernstein, author of 2013 book Swastika Nation, notes that “The most important thing about these places was these youth camps, where they were training the future little Aryans who they thought would run the country. On the surface it was like any kind of regular camp—swimming, athletic contests, singing, dancing—but underneath there were some really ugly things going on there.”
Abusive Practices at Camp Siegfried
While the youth were cherished as future leaders they were also used as slave labourers. The camp administrators had the youngsters build most of its infrastructure; the work was unpaid. The Bund did this to save money, of course, but also because the leadership refused to bring in trades because it was convinced unions were run by Jews.
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Young Aryans were encouraged to get busy breeding more young Aryans. Those women who were reluctant to get with the program were impregnated by camp staff in a non-consensual process. There were also allegations of sexual misconduct that had nothing to do with procreation. What's known in the criminal statutes as rape.
Camp Siegfried Shut Down
In February 1939, the Bund filled New York's Madison Square Garden with 22,000 enthusiastic Nazi supporters. A gigantic banner of George Washington, who the Bund had declared was “America's first fascist,” was flanked by swastikas and other Nazi symbols.
Bund leader Fritz Kuhn, who had declared himself the American Führer, called on “. . . our government [to] be returned to the American People who founded it.” Other speakers railed against the imagined Jewish control of government.
This rally marked the high point of German-American Bund activity, although, from the viewpoint of reasonable people, it ought to be considered a low point.
Protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, the Bund was nonetheless being kept under surveillance by the FBI. By December 1939, authorities had Kuhn in Sing Sing Prison, having been convicted of embezzlement and tax evasion.
Then, a few days after Pearl Harbour, Germany declared war on the United States. That marked the end of the Bund, which was already falling out of favour with Americans. Camp Siegfried was shut down by the U.S. government almost immediately.
Camp Siegfried is still operated by the German-American Settlement League, although it's now called German Gardens. Hitler Strasse and Goebbels Strasse have been given less pungent names, but the covenants about land ownership remain.
Among the league's bylaws is the statement that its goal is to “cultivate and propagate in every direction true Germanic culture and to cultivate the German language, customs and ideals,” And, its board insists on screening people who want to buy property. The Washington Post notes that “the housing bylaws [are] designed to keep out blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office.”
It took until 2017, for the German-American Settle League to agree to end its racially biased housing policies. In the words of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, this closes the chapter on “discriminatory practices [that] were a remnant of a disgraceful past that has no place in New York or anywhere.”
- After hiding in the shadows for a couple of decades, George Lincoln Rockwell founded the American Nazi Party in 1967. It has disbanded and reformed a couple of times but remains dedicated to promoting the demented ideals of Adolf Hitler.
- In 2017, hundreds of Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia chanting anti-Semitic slogans and carrying white supremacy placards and slogans. U.S. President Donald Trump described them as “some very fine people.”
- Among the people engaged in the deadly insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, were people wearing shirts with slogans on them such as “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE” meaning “six million wasn't enough” referring to the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
- “American Bund.” Jim Bredemus, Traces, undated.
- “A Look Back at When Nazis Lived on Long Island—And Ran a Brutal Indoctrination Camp Plagued by Sexual Assault.” Keri Blakinger, New York Daily News, July 19, 2016.
- “American Nazism and Madison Square Garden.” Adam Foreman, The National WWII Museum, April 14, 2021.
- “ ‘Hitler Street’ and Swastika Landscaping: A New York Enclave’s Hidden Nazi Past.” Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post, May 19, 2017.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor