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Members of the Friends of the New Germany, forerunner of the German-American Bund, give the Nazi salute during a rally at New York's Madison Square Garden on May 18, 1934.Larry Froeber/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
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Young German-American Bund members stand in uniform at the group's Camp Will And Might in Griggstown, New Jersey in 1934.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Fritz Kuhn, the leader of the German-American Bund, addresses a crowd of supporters at New York's Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Approximately 20,000 members of the Friends of the New Germany gather together at Madison Square Garden on May 17, 1934.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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High-ranking German-American Bund members — including leader Fritz Kuhn (center, in profile) — meet with Adolf Hitler (far right) in Berlin during the summer of 1936.
"Just A social call," claimed Kuhn at the time. "We have no connection with Hitler or the Nazis, and we get no pay from Hitler."Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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The German-American Bund holds a parade in New York City on October 30, 1939.Library of Congress
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Sussex County Sheriffs Deputies raid a German-American Bund camp in Andover, New Jersey and discover a large swastika decoration on the ceiling of one of the camp's buildings on May 31, 1941.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Hundreds of German-American Bund supporters salute the marchers at the group's Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, New York on August 29, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
Tens of thousands of German-American Bund members rally at New York's Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939.
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German-American Bund members salute the swastika during the opening ceremonies of the rally at Madison Square Garden.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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The German-American Bund color guard, holding American flags and a banner inscribed with swastikas, stands before an immense portrait of George Washington at the Madison Square Garden rally.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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A policeman clashes with an anti-German-American bund demonstrator outside the Madison Square Garden rally.
"The policeman seems to have the upper hand," reads the original caption.
Because of bomb threats in an anonymous letter and announcements that leftist groups would picket the Nazi meeting in force, approximately 1,700 policemen had been ordered to surround the arena.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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The entrance to Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, New York on June 21, 1937.
The camp, which fell under the umbrella of the German-American Bund, taught Nazi ideology to Americans, including many children.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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A sign marks Adolf Hitler Strasse, a street running through Camp Siegfried. Photo taken on April 18, 1938.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
Marchers parade during the opening ceremonies of the German-American Bund's Camp Nordland in Andover, New Jersey on July 19, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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John Metcalfe demonstrates the Nazi salute before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. on August 12, 1938.
Metcalfe and his brother, James, infiltrated the German-American Bund while working as reporters and ultimately exposed the group's inner workings to Congress and the public.Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress
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John Metcalfe demonstrates the Nazi salute for Martin Dies, chairman of the SHouse Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, D.C. on August 12, 1938.
After joining the German-American Bund under a false name in order to gather information, Metcalfe relayed his report to the committee and charged, among other things, that the Bund had a secret relationship with the Nazi Party, despite some claims to the contrary.Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress
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American Nazi sympathizers rally at the steps of the Chicago Field Museum in May 1931.German Federal Archives/Wikimedia Commons
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Members of the German-American Bund and the pro-Fascist Italian Blackshirts give the Nazi salute during a gathering at Camp Siegfried on October 16, 1937.University of Southern California/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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High-ranking German-American Bund leader August Klapprott delivers a speech against President Franklin Roosevelt to supporters at Camp Nordland on July 2, 1940.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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A poster advertising an upcoming evening celebration in honor of Hitler's birthday in New York City sponsored by the Friends of the New Germany. 1935.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
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German-American Bund leaders (including Fritz Kuhn, front of stage) salute passing members during a march at Camp Siegfried on August 29, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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A flier issued by the Friends of the New Germany to counter American anti-Nazi sentiment and defend German-Americans. Circa 1930-1940.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park
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Supporters give the Nazi salute at Camp Siegfried on August 29, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Members of the German-American Bund — including leader Fritz Kuhn (front and center, wearing glasses) — march circa 1930s.FBI/Wikimedia Commons
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Approximately 800 members of the German-American Bund parade through the streets of New York City, circa 1938.Three Lions/Getty Images
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German-American Bund members salute passing marchers at Camp Siegfried on August 29, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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The crowd salutes the passing flags at the German-American Bund's German Day rally at White Plains Hall in White Plains, New York on April 24, 1938.
These German Day celebrations, which took place on various dates, were common in Germany and among German immigrants in the United States throughout the early 20th century (and continue to this day in places). During the Nazi era, however, such celebrations often took on the darker tenor of that regime.Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images
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The German-American Bund holds a rally at Camp Siegfried on August 1, 1937.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
The Bund: The American Arm Of The Nazi Party Before And During WWII
“Most people don’t even know any of this happened here," Robert Kessler, president of the German American Settlement League, told The New York Times in 2015. "It hardly comes up.”
The "here" in Kessler's comment is Yaphank, New York, a rural hamlet in the middle of Long Island, about 50 miles east of New York City. And as for what happened there, it is indeed little-known and, moreover, a little hard to believe.
Throughout the late 1930s and into the dawn of the 1940s — as the U.S. drew closer to entering the world war in which Europe was already mired — Yaphank served as one of the American strongholds of the group against whom that very war was waged: the Nazis.
Summer after summer, hundreds of Americans would flock to Yaphank's Camp Siegfried to raise swastika-adorned flags; hear and spout anti-semitic propaganda; walk down Adolf Hitler Strasse (street), make the Sieg Heil salute, and pledge their devotion to the Nazi cause.
None of this was confined to Camp Siegfried. In fact, approximately two dozen such camps operated across the U.S., all of them operated by the 70 local chapters that made up the nationwide group determined to promote Nazism in the U.S.: the German-American Bund.
Founded in 1936, the Bund sought to propagate Hitler's policies, stamp out communism, and keep the U.S. neutral in the impending war via rallies and publishing efforts.
To these ends, the group gathered some 25,000 dues-paying American members of German descent, 8,000 of them in its militarized "Storm Trooper" wing. All of these members, under the leadership of New York City-based Bundesführer Fritz Kuhn, fell into one of the group's Ortsgruppen (local chapters) in a system directly modeled on that of the Nazi Party.
Despite sharing its organizing principles — not to mention its iconography, rituals, and core beliefs — with the Nazi Party, Kuhn and the German-American Bund always insisted that they had little to no direct connection with their German counterparts, that they were not, in other words, the American arm of the Nazis.
However, the available evidence, as compiled by the FBI's master 1941 report on the group, suggests that there was far more Nazi influence on and control over the Bund than the latter's leaders let on.
After questioning group members and investigating financial records, the FBI determined that German officials sometimes requested and paid for trips of Bund members to Germany and that members were granted audiences with Hitler, Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbels, and other high-ranking Nazis while there.
Furthermore, the FBI found that all Bund members had to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler upon entering the group; that Nazi storm troopers sometimes attended Bund meetings, and that some Hitler Youth leaders went on to serve as leaders at Bund summer camps like those at Camp Siegfried.
In addition, the Foreign Organization of the Nazi Party officially supported the Bund's mission and sent a representative to rework the latter's finances and the Nazi propaganda ministry designed the Bund's uniforms.
Most damningly, a representative of the Nazi propaganda ministry reportedly instructed young Bund members visiting Germany that "Kuhn was recognized in Germany as the American Fuehrer and should be recognized by the group as their leader and as the representative of the Nazi Government or Nazi ideology in America."
Then, of course, there was the fact that the Friends of the New Germany, the direct forerunner of the German-American Bund, was known to have been authorized as an American Nazi organization by Nazi Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess in 1933.
With evidence like this and war on the immediate horizon, authorities were anxious to pounce on Kuhn and the Bund.
The House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings and used undercover informants to expose Bund operations. Local sheriffs nationwide raided Bund camps and shut them down. And the New York District Attorney's office proved in 1939 that Fritz Kuhn had stolen thousands of dollars from the Bund, landing Kuhn in prison for more than three years on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement, and forgery.
Earlier in 1939, mere months before the axe fell on Kuhn, the German-American Bund had staged its most successful, high-profile event to date: a massive rally of more than 20,000 people at New York's Madison Square Garden. But by the end of that year, with Kuhn behind bars and World War II underway, the Bund's days were numbered.
Just after the war, by which point the Bund had folded completely, authorities deported Kuhn to Germany, where he died in 1951.
And as German American Settlement League President Robert Kessler of Yaphank, New York reminds us, the German-American Bund has largely been forgotten today.
Yet in a few troubling ways, the Bund's legacy remains — especially in Yaphank. The very reason, for example, that Kessler was speaking to The New York Times in 2015 is because one of the hamlet's former residents was suing the league over its bylaws that prevented residents from selling their homes on the open market, instead restricting sales to (German, or at least white) friends of the league.
You see, the German American Settlement League started under the auspices of the Bund in the 1930s as a way to keep Yaphank German. And the same bylaws that served that purpose then were still keeping Yaphank German as recently as October 2015.
The following January, the lawsuit ended with the league being forced to change their bylaws, accept residents of all races, and refrain from displaying Nazi iconography in public.
And thus, 80 years after the Bund made Yaphank their own, the group's legacy is now finally starting to vanish in full.