When Nazis Took Manhattan : Code Switch In 1939, an event at Madison Square Garden was billed as a "Pro American Rally." It was, in fact, a rally in support of Hitler and fascism.
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When Nazis Took Manhattan

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When Nazis Took Manhattan

When Nazis Took Manhattan

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Eighty years ago today, February 20, 1939, American Nazis gathered for a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York. The event was organized by the German American Bund, one of several groups in the U.S. supporting fascism and Hitler. Outside, there were thousands of protesters - inside, 20,000 enthusiastic fascists.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY, BAND PLAYING)

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Bund itself also captured the entire event on film, American flags and a giant banner of George Washington sandwiched between huge swastikas. Radio Diaries brings us this audio history.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Christian Americans, it's my very great privilege to welcome you...

ARNIE BERNSTEIN: Madison Square Garden was the big arena in New York at the time - hockey games, boxing matches. The week before the rally, there was the "Westminster Dog Show." My name is Arnie Bernstein. I'm a historian and author of the book "Swastika Nation."

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: (Unintelligible) Attention.

I pledge allegiance...

BERNSTEIN: The rally opened with the Pledge of Allegiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: ...Of the United States of America.

BERNSTEIN: Twenty-thousand people strong stood up, held their hands aloft in the Nazi salute...

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: ...One nation....

BERNSTEIN: ...And said the pledge to the American flag.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: ...With liberty and justice for all.

BERNSTEIN: Tailors, businessmen, you know, blue collar, white collar - they came wearing their Nazi armbands and having pennants in their hands. It looked like any kind of political rally, only with a Nazi twist.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

GERHARD WILHELM KUNZE: Bund members, our boys and girls, fellow white Americans and other non-parasitic guests...

SARAH CHURCHWELL: The rally was explicitly anti-Semitic. They demand a white, gentile America. They denounced Roosevelt as Rosenfeld to say that Roosevelt was in the pocket of the rich Jews.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBERS: (Booing).

CHURCHWELL: My name is Sarah Churchwell. I'm a cultural historian and the author of "Behold, America."

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUNZE: The spirit which opened the West and built our country was the spirit of the militant white man.

CHURCHWELL: One of these speakers was Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze, who was the public relations director for the Bund. And he gave an explicitly white-supremacist vision of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUNZE: American lawmakers generations ago promulgated laws forbidding intermarriage between white and black, yellow, brown and red inhabitants. We have Jim Crow laws and a complicated system of immigration quotas. It has, then, always been very much American to protect the Aryan character of this nation.

CHURCHWELL: One of the things that they tried to do was to say that, basically, this is what America has always been, and this is what the Founding Fathers would have supported.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUNZE: We are not preaching race hatred but race recognition and the will to the preservation of our own race.

(CHEERING)

BRETT SICILIANO: My name is Brett Siciliano, and my grandfather was at the Nazi rally. He was a 26-year-old plumber. His name was Isadore Greenbaum. He felt it was his duty as an American, as a Jew and as a curious New Yorker, to assess the situation. And he snuck into the rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUNZE: ...The only ever-homeless parasite is the Jew.

SICILIANO: He was in the very, very back. And he sat there and listened. And he listened. And I believe the rally's for about three hours long.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBER: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Fritz Kuhn.

(CHEERING)

BERNSTEIN: The pinnacle of the night was the last speaker of the evening, Fritz Kuhn.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

FRITZ KUHN: Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans, you all have heard of me through the Jewish-controlled press.

BERNSTEIN: Kuhn was the leader of the German American Bund. And in essence, he wanted to be the Hitler of America.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUHN: Wake up, you Aryans, Nordics and Christians, to demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it.

(CHEERING)

SICILIANO: My grandpa watched 20,000 people cheering, raising their hands, saluting this man in the heil Hitler salute. And he was just amazed. And so he slowly worked his way to the front. I remember him telling me that there was one thing Kuhn said about the Jews and how they're like cockroaches. And my grandfather said he lost it.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUHN: The departments are swarming with Jews.

SICILIANO: My grandpa just muscled his way through the guards that were up front, jumped up on the stage. And he yelled, down with Hitler.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED BUND MEMBERS: (Yelling, unintelligible).

SICILIANO: A bunch of the guards, the security, jumped on my grandfather. They started punching and kicking him, pawing at him and pulling his pants down. And they were getting cheers. And the New York police ran from the other side of the stage. And the police pulled my grandfather off to safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUHN: All right, be seated, please.

SICILIANO: He had a black eye and a broken nose, but he said he would have done it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

KUHN: The Bund is open to you, provided you are sincere, of good character, of Aryan stock. Join, free America.

(CHEERING)

BERNSTEIN: When the rally wrapped up, everybody just thrust their arms in the air and joined Kuhn in screaming free America, free America.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Through the perilous fight...

CHURCHWELL: This rally in February, 1939, was really the turning point for the Bund. As soon as the United States entered the war, all of these fascist groups were discredited and disbanded.

BERNSTEIN: The Bund was largely forgotten. But there's something they tapped into that is part of America. We still see elements of it today. They may not be the German American Bund. You know, the 1978 attempt by Nazis to march in Skokie, the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s. We saw it at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Eighty years later, the philosophy is still there. And all these groups maintain that they are patriotic Americans. And this is the America that they see.

(SOUNDBITE OF GERMAN AMERICAN BUND RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) And the home of the brave.

(CHEERING)

KELLY: After the rally, Isadore Greenbaum, the protester who jumped up on stage, was arrested for disorderly conduct and fined $25 for disrupting the rally. He later enlisted in the Navy and fought in World War II.

SHAPIRO: You can see archival footage from this American Nazi rally in the documentary, "A Night At The Garden." This story was produced by Sarah Kate Kramer of Radio Diaries, with Joe Richman and Nellie Gillis, and edited by Ben Shapiro and Deborah George. You can hear a longer version on the Radio Diaries podcast. Thanks to Andy Lanset and the WNYC archives for providing archival audio.

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