Nazi Summer Camps and a ‘Führer’ from Munich: 22,000 Sympathizers in Madison Square Garden

6:44 am  |  25.11.2021

After the Nazis came to power in Germany, people of “German origin” living abroad were encouraged by the Nazi government to found civic groups in order to spread “German virtues” and become politically active for the Third Reich. On March 19, 1936, one of the best-known organizations of this kind was founded in the USA, the ‘Amerikadeutsche Volksbund’ (German American Bund) – an ‘association of patriotic Americans of German descent.

‘American Fuehrer’ Fritz Kuhn, center, is congratulated on September 4, 1938, for his unanimous re-election.

The administrative structure of the federal government imitated that of the NSDAP in Germany. The USA was confidently divided into three “Gaue” (East, West, and Midwest), which in turn consisted of 69 “local groups”, 17 of them in the city and state of New York. The headquarters were on 85th Street in Manhattan in what was also known as Germantown because of the large number of German immigrants.

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The organization should be run according to the ‘leader principle’. The 40-year-old Munich chemist Fritz Julius Kuhn was chosen, who fought like Adolf Hitler in the Bavarian infantry during the First World War and was proud of his status as an ‘old fighter‘ (an early member of the NSDAP). Kuhn had lived in the United States since 1928 and had been an American citizen since 1934.

Federal Government Measures

The rally in Madison Square Garden – swastika flags can be seen between the American flags.

The federal government achieved membership numbers of up to 25,000. The greatest event in its history took place on February 20, 1939, just six and a half months before the start of World War II. 22,000 sympathizers came to Madison Square Garden for a rally organized by the federal government, at which the rise of National Socialism in Germany was enthusiastically celebrated. In order to show oneself as a good American patriot, the event was called ‘Pro American Rally’ and at the same time, the birthday of George Washington was celebrated, who for some reason felt like a soul mate.

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The participants gave Hitler salutes in the direction of a 10-meter high portrait of Washington, around it flagged with the American national colors and swastikas. There were 3,000 men from the “Ordnungsdienst” (OD), which consisted for the most part of young federal members who dressed in SS style. Banners at the event had messages such as “Stop Jewish Infection of Christian Americans” and “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism ”.

Counter-demonstrators in front of Madison Square Garden

Kuhn gave an acclaimed closing speech. “We are demanding American ideals from the government,” he let the enthusiastic audience know. “We want more social justice and an America ruled by white non-Jews with unions that are controlled by non-Jews and free from influence from Moscow.” US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to Kuhn as “Rosenfield”, and New York District Attorney Thomas Dewey became “Thomas Jewey”.

At the time of the rally, Hitler was already building his sixth concentration camp. Demonstrators in front of Madison Square Garden – many of them Jewish Americans – worried that what was happening in Germany would also be possible in the USA and demonstrated in front of the hall. They carried signs with texts like “Smash Antisemitism” and “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of Nazis” or “Don’t wait for the concentration camps – act now!”

Flag ceremony at dusk in ‘Camp Nordland’ – summer 1937.

In addition to political work, ‘Strength through Joy’ should not be neglected at the federal level. The organization ran summer camps for young people and their families. Two large camps in the New York area were ‘Camp Siegfried’ and ‘Camp Nordland’.

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Fritz Kuhn meets Adolf Hitler during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Adolf Hitler never wanted to have much to do with the Bund and Kuhn. For a long time, his strategy was to keep the powerful Americans out of the action in Europe as much as possible. He saw provocations from the federal government and Kuhn in the USA as a hindrance. When the self-proclaimed ‘American Führer’ came to Berlin in 1936 during the Olympics, there was only one very brief, impersonal, and for Kuhn disappointing encounter with his idol. For Hitler, Kuhn was little more than one of the hundreds of people he met in these weeks. As with many others, he had himself photographed with Kuhn. Hitler later described this as a mistake. After his return to the USA, however, Kuhn reported how warmly and interested the ‘Führer’ had received him, with the photo as evidence.

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In 1941, two years after the outbreak of the Second World War, the federal government had to cease its activities completely due to the political situation. “American Fuehrer” Kuhn had been imprisoned for embezzlement of federal funds since December 1939. In 1943 he was stripped of his American citizenship and expelled after the war. After spending a few years in German prisons, Kuhn died in 1951, forgotten and penniless in his native Munich. When he was brought before the Munich police chief Franz Xaver Pitzer three years earlier, Kuhn said to him: “Who could have guessed that it would all end like this?”

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