Updated: Feb 6
Fritz Julius Kuhn was born in Munich, Germany on May 5, 1896 to parents Georg Kuhn and Julia Justyna Beuth. During World War I, Fritz Kuhn joined the Bavarian infantry and earned an Iron Cross as a German Infantry Lieutenant for exceptional leadership in the face of the enemy. After the end of World War I, Kuhn enrolled and then graduated from the Technical University of Munich with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. Fritz Kuhn also became one an early follower of Adolf and supporter of Nazi rhetoric. Shortly after graduating, Kuhn moved to Mexico to work as a chemist. In 1928, Kuhn moved to Detroit to work at the Ford factory and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1934. Kuhn was then fired from Ford for his anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Around this time, political parties that held similar beliefs to the Nazi party in Germany began to pop up in countries all over the world. Adolf Hitler and the German deputy fuhrer Rudolf Hess hoped to use these political parties to convince more countries, especially European countries, to join the Greater Reich. Friends of New Germany was founded in 1933 in Chicago with Rudolf Hess’s blessing. Fritz Kuhn joined the Friends of New Germany and quickly became an officer within the group. Friends of New Germany absorbed two other Nazi-leaning parties in America, the Free Society of Teutonia and Gau-USA. The new group based it’s headquarters in New York City.
Male members of the Friends of New Germany wore a white shirt and black trousers with a black hat that donned a red symbol while the women members wore a white blouse and a black skirt. The group was led by German immigrant and German National Socialist German Workers Party member Heinz Spanknobel. Spanknobel had the members of his party storm into the German-language newspaper New Yorker Staats-Zeitung and demand that they publish articles sympathetic to the Nazi party. Spanknobel also instructed his members to infiltrate non-political German-American organizations in order to gain more members.
Congressman Samuel Dickstein, a democrat from New York, started to become aware of the growing anti-Semitism feelings taking hold in the country. Dickstein launched an independent investigation into the German National Socialist group along with other fascist groups that had connections in the United States. This investigation led to the creation of the Special Committee on Un-American Activities Authorized to Investigate National Socialist Propaganda and Certain Other Propaganda Activities. The committee conducted hearings where major leaders of fascist groups in the United States were brought forward to testify. During this time, Spanknobel was deported for failing to register as a foreign agent (failing to disclose his relationship with a foreign government). The committee determined that the Friends of New Germany was a fascist group with ties to Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany.
Hitler was hoping to maintain a good relationship with America at this time and it became apparent that Friends of New Germany were making that hard to do. In 1935, Rudolf Hess ordered all German citizens to resign from Friends of New Germany and called for the top leaders of the group to return to Germany, thus ending the group. Fritz Kuhn saw this as an opportunity to create his own political party, but more deeply rooted in American patriotism. In 1936, Kuhn established the German American Bund in Buffalo, New York and he was elected as the leader. Kuhn had a strong vision for the Bund and hoped to create a Swastika nation.
Kuhn took Nazi phrases and symbols, but put an American spin on them, even proudly calling George Washington “the first American fascist”. Kuhn gave himself the title of Bundesfuhrer and had his own
group of guards named the Ordnungsdienst or the OD, which were modeled closely after Hitler’s own SS. The OD were not allowed to carry firearms, so they carried blackjacks and truncheons instead. They’re job was to protect Kuhn from harm and to beat back any protestors that arrived at Bund events. Kuhn would tell his followers that he was Hitler’s confidante and had the support of the German Foreign Office, they just supported him secretly because of the whole German-United States relations thing.
The Bund was divided into different districts for different parts of the country, just like the Nazi Party in Germany. They also had their own propaganda department that would publish a Bund newspaper as well as printing copies of Mein Kampf, which was required reading for Bund members.
Kuhn ordered the creation of gated training and summer camps in rural areas of the Northeastern United States. The Bund purchased 42 acres in Yaphank, New York and Kuhn named it Camp Siegfried and then named footpaths in the camp Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels Streets. Restaurants and housing were quickly built in the camp to feed and house Bund members wanting to stay at the camp. Vendors and suppliers that wanted to do business at Camp Siegfried had to pay a 10% surcharge to the Bund. The camp also sold Nazi paraphernalia, newspapers, flags, and photos of Nazi leaders to make even more money for the Bund.
There was also a youth section set up at the camp where members of the Bund could send their children for $5 a week and they would receive training in military arts, Nazi principles, and German Army marching songs. On opening day of the camp, August 30, 1936, a large banner was hung that read “Amerika Verpflichter, Deutschland Dernunded” or “Obligated to America, Tied to Germany.” A group of OD wearing brown shorts, tan shirts, belts that said Blut and Ehre (blood and honor) and swastika armbands performed drills using wooden staffs while a brass band played. There were three other camps also created by the Bund, Camp Nordland in New Jersey, Camp Deutschhorts in Pennsylvania, and Camp Hindenberg in Wisconsin.
By 1938, two years after the creation of the German-American Bund, the party and Kuhn were becoming a force to be reckoned with. The Bund would have several thousand people show up to each meeting and Kuhn was the most popular ultra-right leader and anti-Semite in the United States. Kuhn would draw big crowds for his speeches, where he would copy Hitler’s mannerisms. Kuhn would speak about creating an Aryan paradise in America and of Der Tag, which was the day when German Americans would rise up to take their rightful place and the streets would run red with blood after the United States had been purged of Jews and Communists.
On November 9 to November 10, 1938, Nazis in Germany set fire to and destroyed synagogues, Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed close to 100 Jews. That night became known as Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass.” Shortly after, around 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Kuhn and the Bund claimed that Kristallnacht was a justifiable act of retribution. Many Americans were horrified by Kristallnacht and hostilities grew towards Hitler, Nazi Germany, and the German-American Bund. Instead of issuing an apology to try to win American support back, Kuhn decided to lean in. It was announced that the German-American Bund would host a rally to celebrate the rise of Nazism at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Kuhn planned the rally for February 20, 1939, George Washington’s 207
th birthday. In Arnie Bernstein’s book, Swastika Nation, he describes the event as “Kuhn’s shining moment, an elaborate pageant and vivid showcase of all he had built in three years. Kuhn’s dream of a Swastika Nation would be on display for the whole world right in the heart of what the Berlin press called the ‘Semitized metropolis of New York.’” The official poster for the rally was a swastika emblem and the words “True Americanism and George Washington Birthday Exercises.”
New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia knew that there would be a large group of demonstrators protesting the rally, so he worked with Police Commissioner Lewis Valentine to plan for security at the Garden. La Guardia was an Episcopalian whose mother was a Jew, and he hated Kuhn and the Bund, but he wanted to allow the Bund to exercise their right of free speech just like any other American group.
On February 20, 1939, 22,000 Bund members and Nazi sympathizer filled Madison Square Garden while 100,000 protestors filled the streets surrounding the building. The protestors carried signs with some reading “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of Nazis” and “Smash Anti-Semitism.” 1,700 policemen, including many police officers mounted on horses, stayed between the Nazis and the protestors, keeping them apart. It was the largest police presence in New York City’s history. Commisoner Valentine said of the police force “We have enough police here to stop a revolution.”
Inside of the Garden, there was a 30-foot-tall banner of George Washington hung between American flags and swastikas. There were also banners that read “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans” “Don’t Wait for the concentration camps – Act Now!” and “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism.” Attendees wore Nazi armbands, waved American flags, and had their own posters that said things like “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian America.”
Drums began to roll and young German-American Nazis marched down the aisles while holding flags that represented the United States, the Bund, Nazi Germany, and Italy. All memers of the Bund stood up and recited the pledge of Allegiance. You can watch footage of the rally in a short documentary titled “A Night At The Garden.” (show Jeremy video) I will link to it in the show notes and share it on our facebook and twitter accounts. It’s chilling to watch. It reminds me of the show “The Man in the High Castle”, but it’s real. One thing I noticed about the video, was that during the pledge of Allegiance, they didn’t say “under God.” So I looked into it, and I learned that the words “under God” weren’t added to the pledge of allegiance until 1954 and the history of the pledge is very interesting in itself, but that will be another episode.
Then, various Bund officers went on stage to give speeches that reminisced on the good old days of George Washington, before America was taken over by racial amalgamation. Gerhard Wilhem Kunze, who was the national public relations director of the Bund, spoke how America’s forefathers were white supremacists and quote “The spirit which opened the West and built our country is the spirit of the militant white man.”
Then the Bundesfuhrer, Fritz Kuhn, made his way onto the stage to deliver the big speech of the night. He started his speech with “You all have heard of me through the Jewish-controlled press. Wake up! You, Aryan, Nordic, and Christians, to demand that our government be returned to the people who founded it!” Kuhn described the quote “slimy conspirators who would change this glorious republic into the inferno of a Bolshevik Paradise” and “the grip of the palsied hand of Communism in our schools, our universities,
our very homes.” Every time that Kuhn would pause during his speech, the crowd would yell “Free America!” in unison while giving the raised arm salute.
Outside of the Garden, protestors shouted anti-Nazi slogans and tried to rush past the police to get inside. A group of Jewish-American veterans carried an American Flag down Ninth Avenue. When they approached Madison Square Garden, the policemen on horses rode towards the veterans and drove them off the sidewalk back into the street so that they couldn’t get close to the Garden. An African-American man protesting the rally was grabbed by a mounted policeman, so the man punched the police officer’s horse in the face in order to get free. Fights broke out between the demonstrators, bund members, and police officers.
Inside, Kuhn went on how the leaders of America were Jewish agents. He gave nicknames to some of them. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had called Nazism a cancer, Kuhn nicknamed Frank D. Rosenfeld. District Attorney Thomas Dewey was given the nickname Thomas Jewey and Mayor LaGuardia was called Jew Lumpen LaGuardia. Kuhn told the rally “If you ask what we are actively fighting for under our charter: First, a socially just, white, Gentile-ruled United States. Second, Gentile-controlled labor unions, free from Jewish Moscow-directed domination.”
All of a sudden, a protestor rushed onto the stage and tried to tackle Kuhn. The man yanked on Kuhn’s microphone cables and yelled “Down with Hitler!” Kuhn’s OD officers and police officers grabbed the man and then began to punch and kick him. Police held the man over their heads to carry him out of the Garden while the OD tore his pants off his body. A reporter overheard two Bund members discussing the protestor being taken away. One member said “It was worth 40 cents just to see the cops beat that fellow on the stage.” The other replied “Yes, but all this is just practice for what’s coming.” The man was later identified as Jewish-American Isadore Greenbaum and was fined $25 for disorderly conduct. When the United Started entered World War II, Greenbaum enlisted in the Navy to fight the Nazis.
Kuhn continued his speech after Greenbaum was taken outside. Three hours after the rally had started, it was finally over and the Bund members made their way home from the Garden. At the time of the rally, Adolf Hitler was finishing construction on his sixth concentration camp. Kuhn saw the rally as a successful showing of how powerful the Nazi party was in America. Mayor LaGuardia was also proud of how the rally went because none of the violence got too out of hand. However, LaGuardia and District Attorney General Thomas Dewey decided that it was time to take Kuhn down and organized an investigation into Kuhn’s finances.
Apparently, Kuhn really liked to party and was supporting several mistresses, all at the expense of the Bund. The investigation revealed that Kuhn had embezzled around $14,000 from the Bund. Even after learning this, the Bund organization didn’t want to press charges against Kuhn because of Fuhrerprinzip, or the belief that the leader can do whatever he wants because he’s the leader. Thomas Dewey received a blessing from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prosecute Kuhn anyways. On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland which led to Britain and France declaring war on Germany, thus starting World War 2. On December 5, 1939, Kuhn was sentenced to two-and-a-half to five years of jail for tax evasion and was sent to Sing Sing Prison in New York. Kuhn tried to make the case that he was a prisoner of war, but they were of no use and the Bund quickly disbanded with their leader behind bars. Bund membership
had reached 25,000 at it’s peak, but not most ex-members were embarrassed that they had ever joined. While Kuhn was locked up in Sing Sing, Germany declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941. Because Kuhn supported Germany, which was now actively hostile towards the United States, the federal government was able to revoke Kuhn’s citizenship on June 1, 1943. Three weeks after his American citizenship had been revoked, Kuhn was released from prison. As soon as he was released, Kuhn was re-arrested as a dangerous enemy agent.
While Kuhn was imprisoned in Texas for being an enemy agent, Nazi Germany was defeated, Hitler killed himself, and World War 2 ended. Four months after Nazi Germany unconditionally surrendered to the allied forces on May 8, 1945 (or V-E Day), Kuhn was deported to West Germany. Kuhn went to work as an industrial chemist at a small chemical factory in Munich. After two years of that, the German authorities decided to try Kuhn under Germany’s de-Nazification laws and he was imprisoned again in July of 1947, this time at the internment camp at Dachau. While he was awaiting trial, Kuhn escaped from Dachau on February 4, 1948. Later on Kuhn said the he escaped because “The door was open, so I went through.” Kuhn was captured in Bernkastel on June 15th, 1948. Kuhn was convicted as a major Nazi offender and attempting to transplant Nazi ideology into the United States. Kuhn was sentenced to up to ten years of hard labor. Kuhn died on December 14, 1951 in Munich Germany shortly after he had been released. The New York Times ran an obituary for Kuhn that simply read “Fritz Kuhn, once the arrogant noisy leader of the pro-Hitler German-American Bund, died here more than a year ago – a poor and obscure chemist, unheralded.”
78 years after the Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, a group of white-supremacists and alt-right activists gathered at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The group held torches and marched while chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” and “Blood and Soil!” which is the English translation of the Nazi rallying cry “Blut and Boden!” The group marched until they reached the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the University campus and a group of 30 University of Virginia students with locked arms ready to counterprotest the marchers. The two groups began to fight each other until police intervened.
The next day there was a planned rally at Emancipation park in Charlottesville. Large groups of rally goers and counter protesters gathered. As both groups grew in number, so did tensions. Soon the groups converged together and fighting broke out. There was punching, chemicals being sprayed, and sticks being swung. The police felt they were unprepared to break up the fight and hurried into their armor. After around 30 minutes of fighting, the police declared unlawful assembly and dispersed the crowd. Several people had been injured and some were arrested, but nothing was too serious. Rally goers began to make their way towards McIntire Park, but while they were headed there, they were informed that a state of emergency had been declared and that the rally had been cancelled.
That was when rally goer James Alex Fields Jr. drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of pedestrians. A witness said he saw Fields drive into one group of pedestrians and then reverse into another group. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville was killed and 19 others were injured. Fields’ pleaded guilty to 29 federal hate crime charges and was sentenced to two life sentences plus an additional 419 years.
“Total Espionage” by Curt Riess
“The Pledge of Allegiance” an article on USHistory.org
“When Nazis Filled Madison Square Garden” by Gordon F. Sander
“Americans Hold a Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden” an article on History.com
“When Nazis Took Manhattan” by Sarah Kate Kramer
“A Night At The Garden” Short Documentary by Marshall Curry
“When the Bund Strutted in Yaphank” by Hugh O’Haire
“Fritz Kuhn, Former Bund Chief, Ordered Back to Germany” an article in The Evening Indpendent
“Swastika Nation” by Arnie Bernstein
“The Night Thousands of Nazis Packed Madison Square Garden For A Rally – And Violence Erupted” by Diane Bernard
“Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death” by Joe Heim