U.S. Nationalist Youth Groups: German American Bund


Figure 1.--The German-American Bund flag is seen here at an event. The black flag flying above it looks to the single-ligthing bolt flag of the Bund young affiliate.

The German-American Bund was an organization of ethnic Germans living in the U.S. which was marked by a pro-NAZI program. Aside from its admiration for Hitler and the achievements of NAZI Germany, the Bund program included virulent anti-Semitism, strong anti-Communism (until the August 1939 NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact), and the demand that the U.S. remain neutral in the approaching European conflict. Public opinion surveys of 1939 show that Fritz Kuhn, the Bund leader was seen by the American public as the leading anti-Semite in the country. While the Bund was loud and vissible, it was a failure, attracting little support even among German-Americans. Kuhn was not particularly bright and learned nothing from the failure of the first NAZI effort--the Friends of the New Germany.

Friends of a New Germany

The NAZI Party covertly approved of the unification of like-minded German political grouos in to the Friends of the New Germany (FDNA). The FDNA was founded after the NAZI seizure of power in Germany (1933). The principal leader was Spocknobel. The FDNA was organized like the NAZI Party. A quasi-military group was recruited and called the OS, based on the German SS. There was also a youth division. One of the principal goals of te FDNA was to politicize the German American population. They distributed German propoganda. They successfully infiltrated many German social clubs and "Arianized" them. Few members stood up to them. It should be noted that most German-Americans by the 1930s were throughly Amerinized. Relatively few spoke German and few were active in German social clubs and similar organizations. These groups were most popular with the more recent immigrants. The FDNA received covert support from the German Railroad offices in America and the German Consulate. Many of its leaders were German nationals. They distributed NAZI propganda in major U.S. cities. The groups' activities were conducted so overtly that they brought about a Congressional investigation. In additiion, Jewsish emigrees were beginning to publicize what the NAZIs were doing to the Jews. American Jewish groups began to boycott German products and German merchants--drawing more attention to the FDNA. The Congressional hearings were led by a Jewish New York Congressman--Sam Dickstein. The Congressional investigation unearthed evidnce confirming that the FDNA was dominated by the NAZIs. The NAZIs in response decicded to withdraw German citizens from leadership roles.

Creation

German NAZI leaders decided that so much bad publicity had been generated by the FDNA that it would be best to create a new organization. The German-American Bund was formed in 1936. A U.S. citizen, Fritz Kuhn, was placed in charge. The NAZIs hoped that the new organization, led by U.S. citizens, would draw less attention. Hitler from an early point in his plans for war feared America, a neutral America staying out of the European conflict was what Hitler wanted. Thus he wanted nothing done to stir America out of its neutrality.


Figure 2.--These German-American Bundists were photographed during a summer camp held at Riverdale New Jersey in 1939. Note the flags and proto-Nazi uniforms.

Fritz Kuhn

Fritz Kuhn was born in Munich (1896). He studied chemistry at the University of Munich. He had served in World War I in the Bavarian Army as a lieutenant and was awarded the Iron Cross. After the War he worked as a chemist in Mexico. While still in Mexico, he had married a fellow German whom he had met earlier at the University of Munich. They had a son and daughter (Walter and Waltraut). He emigrated to the United States and got a job as an industrial chemist at the Ford automobile plant in Detroit. (Henry Ford was a notorious anti-semite. I do not know at this time if there was any relationship between Ford and Kuhn.) He became a naturalized citizen on December 3, 1934. Kuhn had learned nothing from the failure of the FDNA. He had no interest in the quiet, low-profile organizing that Hitler wanted. He though that given the size of the German population, that he could aspire to leading America as Hitler led Germany. Upon taking control of the Bund, one of his first steps was to travel to Germany with a group of his followers at the time of the Munich Olymopic Games. Hitler was using the Olympics as a stage for his emergence on the world stage. He was not interested in publicizing the Bund, but did allow a hand shake and a photograph. Hitler gave him no ringing endorsement, but upon returing to America, Kuhn claimed he had the Feurher's endorsement. Kuhn proceeded to run the Bund like the NAZI party.

Membership

The actual Bund membership is not known with any certainty, but reliable estimates place membership at 25,000 dues paying members, including some 8,000 uniformed Storm Troopers. Another source indicates that the Bund boasted 30,000 members. Much of the membership was composed of Germans who emigrated from Germany after World War I. This of course was a very small part of the German-American population.

Activities

The Bund carried out active propaganda for its causes, published magazines and brochures, organized demonstrations and maintained a number of youth camps run along the lines of the Hitler Youth. Bund activities often led to clashes with other groups, most notably with Jewish veterans of the First World War, leading to numerous street clashes. The Bund closely cooperated with the "Christian Front" organized by the antisemitic priest, Father Charles Coughlin.


Figure 3.--These German-American Bundists wear a uniform almost identical to the Hitler Youth uniform, brown shirts and black short pants. None of these boys, however, wear kneesocks.

Camps

Several camps were set up for Bund activities. The largest were Camp Nordland in New Jersey and Camp Siegfried on Long Island. At these camps Bund activities could be conducted in private. They were made family events. Activities were planned for adults and children. Activities were a mix of cultural events, including German dress and food, and political activiies--preaching the NAZI creed.

Bund Policy

The Bund instead of proceeding quietly, conducted a high-profile publicity campaign. Hitler wanted a strong NAZI orienterd German group to organize in America, but he wanted it to be done quietly. The Bund led by Fritz Kuhn did all it could to make headlines. The result was front-page news. This inspired efforts by anti-NAZI Germands and Jewish groups. The Jewish War Veterans were especially active.

NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact

One complication for the Bund was the August 1939 NAZI-Soviet Non-Agressiion Pact, making Hitler and Stalin virtual allies. The American Communist Party had to reverse its anti-Nazi stand and opposed American aid to the Allies, dubbing President Franklin Roosevelt's "warmonger."

Madison Square Garden Rally

The high-point of the Bund's activities was a mass rally in New York's Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939 in the period leading to war in Europe. Upwards of 20,000 American Bundists and sympthizers pilig into Madison Square Gardens and the disorders outside was hardly the kind of low-profile activities Hitler wanted. Tis and other Bunds activities frightened many Americans, including many German-Americans, and inspired a series of Congressional investigations. The Bund was disbanded when Hitler declared war on America following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Interestingly, America was the only country on which Hitler ever declared war.

World War II

The Bund after America entered the War dispersed. FBI agents, however, began arresting foreign residents as well as U.S. citizens thouught to be security risks. The most draconian steps were taken against Japanese Americans along the West Coat which were interned en masse. (Interestingly, the Japanese in Hawaii were not interned--unless FBI investigations turned up evidence of subversive activities.) Substantial numbers of American of Germans and Itlalian ancestry were also interned--if they had participated in orgaziatiions like the Bund. Many of these investigations were cursory and there were no trials involved. Thus many of those interned were not real security risks. Many of those arrested were interned as family groups in Ctystal City, Texas. The camp was run by the Army. Conditions were reloatively good. The children attended local schools. The different national groups did not mix, in part a reflection of their nationalistic-racial attitudes.

Goverment Investigations

The House Committee on Un-American Activities is probably the most well known Goverment body investigating suposed subversives. Thet were at first was most concerned with Communists. They started investigating Hollywood in 1938, one critic joked that committee Chairman Martin Dies, Texas Democrat, would soon unearth the Communist Party cards of Shirley Temple and Donald Duck.

The activities of the Bund led a number of Jewish Congressmen to demand that they be investigated by the House Un-American activities Committee, under chairman Martin Dies. The hearings, held in 1939, showed clear evidence of the Bund ties to the NAZI government in Germany. Shortly thereafter, Kuhn was convicted of embezzling funds from the organization and was sent to prison. In the following years, a number of other Bund leaders were interned as dangerous aliens, and others were jailed for various offenses. By 1941 the membership of the organization waned and after America's entry into the war the Bund was outlawed by the U.S. government.

One outcome of the Congressional investigations was that agents of foreign governments had to register with the State Department. This complicated the operatioins of the Bundists. The Alien Registration Act in 1940 was a further complication. One outcome of the investigations was the procecution of Fritz Kuhn for embezeling Bund funds.

Other government bodies, especially California legislators also launched in investigations. The California Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities began with Jack Tenney, a left-wing Los Angeles musician, union official and composer of the song "Mexicali Rose." Mr. Tenney joined with Sam Yorty, who would go on to become mayor of Los Angeles, in welcoming the People's Daily World, the West Coast organ of the Communist Party. Created in 1940, the committee's first report published information on the Communist Party, the German American Bund, pro-Italian and pro-Japanese fascists, the Ku Klux Klan and pro-Nazi groups in Mexico. Some of the material that remains under seal involves collaboration between the Communist Party USA and the German American Bund during the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Many former Communist Party members testified to the committee, but only portions of their testimony have been made public.

Youth Groups

Unfortunalely HBU has been unable to find much information on the youth groups organized by the Bund and its predesessor organizations. It is unclear at this time how formally the youth groups were organized. The Bund organized a youth section and ran summer camps during the 1930s and early 40s bdfore the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. I'm not sure if the Bund youth group had a formal name like the Bund Youth Corps. One source describes the Bund effort as a well-organized effort to educate the children in NAZI ideology--especially the racial doctrine. The children were taught that they were a racially superior elite and destined to lead a New Order in the world.

The children wore uniforms. At least in the camps they were short pants outfits, but appear to have been more kahki than the white shirts and black shorts wiorn by the Hitler Youth. I believe some units may have worn, berets, but I am not positive about this. I have not noted patches and emblems on the children's uniforms--an indication that the youth groups were not well organized--or at least on a realitively small scale. One source suggests that they were taught to have pride in their uniforms, but I have not yet found evidence that the children had elborate uniforms and patches. As far as I can tell Scouts, at the time, gave much more attention to the uniform. This topic, however, requires much more attention.







HBU





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Created: May 1, 2000
Last updated: 6:22 AM 3/8/2011