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‘Nazi Town, USA,’ a new PBS documentary, examines the 1930s heyday of Hitler’s acolytes in the US

(New York Jewish Week) — Picture a group of children having fun at summer camp, learning archery, swimming and playing tug of war, all while the Nazi flag flies next to the American flag. Or a packed crowd at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, where men and women of all ages give the Hitler salute. 

These are some of the real-life disturbing images depicted in “Nazi Town, USA,” a new documentary about the German American Bund — a pro-fascist, pro-Nazi organization that, at its peak, had some 100,000 members in the United States — that premieres on “American Experience” on PBS on Tuesday.

The German American Bund (bund is German for “organization”), founded by German immigrant Fritz Kuhn in Buffalo in 1936, was created to promote pro-Nazi ideology within the United States. Kuhn and his cronies relied upon patriotic imagery such as George Washington and the American flag to attract Americans of German descent as members — but as Kuhn himself said, the organization’s goals were to create a “socially just, white gentile-ruled United States” and a “gentile-controlled labor union free from Jewish Moscow-directed domination.”

Filmmaker Peter Yost, who wrote and directed “Nazi Town, USA,” told the New York Jewish Week that he first became interested in the history of Nazi organization while helping his friend Marshall Curry with his Academy Award-nominated short documentary “A Night at the Garden,” which used archival footage, some of which can also be seen in “Nazi Town, USA,” of the 1939 “Pro-American Rally” at Madison Square Garden held by the Bund. 

“It’s amazing footage and it’s incredible that there are 20,000 of these Bund members inside Madison Square Garden,” Yost said. “It certainly begs the question, ‘If you can get 20,000 of them in this one spot, what the heck is going on in America at the time more broadly that enables that to happen?’” 

That’s the central question Yost explores in “Nazi Town, USA.” Using archival footage and photos of the Bund’s activities — many of which were shot by the Bund itself for promotional purposes — as well as interviews with historians, the film chronicles the rise and fall of the organization from its beginning through its peak and its ultimate collapse in 1941. 

The Bund was just one of hundreds of right-wing and fascist-friendly groups in the United States in the 1930s, but by focusing on one group, Yost was able to explore how and why fascism was so appealing to Americans at that time. “Often the best films, in my opinion, are ones that use a narrow story to tell a much bigger story,” he said. “While the Bund matters and is interesting, it really is a means to get at these bigger questions and explore these bigger ideas.”

Headquartered in New York City, the Bund was organized into 50 districts nationwide — indeed, the film’s name “Nazi Town, USA,” is meant to indicate that Nazi ideology, for a time, was widely embraced across the country.

“It resonated here for a reason,” Yost said. “It tapped into a lot of elements in America that were fascist-friendly, like the racist Jim Crow laws or very restrictive and race-based immigration laws. These were things that Hitler and the Nazis admired and even in some cases adopted for their Nuremberg race laws. They saw in many ways America as fertile ground for their ideas.”

A postcard depicting Camp Siegfried, a pro-Nazi summer camp in Yaphank, Long Island, in the 1930s. (Courtesy the Longwood Public Library’s Thomas R. Bayles Local History Room)

According to historian Bradley W. Hart, who appears in the film and is the author of “Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters,” certain “dark impulses” in American society come to the surface under the right circumstances — which is exactly what happened in the 1930s.

“This was a period of incredible turmoil in the U.S. You have the Great Depression, you have people who have lost everything,” he told New York Jewish Week. “At this moment, when you have dictators in Europe, people like Hitler and Mussolini, who are preaching hate and preaching that they have a solution to the real pain that people are feeling, it’s inevitable, unfortunately, that some will be attracted to that message.”

Enough people were interested in the Bund to make a business out of summer camps for families and children across the country, the most famous being Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, Long Island — a Suffolk County hamlet that also had a community called German Gardens with streets named after prominent Nazis.

“They had everything you would expect in a summer camp,” Hart said, emphasizing that many of the campers were city kids. “And this was a period when if you lived in the inner city, you didn’t necessarily have a car. You were looking for recreational activities for you and the kids. You were looking to get out of the city when there was no air conditioning.”

Reports from those camps are unsettling today precisely because of how relatable they are, he added.

“The accounts are anodyne-sounding in some ways: It’s a bunch of guys sitting around and drinking beers and the kids are playing and they’re talking politics,” Hart said. “It’s the kind of politics we find deeply appalling today, but the scene itself isn’t that different perhaps than what we might expect to go on in a camp — but then you have this deep ideological current of Nazism running underneath everything.” 

At these camps, Nazi flags were flown on flagpoles and swastikas adorned the bungalows’ roofs. What’s more, according to Hart, the Bund didn’t conceal their antisemitism in part because they thought many Americans would agree with them.

“They couch it as anticommunism,” he said. “They’re open about the kind of antisemitism that they think is going to appeal to a broader swath of Americans.”

The strategy worked, for a while: When the FBI investigated the Bund because they were looking into Nazi activities in the United States, director J. Edgar Hoover wasn’t that interested in shutting down the organization because he was so anti-communist.

While it’s easy to draw parallels between the 1930s and today — the rise in antisemitism, the divisive American politics — such comparisons aren’t explicit in the film. But viewers can draw their own conclusions.

“It’s a film about fascism and non-democratic politics. It’s a film about a moment in America where a number of people wondered if the American experiment was failing,” Yost said. “We were looking at a specific moment in time, and exploring why these ideas captured the imaginations of some people at that time, and so it engages a number of big questions that in many cases we’re still asking today.”

The documentary also shows that many Americans were willing to stand up to Nazism and fascism, such as journalist Dorothy Thompson, who warned about Hitler in her articles and who was also at the Madison Square Garden rally, heckling. There was a group of tough Jews known as the Minutemen who would break up meetings of the Friends of New Germany, a precursor organization to the Bund, and the Chicago Daily Times reporters John and James Metcalfe went undercover and infiltrated the Bund so they could report on their plans. 

Isadore Greenbaum, a 26-year-old Jewish plumber, risked his life to rush the stage at Madison Square Garden to yank the cables from Kuhn’s microphone. He was immediately beaten by the Bund’s security team, though the NYPD intervened and escorted him out.

“He really tries to strike the first blow against fascism in the United States — this is still years away from the U.S. fighting fascism in a physical way anywhere as a country,” Hart said. 

As large as the Madison Square Garden rally was, the fighting there represented a turning point for the German American Bund.

“That’s an incredibly powerful moment … because it reveals what the Bund is,” Hart said. “When that violence erupts on the floor of Madison Square Garden — the most important, I would argue, political and social venue in the country in 1939 — people can’t turn away from that. It becomes clear that the Bund is not just a perhaps eccentric cultural organization that has some views that most people don’t agree with, it truly does have a violent undertone to it.”

The Bund collapsed shortly after the rally, when Kuhn was found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion. Though its heyday is largely forgotten today, Yost hopes that this documentary will help serve as a reminder and a wakeup call about the precarious nature of democracy.

“It can be disturbing to see how deep the roots are for some of these ideas in America,” he said. “But it can be somewhat comforting to see that America has faced great challenges before, and has raised deep existential questions about our system of government, and has come out the other side.”

“Nazi Town, USA” premieres on “American Experience” on Tuesday at 9 p.m. 

The post ‘Nazi Town, USA,’ a new PBS documentary, examines the 1930s heyday of Hitler’s acolytes in the US appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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