The author of Bath Massacre: America’s First School Bombing (2009) returns with the disturbing story of the pro-Nazi movement that grew in 1930s America—until legal troubles and Pearl Harbor destroyed both the mad dreams and the dreamers.
Bernstein begins with a moment almost impossible to imagine: a 1939 pro-Nazi rally held in Madison Square Garden to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. Tens of thousands were involved, including some 17,000 cops to keep control of the 100,000 protestors outside. (The author returns later with much more detail about the event.) Bernstein focuses on Fritz Julius Kuhn, born in Munich, a young man at the time Hitler began his improbable ascent to power. The author follows Kuhn to the United States, where he eventually became a citizen, and tells about his employment with Henry Ford, another who was dazzled by Hitler and besotted by anti-Semitism. Kuhn joined the Bund, worked his way into the position of Bundesführer and thereafter lived with blithe disregard for social conventions. The Bund found lots of supporters—on both coasts and in between—in Depression-era America, though it had some high-profile opponents, as well, including columnist Walter Winchell, who regularly blasted them. They founded publications and youth and women’s groups—in the youth camp, it seems, there was some sexual activity along with the canoeing and propaganda. Bernstein tells us about the odd outreach to Native Americans and reminds us of Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here (about a fascist takeover of America). Eventually, the authorities in New York—Fiorello La Guardia and Thomas Dewey among them—decided they’d had enough and went after Kuhn. They got him, and he spent some jail time and ended up in Europe, dead and forgotten.
A story of disgusting people doing disgusting things, told with relish and undisguised disdain.