BundesfÜhrer Kuhn

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There are adherents of even the most repellent concepts who with a stretch can be seen as motivated by perverted idealism. No such claim can be made for Fritz Julius Kuhn of the German American Bund. Great liar, thief, forger, adulterous womanizer, braggart, lout, and boor—even Hitler didn’t like him. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry: a jackanapes Nazi charlatan in boots strutting around beneath swastikas to denounce Franklin D. Rosenfelt’s Jew Deal while declaiming that one day he, the Bundesführer , would run things.

He was born in Munich in 1896. He served from 1914 to 1918 as a lieutenant of machine guns in a Bavarian outfit in France, joined the fledgling Nazi party in 1921, enrolled at the University of Munich to study chemical engineering, and went to Mexico to work as a chemist there for four years. Then he came to America. By 1934 he was a citizen.

Kuhn moved exclusively in German-background circles—his spoken and written English was always terrible—and particularly in ones excited and energized by Hitler’s accession to power. Nazi theory held that blood was far more important than citizenship or place of birth and that it was the blood-dictated responsibility of all facial brothers away from Germany to acknowledge their obligations toward the fatherland. In America this view was enthusiastically accepted by the Friends of the New Germany, the Swastika League, and the Teutonia Association. But the groups were hopelessly divided as their leaders squabbled for power. “Sometimes I think during the night,” Karl Neumann wrote sadly in the Amerikadeutscher Volksbund , “that if our Führer , Adolf Hitler, ever saw the mess in New York, he would cry.” By 1936 there was no more mess in New York or anywhere else: Kuhn ruled.

A forceful and dynamic organizer, he took all those who titled themselves not German-Americans but the Germans in America, all who believed in the Third Reich and waited and prayed for der Tag (the day), a morning that would find Nazism triumphant in the United States, and made them into the German American Bund. Big, powerful-looking, pounding his fist on a podium, he shouted that even as Germany was now awake—“Deutschland erwache!” had been Hitler’s rallying cry—so must America follow; Hitler’s Führerprinzip (leadership principle) must apply here and to himself, the American Führer , a “historic personality.”

Soon there was Camp Siegfried in Long Island, and Deutschhorst in Pennsylvania, Efdende North in Michigan, Nordland in New Jersey, Hindenburg in Wisconsin, men in black leather jackboots and Sam Browne belts with “ BLOOD ” and “ HONOR ” on the buckles, and uniformed children in columns marching down Hermann Goering Strasse for the Bundesführer to swastika-bedecked platforms, where they flung out their arms in palm-down salute. “Youth, Youth—we are the future soldiers,” sang the children, the Youth Organization and Girls’ League members, some as young as six years. “Yes, by our fists will be smashed whoever stands in our way. Führer , we belong to you.” At Ebling’s Casino in the Bronx, at Fesel’s Pavilion in Suffern, New York, at Hermannson’s Park in Oakdale, California, in beer and dance halls in Buffalo, Milwaukee, and Chicago, the Bund held beer evenings, coffee hours, comradeship meetings; showed movies made in Berlin; sponsored soccer, tennis, hockey, swimming, and ski teams; went to the mountains for martial drill and hiking; and paraded in honor of Hitler’s birthday. There were lectures on Nazi art and music. “ PATRONIZE ARYAN STORES ” handouts were distributed in front of Jewish-owned establishments.

It cost money to be a herald of the Third Reich, with uniforms, insignia, chevrons, rings, pins, emblems, and certificates of membership. It was not for the mechanics and watchmakers, the waiters and clerks and small shopowners who formed the Bund to complain; for, thundered the Bundesführer , all charges should be borne happily: “[In] a spirit of joyous self-sacrifice … we shall prevail; the Jewish spirit of materialism must not be permitted to enter the Bund.” Admission was charged for the use of the camps and attendance at the torchlit rallies of throbbing drums, passionate speeches, marching displays, fierce singing, and shouts of “Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler!” The money ended up in the national headquarters in the Yorkville section of New York City, along with the substantial advertising revenues realized from the Bund’s many newspapers and magazines and funneled through half a dozen Bund corporations. There was little accounting of what came in and where it went, and few questions were asked. The Führerprinzip obtained.