1939 Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden
On February 20, 1939, a Nazi rally was organized by the German American Bund at Madison Square Garden. More than 20,000 people attended, and Fritz Julius Kuhn was a featured speaker. The Bund billed the event, which took place on George Washington's Birthday, as a pro-"Americanism" rally; the stage at the event featured a huge Washington portrait with swastikas on either side.
The German American Bund was a pro-Hitler organization in the United States before World War II. The group promoted Nazi propaganda in the United States, combining Nazi imagery with American patriotic imagery.
The largely decentralized Bund was active in a number of regions, but attracted support only from a minority of German Americans. The Bund was the most influential of a number of pro-Nazi German groups in the United States in the 1930s; others included the Teutonia Society and Friends of New Germany (also known as the Hitler Club). Alongside allied groups, such as the Christian Front, these organizations were virulently antisemitic.
The pro-Nazi organizations in the U.S. were actively countered by anti-Nazi organizations led by American Jews, liberals, and others who opposed Hitlerism and supported a boycott of German goods. The Joint Boycott Committee held a rally at Madison Square Garden in 1937.
The rally took place at a time when the German American Bund's membership was dropping; Kuhn hoped that a provocative high-profile event would reverse the group's declining fortunes. The pro-Nazi Bund was unpopular in New York City, and some called for the event to be banned. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia allowed the event to go forward, correctly predicting that the Bund's highly publicized spectacle would further discredit them in the public eye.
The event was highly choreographed in the fascist style, with uniformed Bund members carrying American and Nazi flags, the display of the Nazi salute, and the playing of martial music and German folk songs.
Shortly after the rally, the Bund rapidly declined. Two months after the rally, the film Confessions of a Nazi Spy was released by Warner Brothers, ridiculing the Nazis and their American sympathizers. The Bund also came under investigation. After its financial records were seized in a raid on the group's Yorkville, Manhattan headquarters, authorities discovered that $14,000 (about $250,000 in 2018 dollars) raised by the Bund in the rally was unaccounted for, having been spent by Kuhn on his mistress and various personal expenses. Kuhn was convicted of embezzlement in December 1939 and sent to Sing Sing prison. Kuhn's successor as Bund leader was Gerhard Wilhelm Kunze, a spy for German military intelligence who fled the United States in November 1941. The final Bund national leader was George Froboese, who was in charge of the organization when Germany declared war on the United States. Froboese committed suicide in 1942, after receiving a federal grand jury subpoena.
- Bort, Ryan (February 19, 2019). "When Nazis Took Over Madison Square Garden". Rolling Stone.
- Bradley W. Hart, Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's Supporters in the United States (St. Martin's/Dunne, 2018).
- Eli Lederhendler, American Jewry: A New History (Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 230.
- Buder, Emily (October 10, 2017). "Footage of German American Bund Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939". The Atlantic.