The horrific events in Charlottesville, Va., should be a stark reminder to Americans that although the fires of Nazism were contained in the 1940s, the spark was never fully extinguished. As we see the rise of Nazism in America today, it is important to look back at how our predecessors dealt with this hate in the 1930s and the 1940s.
When Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, the Germans unleashed a brutal campaign against German Jews. It was so bad that on the morning of March 20, photos of Jews being beaten, terrorized and ultimately murdered in the streets of Germany covered the front pages of newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. At the same time, the German American Bund Party, an American Nazi organization, was holding rallies in support of Hitler and beating up Jews in the streets of New York.
When members of the American Jewish Congress refused to respond to these atrocities, members of the Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. decided they had to do something. They could no longer sit on the sidelines while they watched these horrors unfold. That very night, they convened a committee that would address Nazi Germany and the growing number of Nazi supporters in America, ultimately deciding that they would start a boycott of German goods.
Three days later, on March 23, JWV led a massive protest march to kick off the boycott. This march, which ran from Cooper Square to New York City Hall, included representatives from the Jewish War Veterans Ladies Auxiliary, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and even a group from the Manischewitz Matzah Co. In total, 8,000 participants paraded in front of over 10,000 onlookers.
When they reached City Hall, Mayor John O’Brien firmly stated, “Any regime which encourages religious intolerance as its basis must and will meet with the moral opposition of the entire world.”
JWV successfully led the Boycott Against German Goods for almost a decade, when it was then superseded by the U.S. government’s official boycott after the country’s entrance into World War II late in 1941.
Signs stating “For humanity’s sake, don’t buy German goods” littered the storefronts of the East Coast. Pamphlets informed shoppers about what products to buy and where to buy them. Stores eventually gave in, and they refused to carry any more German products.
JWV also partnered with fellow veterans organizations to root out the American Nazi menace. JWV and other veterans groups monitored over 21 Bundist camps throughout the United States until the government disbanded them in 1941.
These veterans groups also regularly broke up the Friends of New Germany and the Bund Party’s rallies, which often ended in notable brawls such as at the Yorkville Casino, where 100 members of the JWV and the American Legion faced over 1,000 Nazis in 1938.
Additionally, JWV actively lobbied legislatures to act against the Nazi movement. The biggest success was the passage of the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, which required foreign agents or citizens acting as foreign agents to register with the U.S. State Department.
Under that law, the leader of the German American Bund Party, Fritz Kuhn, had his citizenship revoked and was deported to Germany, where, as The New York Times reported, he died a “poor, obscure chemist” nobody missed.
Kuhn’s fellow American Nazis also became nothing more than societal rejects and historical footnotes. The Friends of New Germany and the German American Bund were disbanded by the U.S. government and never heard from again.
Like their predecessors, these new Nazis must be shown that we do not share their un-American beliefs. We remain vigilant but aware of the resurgence of American Nazism. Our friends, parents and grandparents did not fight and die in World War II to see this abhorrent philosophy re-emerge, and we will do our part to not let their sacrifices be in vain.
“We begin by exercising our freedom of speech and the political process, insisting that our elected representatives take a strong, unequivocal stand against this scourge. Today, it’s a war of words, but we, along with our fellow veteran organizations, stand ready to confront hate and bigotry whenever and wherever it shows,” proclaimed JWV National Commander Col. Carl A. Singer.
The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. is working with other veterans organizations to limit the reincarnation of American Nazism. Alongside JWV, veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have all issued statements condemning the Nazi hate and even ordering their membership to resign if they ascribe to these shameful ideologies.
“The Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A. was on the right side of history then, and now, rather than remaining silent, we are speaking up against hatred,” Col. Singer said.
Anna Selman, an Army veteran, is the programs and public relations coordinator for Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.