Bund Führer

Fritz Kuhn and Hans diebel

THE GERMAN AMERICAN BUND

The German American Bund can be traced back to Chicago, Illinois in 1924 with the formation of the Chicago chapter of the Free Society of Teutonia. Founded by four German immigrants, the Teutonia Society was one of the earliest National Socialist organizations to appear in America and would later make Adolf Hitler their honorary leader, and adopt Nazism as their cause. The original leader of this group, Fritz Gissebi, would later go on to become a high-ranking officer in the Schutzstaffel (or SS, the Nazi paramilitary organization most responsible for the killing of six million European Jews during the Holocaust) in Nazi-occupied Poland. The Free Society of Teutonia would disband in 1932, but a year later would regroup as the Friends of New Germany, holding its first convention in Chicago. The Friends of New Germany openly admitted its connection to the Nazi government, leading to a 1935 Berlin directive that German nationals could not be members of the organization. By 1936, the group once again re-formed as The German American Bund, with chapters beginning in major American cities by infiltrating existing local German American community organizations. The German American Bund Party was the American arm of the Nazi Party, and although they claimed no affiliation, were all but identical to them, both visually and ideologically. At their rallies, the American flag would hang side by side with Nazi flags bearing the swastika.

 

At a massive rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939, attended by some 20,000 supporters, speakers not only referenced and quoted George Washington, but a portrait of him hung high above the podium. The German American Bund was anti-Semitic, anti-communist and nationalistic. In their controversial Madison Square Garden speech, the crowd was addressed as “white Christians” and “Aryans.” 

Speeches from Madison Square Gardens 02-20-1939Artist Name
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Collected in the booklet “Free America” are the speeches given at the controversial Madison Square Garden rally on February 20, 1939.  (pages 8-9 missing.) George Washington’s birthday was deliberately picked for the event; the Bund sought to tie its beliefs to American patriotism and its founding fathers, even referring to Washington as “America’s first fascist.” Speeches were given by Bund members J. Wheeler-Hill (National Secretary), Rudolf Markman (Eastern Department leader), George Froboses (Midwestern Department Leader), Hermann Schwinn (West Coast Department Leader), G. William Kunze (National Public Relations Director), and The Bund Führer, Fritz Kuhn.  

Fritz Kuhn finished his address to the crowd of supporters by summing up what the Bund was “actively fighting for...”: 

  • A socially just, white gentile ruled United States;  

  • A gentile-controlled labor unions free from Jewish, Moscow-directed domination;  

  • Gentiles in all position of importance in government, national defense, and educational institutions; 

  • Outlawing of the communist party in the United States, prosecution of all known communists for high treason;  

  • Immediate cessation of the dumping of all political ‘refugees’ on the shores of the United States; 

  • Thorough cleaning of the Hollywood film industries of all alien, subversive activities; 

  • Cessation of all abuse of the pulpit, press, radio and stage; 

  • A return of our government to the policies of George Washington. Aloofness from foreign entanglements. Severance of all connections with the league of nations. 

Like the Nazi Party of Germany, the German American Bund wanted fascism, with “white Christians” in control.  

BUND FUEHRER - FRITZ KUHN

The leader of the German American Bund was German-born Fritz Kuhn, who came to America in 1924 at the age of 28 and became a U.S. Citizen through naturalization. He lived in Detroit, working as a chemical engineer when he turned the remnants of the Friends of New Germany into the German American Bund, with followers referring to him as the “American Führer.” 

The German American Bund was already well established locally by April of 1939 when Fritz Kuhn arrived in town. Deutsches Haus, the Bund Headquarters in Downtown L.A., was printing Bund information leaflets and booklets appealing to German and German Americans  to “awake and act!”   

The Los Angeles Times, interviewing Kuhn the day before a rally,  treated him as a curiosity instead of a threat: “Something calling itself Americanism with a broad German accent came to town yesterday in the well-groomed person of Fritz Kuhn.”  They called the Bund Party “one of the militant and puzzling minority movements in this country.”  

The Local Bund party that held rallies in Hindenburg Park was seen as one of the strongest in the country. The rally held there on April 30 (ten days after Adolf Hitler’s birthday) had some two thousand supporters in attendance to see Fritz Kuhn and Hermann Schwinn speak. The American Flag  was displayed on the stage, along with Nazi flags bearing the swastika. 

While ideologically identical to German Nazism, the German American Bund and Fritz Kuhn became a problem for Germany. Hans Dieckhoff, the German ambassador to the US, reported to Berlin that the Bund’s “stupid and noisy activities” were straining international relations, which was problematic given Germany’s desire to keep America out of World War II. While Germany officially denied connections with the Bund, as did Kuhn publicly, it was clearly tied to German propaganda agencies, which maintained contact with Kuhn even after Berlin’s 1938 announcement prohibiting German nationals from joining the Bund. Kuhn visited Germany in a failed attempt to appeal the decision, and came back to America boasting of close ties with high-ranking Nazis like Goebbles and Goering, further sabotaging diplomatic relations.  Below is a picture of Kuhn meeting with Chancellor Hitler.

Kuhn with Hitler, ca.1940
German-American Bund

While Kuhn continually denied any ties to the Nazi Party of Germany, the Bund’s brand of nationalism, racism and pro-fascism made them all but identical.  The German American Bund Charts book provided an outline for the Bund's growth.

Aims and Purposes
Bund Membership Kuhn

THE FALL OF A FUEHRER

1939 was an eventful year for Fritz Kuhn. He started it off in February of that year creating their most widely known event in Madison Square Garden, and ended it by being sentenced to prison.  At the rally at Madison Square Garden, the German American Bund made themselves known to Americans – and to the House Un-American Activities Committee and the New York District Attorney, which launched investigations into the group. Kuhn was convicted for embezzling Bund funds, including those raised at the Madison Square Garden rally, and sentenced to prison. His American citizenship was revoked and he was deported to Germany in 1945. Kuhn would be convicted during denazification, escape from the post-war Dachau internment camp, be recaptured and spend the remainder of his life in prison. 

Free America Kuhn
Kuhn walking into Sing Sing Prison

Kuhn (third from left), walks into Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York, on December 6, 1939, to begin serving his sentence. Sheriff Mathew Larkin, right, of New York county, is escorting the prisoners.

HANS DIEBEL - RIGHT HAND MAN

From 1936, Hans Diebel operated the Aryan Bookstore located in the same building as the Bund headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles, Deutsches Haus (German House). The bookstore contained German books like Hitler's Mein Kampf, pamphlets, flyers, and other propaganda put out by the Bund for mass circulation, like their weekly The Free American, and other anti-Jewish materials. Diebel was closely associated with Hermann Schwinn, who was a leader of the German American Bund on the West Coast. 

Bund activities in Los Angeles had increasingly come under surveillance by the United States government and local Jewish organizations. In one such report of activities at Deutsches Haus, Diebel indicated that he planned to throw pamphlets off the Metropolitan Building in downtown, disguising himself by wearing “colored glasses.” The Bund also attempted to appeal to American sentiment by re-contextualizing the work of famous American patriots, like Benjamin Franklin, to demonstrate that the founding fathers supported white supremacy and condemned Jews, just like Hitler.  

Hans Diebel at Hindenburg Park
Hans Diebel at shooting range
Diebel Report from Spy #3

To bring about “der tag,” or “the day” when the German-American Bund would take control of the United States, Diebel and others in the Bund trained in the use of firearms at shooting ranges. Fortunately, he was prevented from obtaining weapons. Although he had tried to become a citizen through naturalization, photographs with the Bund and materials from his bookstore were presented as evidence to block his application.

 

“Der tag” never arrived, and Hans Diebel, along with Schwinn, was arrested after the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the U.S. into World War II. The Aryan Bookstore was raided, and Diebel was imprisoned. He was deported and moved to Frankfurt, Germany. 

Raid of the Aryan bookstore, 1942

In June of 1942, a raid was conducted on an Aryan bookstore in Los Angeles, yielding a great deal of Nazi paraphernalia.

Hans Diebel gives a speech at Hindenburg Park in La Crescenta. Hermann Schwinn stands to the right of the podium.

Copyright notice: Any materials under copyright in this exhibit are covered by the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act.  Permission and preferred attribution were requested of all copyright holders.

Citations:

 

FRITZ KUHN: 

A Night at the Garden. Dir. Marshall Curry. YouTube, produced by Field of Vision, 11 Oct. 2017

Kuhn, Fritz. “Nazis Rallied at Madison Square Garden.” WNYC, 1 May 2019. Audio provided with special thanks to the WNYC Archives Collection. 

Free America!: The German American Bund at Madison Square Garden February 20, 1939. Speeches. Internet Archive

Members of the German-American Bund form a guard of honor before the speaker's stand as Fritz Kuhn, leader of the Bund, addresses a crowd at Hindenberg Park, La Crescenta, near Los Angeles, California, on April 30, 1939. “American Nazis in the 1930s-The German American Bund.” Associated Press. The Atlantic, 5 June 2017

Awake and Act! Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

Constitution & by-laws of the German American Association of Los Angeles. Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

"Bund Chieftain Fritz Kuhn Arrives to Address Meeting." Los Angeles Times. 29 Apr. 1939. ProQuest. Reprinted by permission of the Los Angeles Times. 

German American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn, (center, front), and members of his staff pay their respects to Germany's Chancellor Adolf Hitler, during a visit to Berlin. “American Nazis in the 1930s-The German American Bund.” Bettmann Archive. The Atlantic, 5 June 2017

German American Bund (membership card); Amerikadeutscher Volksbund. Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

 

THE FALL OF A FUEHER: 

German Americans! All Americans! Stand Up Against Persecution! Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

Becker, Murray. American Nazi Kuhn, Ossining, New York. Associated Press, 6 Dec. 1939. “American Nazis in the 1930s-The German American Bund.” Associated Press. The Atlantic, 5 June 2017.  

 

HANS DIEBEL: 

Hans Diebel, Hindenburg Park. Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection. Los Angeles Public Library. 9 Jan. 1941. Tessa. Accessed Jan 2021. 

Spy R-3 reports activities at German House. Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

Hans Diebel at Firing Range. Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library

 

ADDITONAL RESEARCH: 

“Former Bund Leader Convicted In Absentia by German Court.” San Bernardino Sun, vol. 54, no. 201, 21 April 1948. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of the California, Riverside.  

“Free Society of Teutonia.” Project Gutenberg Self Publishing. World eBook Library.  http://www.self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/free_society_of_teutonia 

German American Bund. Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Community Relations Committee Collection. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California 1933-1945. California State University, Northridge Digital Library. Updated 22 Feb. 2019. 

“Hollywood Has Bund Troubles.” Madera Tribune, vol. 77, no. 33, 10 Jan. 1941. California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research, University of California, Riverside

Kramer, Sarah Kate. “When Nazis Took Manhattan.” Code Switch. National Public Radio. 20, Feb 2019

Nichols, Jess. “In 1939 Nazis rallied in Chicago to make Germany great again.” Chicago Reader, 11 March 2016

Ross, Steven Joseph. Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America. Bloomsbury USA, 2017

United States Congress, Senate. Journal of the Senate of the United States of America. California State Printing Office, fifty-fifth session, 1943, pp. 1367. Google Books