20,000 Americans Hold a Pro-Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939: Chilling Video Re-Captures a Lost Chapter in US History

Our country’s bipartisan system ensures that every election will give rise to a winning side and a losing side—and depressingly, a sizable group who refrained from casting a vote either way.

There are times when the divide between the factions does not seem insurmountable, when leaders in the highest positions of authority seem sincerely committed to reaching across the divide….

And then there are other times.

Earlier in the year, the Women’s March on Washington and its hundreds of sister marches gave many of us reason to hope. The numbers alone were inspiring.

But history shows how great numbers can go the other way too.

With many American high school history curriculums whizzing through World War II in a week, if that, it’s doubly important to slow down long enough to watch the 7 minute documentary above.

What you’re looking at is the 1939 “Pro-American Rally” (aka Pro-Nazi Rally) sponsored by the German American Bund at Madison Square Garden on George Washington’s 207th Birthday. Banners emblazoned with such slogans as “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans,” “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism,” and “1,000,000 Bund Members by 1940″ decorated the great hall.

New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia—an Episcopalian with a Jewish mother—considered canceling the event, but ultimately he, along with the American Jewish Committee and the American Civil Liberties Committee decreed that the Bund was exercising its right to free speech and free assembly.

A crowd of 20,000 filled the famous sports venue in mid-town Manhattan to capacity. 1,500 police officers were present to render the Garden “a fortress impregnable to anti-Nazis.” An estimated 100,000 counter-demonstrators were gathering outside.

Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine bragged to the press that “we have enough police here to stop a revolution.”

The most disturbing moment in the short film comes at the 3:50 mark, when another security force—the Bund’s Ordnungsdienst or “Order Service” pile on Isidore Greenbaum, a 26-year-old Jewish worker who rushed the podium where bundesführer Fritz Julius Kuhn was fanning the flames of hatred. Valentine’s men eventually pulled them off, just barely managing to save the “anti-Nazi” from the vicious beating he was undergoing.

Reportedly he was beaten again, as the crowd inside the Garden howled for his blood.

The uniformed youth performing a spontaneous hornpipe in the row behind the Bund’s drum and bugle corps is a chilling sight to see.

Director Marshall Curry was spurred to bring the historic footage to Field of Vision, a filmmaker-driven documentary unit that commissions short films as a rapid response to developing stories around the globe. In this case, the developing story was the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which had occurred a mere two days before.

“The footage is so powerful,” Curry told an interviewer, “it seems amazing that it isn’t a stock part of every high school history class. But I think the rally has slipped out of our collective memory in part because it’s scary and embarrassing. It tells a story about our country that we’d prefer to forget. We’d like to think that when Nazism rose up, all Americans were instantly appalled. But while the vast majority of Americans were appalled by the Nazis, there was also a significant group of Americans who were sympathetic to their white supremacist, anti-Semitic message. When you see 20,000 Americans gathering in Madison Square Garden you can be sure that many times that were passively supportive.”

Field of Vision co-founder Laura Poitras recalled how after meeting with Curry, “my first thought was, ‘we need to put this film in cinemas,’ and release it like a newsreel.”’  The Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain screened it before features on September 26 of this year.

The Atlantic has photos of the “Pro-American Rally” and other German American Bund-sponsored events in the days leading up to WWII here. Also read an account that appeared in a 1939 edition of The New York Times here.

The International Socialist Review covers the counter-demonstrations in many eyewitness quotes.

via PaleoFuture

Related Content:

Education for Death: The Making of Nazi–Walt Disney’s 1943 Propaganda Film Shows How Fascists Are Made

Philosophers (Including Slavoj Žižek) and Ethicists Answer the Question: Is It OK to Punch Nazis?

Helen Keller Writes a Letter to Nazi Students Before They Burn Her Book: “History Has Taught You Nothing If You Think You Can Kill Ideas” (1933)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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  • John Smith says:

    In 1935, Smedley Butler said, “Like most committees it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape” (BBC Radio, “The White House Coup”, July 23, 2007), in reference to the failed Nazi coup attempt organized by wealthy American corporatists. In this article, Ayun Halliday reintroduces us to the familiar tactic of rich, comfortable people: to engage in revisionist re-tellings of history, in order to gain political advantages today. Halliday tries to draw an equivalence between the election of Donald Trump, and support for Germany’s Third Reich in 1939, then place the blame for both events squarely on the poor, and their alleged “uninformed voting”. This requires the reader to have already accepted three undefended positions: that Donald Trump is Hitler (he is not), that support for the Reich in America in the 1930’s came from the poor (it did not), and that American voters were uninformed (which they are not, and indeed have never been better informed in history). Additionally, Ayun Holliday seems unaware of how voting works, since he appears to blame the election of Donald Trump (in his mind, the literal election of Adolph Hitler in present-day America) on the one person, who he imagines existed, who is entirely to blame for the election’s result.

    Before attempting to condescendingly “educate” Open Culture visitors on history, Ayun Halliday should first educate himself on that same history, and on the democratic election process in general. He will be surprised at what he can learn.

  • Lebron Brown Jr says:

    Apparently the person that did the “documentary”, and the person who wrote this article, did not do any research at all. That, or they’re doing this for purposes of propaganda.

    The rally at Madison Square Garden was a German American Bund rally.

    “The organization existed into the mid-1930s, although it always remained small, with a membership of between 5,000 and 10,000, consisting mostly of German citizens living in the United States and German emigrants who only recently had become citizens.”

    In the film it does not say that they were German immigrants, only Americans.

  • Noah Graves says:

    What a poor piece of propaganda this is. You ought to be ashamed, Open Culture, for such lazy thinking on your website.

  • Mia S. says:

    I just thought I would share this here, I think it is the same Isidore Greenbaum from the footage, he was a true American (hero) till the very end ♡♡ https://youtu.be/bv5JCEaDuUc

  • Brian Wilder says:

    More importantly, the parallels between Nazi and Trump supporters are obvious- most clearly in their respective support for the overriding Nazi theme of “restoring Germany’s place in the sun” and Trump’s “America First” rhetoric. Support for both was/is based in economically hard hit rural areas.

  • Robert Robinson says:

    And the clueless, cantankerous critics of OpenCulture’s posting of this video confirms the implied premise of the video itself: they’re out there again…

    Bah dump-bump…

  • MSid says:

    Anyone who has a problem with OpenCulture posting articles like this… I think we all know where the complainer’s sympathies lie. Hint: it isn’t with democracy or freedom.

  • Adrian says:

    This is a bit that starts around 3:15:

    “We, with American ideals
    Demand that our government shall be returned
    To the American people who founded it”

    Yikes. That sounds familiar. Straight out of a Nazi rally in 1938.

    There was also an anti-jewish bit just before that that was horrifying too. What is wrong with us, as a species? I just don’t get why there are these common, recurring themes of hatred running throughout history and right up to today — and not just in the west, but all over the world. I don’t get it at all.

  • Morefaves says:

    I wonder how many Drumpf relatives were at the Nazi MAGA rally of it’s time?

  • JJ Esplin says:

    While some members of the American Bund were immigrants, many were born the United States, some with families who had been here several generations.
    Justifying a Nazi rally that was openly called Pro American (Look at the marquee in the beginning of the film.) Is denying the reality of home grown Nazis who considered themselves American patriots.
    Calling them a group of immigrants is denying this reality. Today, we have our own, unique brands of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. These people are very American.
    This country is far from immune from the call of fascism.
    It also might be noted that while some German immigrant members of the American Bund were held by the government during the war, it continued during the war under the guise of American fascists.

  • Joseph Ferreira says:

    A note of irony: belying the use of the the very tall image of George Washington behind the rostrum, Washington famously issued his religious freedom letter to the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI proclaiming his commitment to guarantee religious freedom to all, including Jews, following his visit to Newport in 1790. The following link is a transcript of that letter:


    Talk about the ignorance of such people…

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