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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Comments (11)
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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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