In historical writing and analysis, PRESENTISM is the introduction of present-day ideals and perspectives into depictions or interpretations of the past. I believe presentism is a form of cultural bias, and it creates a distorted understanding of the subject matter. Reading modern notions of morality into the past is committing the error of presentism. I'm well aware that historical accounts are written by people and can be slanted, so I try my hardest to present articles that are fact-based and well researched, without interjecting any of my personal opinions.
NOTE: I present articles without regard to race, color, political party, religion, national origin, citizenship status, gender, age, disability, or military status. What I present are FACTS — NOT ALTERNATIVE FACTS — about the subject. What you won't find are rumors, lies, unfounded claims, character assassinations, hateful statements, insults, or attempts at being funny.
PLEASE PRACTICE HISTORICISM, WHICH IS THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PAST IN ITS OWN CONTEXT.
|German-American Bund leader Fritz Kuhn promising to make Germany and America great once more at a rally at Irving Park and Narragansett on June 18, 1939.|
Chicago newspapers estimated that between 4,000 and 8,000 assembled to support the German-American Bund, an organization whose stated mission was to "defend the Constitution, Flag, and Institutions of these United States of America." But as at other Bund gatherings, those that spoke showed nothing but contempt for American democracy. There was remarkably little ideological difference between the German-American Bund and the Nazi Party in Germany. Several hundred men and boys dressed in uniforms resembling those worn by Nazi storm troopers. Vendors sold beer, brats, and anti-Semitic literature.
|Bund recruiting tent on display during the June 18, 1939, rally.|
|Nazi sympathizers in front of the Field Museum in May 1931.|
The Nazi party's seizure of power breathed new life into the movement. In July 1933, the Friends of New Germany held its first convention in Chicago, with the grandiose goal of unifying the millions of German-Americans under its banner. The group was no less hostile to Jews or leftists than were its counterparts in Germany. The historian Sander A. Diamond has suggested that skilled workers left economically insecure by the Depression formed the core of its membership. By April 1934, the Chicago chapter reportedly had 500 members, including 40 storm troopers that performed military drills each Thursday. Although new members took an oath that affirmed the Führerprinzip—the principle that the leader's word was above any written law—the Friends of New Germany was such a fractious mess that the German government, which had long collaborated with the group, ordered German nationals to resign their memberships in October 1935.
|Police hold back demonstrators at a Bund rally at Lincoln Turner Hall at Diversey and Sheffield in October 1938. The Bund was bitterly opposed not only by the groups it had sought to eliminate from American society but also by most German-Americans, the vast majority of whom wanted nothing to do with the Bund.|
The Bund did not go unchallenged in Chicago. In September 1937, the Chicago Daily Times ran a ten-part series on the group. Two German-American brothers, James and John Metcalfe, went undercover and quickly rose in its ranks. Backed by the Bund's own malignant propaganda, they characterized the organization as an "alien army" that considered not only Jews and Communists as its enemies but also the Catholic Church and New Deal liberals. One Bundist told John Metcalfe that he had witnessed "men dumped out of windows and killed" in Germany. "The day will come over here when Jews get the same treatment on the street they get in Germany," he said. The exposé intensified pressure for the federal government to investigate the group, particularly its ties to the German government. While the group continued to portray itself as a deeply patriotic organization, its actions showed an alarming contempt for democratic traditions. At a meeting at the Germania Club in Lincoln Park that drew 1,000 participants in February 1938, William Kunze, the head of the Bund's publicity office, declared that Jews, representing 4 percent of the population, controlled the press, radio, movie studios, schools, courts, and finance. Asked how the Bund proposed "to eliminate the Jews," Kunze urged that legislation could be passed along the lines of those that excluded Asian immigration to the United States, adding that this might not be necessary "if the Jew learns his lesson." During the meeting, a stormtrooper from Glenview smashed a reporter's camera. Two students were assaulted when they refused to salute the Nazi flag.
|Most German-Americans, the vast majority of whom wanted nothing to do with the Bund.|
Under intense federal scrutiny, the Bund was a broken organization by the time Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. In 1943, a federal court stripped Kuhn of his citizenship on the grounds that he had demonstrated complete allegiance to a foreign power. Deported to Germany in 1945, he died in obscurity and poverty six years later. The rally in June 1939 would not be the last mass meeting of Nazis in Chicago, although these extremists often came from mixed ethnic and cultural backgrounds disdained by the Bund. George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, spoke in Marquette Park in August 1966 to an audience that may have been as large as 3,000. Although the National Socialist Party marches of 1977 still loom large in the public consciousness, there were only perhaps 30 marchers in total.
It would be nice to think that our city would never have to experience such a spectacle again, but you shouldn't hold your breath.
The Chicago Reader
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.