A well-timed article in the Chicago Reader on Friday morning described the rise of a local Nazi party — just hours before a Donald Trump rally that drew thousands in Chicago had to be canceled due to protests.
On June 18, 1939, between 4,000 and 8,000 people gathered at a location that used to be known as Merrimac Park for a meeting of the German-American Bund whose stated mission was to “defend the Constitution, Flag, and Institutions of these United States of America.”
Despite those altruistic goals, there was little difference difference between the nationalism of the Bund and the Nazi Party in Germany.
The event that began with “The Star-Spangled Banner” — and ended with the Hitler salute and German hymns — was attended by several hundred men and boys dressed in uniforms similar to those worn by Nazi storm troopers.
According to the Reader, the Nazi movement in Chicago began 15 years earlier as the Teutonia Society, puckishly described as an “anti-Semitic drinking society” and Hitler fan club that eventually went dormant.
With the rise of Nazism, workers hit hard by the Depression began to flock to the reinvigorated organization and soon the Chicago chapter claimed to have over 500 members — including 40 storm troopers that performed weekly military drills.
In March 1936, the German-American Bund was created and led by naturalized citizen Fritz Kuhn, a Detroit chemist with a flair for organizing.
Remarkably mirroring Donald Trumps meteoric rise for the GOP presidential nomination, historian Sander A. Diamond wrote of Kuhn, “His bombast, propensity for exaggeration, and lies were part of his technique.”
The group portrayed itself as a deeply patriotic organization, however it took its cues from the German Nazis: stating that Jews controlled the press, radio, movie studios, schools, courts and banking. Allegiance to the Nazi Party was enforced with two students reportedly assaulted for refusing to salute the Nazi flag.
In 1938 fights broke out between the Bundists and those who attempted to bring an American flag into a meeting hall, leading to 150 police officers being dispatched to stop a possible riot among 5,000 protesters.
The Bund eventually dissolved amidst claims of financial shenanigans, with Kuhn accused of embezzlement.
After Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S., Kuhn had his citizenship stripped and was deported to Germany where he died in poverty in 1945.