Six and a half months before Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Madison Square Garden in New York City held a rally to celebrate the rise of Nazism in Germany. Inside, more than 20,000 attendees hailed the Nazis in favor of a 30-foot-tall portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas. Outside, police and some 100,000 demonstrators gathered.
The organization behind the event of February 20, 1939 – advertised on the marquee as a “Pro American Rally” – was the German American Bund (“Bund” means “federation” in German). The anti-Semitic organization organized Nazi summer camps for young people and their families in the 1930s. Young members of the Bund were present that night, as were the Ordnungsdienst, or OD, the Self-Defense Police. of the group who dressed like Hitler’s SS officers.
Banners at the rally had messages such as “Stop Jewish domination of American Christians” and “Awaken America.” Break Jewish Communism. When the Bund’s national leader, Fritz Kuhn, gave his closing speech, he called President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “Rosenfield” and Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey “Thomas Jewey”.
“We, along with American ideals, demand that our government be returned to the American people who founded it,” said Kuhn, a naturalized American who lost his citizenship in World War II. “If you ask why we are actively fighting under our charter: First, a socially just, white, Gentile-ruled United States. Second, the Gentile-controlled unions, free from Moscow-led Jewish rule.
Kuhn’s speech was interrupted by an American Jewish man named Isadore Greenbaum who charged up the stage in protest. The police and the Self-Defense Force quickly approached him and beat him on the stage. The crowd cheered as they threw him off the stage, dropping his pants in the process. Police charged Greenbaum with disorderly conduct and fined him $ 25, approximately $ 450 in 2019 dollars.
At the time of the rally, Hitler was completing his sixth concentration camp; and the protesters – many of whom were American Jews – drew attention to the fact that what was happening in Germany could be happening in the United States. “Don’t wait for the concentration camps, act now! proclaimed flyers announcing the protest. Outside the rally, people carried placards with messages such as “Anti-Semitism Smash” and “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of the Nazis”.
In some cases, police responded to protesters with violent attacks. In one case, a protester escaped a mounted policeman who had caught him by hitting his horse in the face. As the rally broke that night, some protesters were able to evade police and punch the Nazis in the face.