Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


Nazism in 1930s Brooklyn.

Feb 22, 2013 1:46 PM | 2 comments

We have grown accustomed--too accustomed perhaps--to thinking of Brooklyn as the borough that integrated baseball, a borough dominated politically by Democrats, in which liberal and left-wing politics historically have flourished. But a recent acquisition brought home the fact that other points of view--including some many of us would now find repugnant--have gained a foothold here in the not so distant past. The drumbeat of Fascism in the 1930s could be heard all over Europe. It should come as no surprise that Brooklyn in that era also had its share of Fascist sympathisers.

On November 17 and 18, 1934, a gathering of "Friends of the New Germany" aka Nazis, drawn from all over the Eastern U.S., met in Brooklyn. We recently came across a well-preserved program for the event, and acquired it for the Brooklyn Collection.

The groups represented are listed in the program, with "Bay Ridge N.Y." receiving special mention, and Brooklyn at the head of the list, as "Seat of the Leadership District." Many things about the program indicate a well-organized group with firm roots in the community. Who, then, were the Nazis of Brooklyn?

On August  12, 1935 the New York World Telegram reported that there were 1,100 Nazis in Ridgewood, Brooklyn, but "to most of them, the American Nazi movement offers simply another of those sociable Vereins they can never resist joining." There were two main organizations: the Friends of the New Germany, headed by Joseph Schuster; and the breakaway American National Socialists League established in January 1935, headed by Anton Haegele.

According to William Birnie in the same newspaper on August 14, Nazism offered two attractive features to German Americans who might have had no interest in spreading Nazi propaganda: first, they supported the war on the American boycott of German goods and services; second, they offered an extensive program of social and athletic activities.

Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Several photographs in the program show uniformed groups. Above, Brooklyn's Nazi soccer team took on the Philadelphia Gauleitung. We do not know who won. But soccer was only one of many activities offered by the Nazis. Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, L.I., offered the area's Fascists a place to strutt, march, relax and exchange salutes. On arrival at the Yaphank train station, an enthusiast from Brooklyn would have been greeted by crowds of fellow campers giving the Nazi salute.

Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection

Once settled, the camper could enjoy marching in strict formation, stealing fruit from nearby orchards, chasing local residents from Yaphank Lake, or taking a ride on a Ferris Wheel. According to the outraged Justice Neuss reporting to the Brookhaven Town Board, between 3,000 and 5,000 persons visited the camp each weekend.

Camp Siegfried, Yaphank L.I., September 1938. Brooklyn Public Library--Brooklyn Collection.


According to the program, Brooklyn's women's group was "the strongest in the region." 

On March 13, 1938 Brooklyn's long-serving Representative, Emanuel Celler, appeared on a radio program in which he registered his alarm at the spreading of Nazi ideology. Quoting a study in the magazine Ken, he said, "Within the last week (the Nazis) have captured complete control of the old German American societies which for five years put up a stiff fight against the Nazi invasion. In Los Angeles, New Jersey, Brooklyn...Nazi officials took over the united German societies, lock stock and barrel..." Celler urged the passing of a bill in congress to compel all propagandists to register. 

Celler was not the only one to be alarmed. One correspondent to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote: "Why are the German-Americans parading here? Why are they establishing Nazi camps, dressed in full uniform, practicing the Hitler salute?...and when doing so they carry the American flag."

Apr 23, 1938 Charles Weiss, editor of a Brooklyn anti-Nazi magazine, was found badly beaten with swastikas etched on his back. He worked in the offices of the Anti-Communist Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi League at 130 Flatbush Ave near the LIRR. Four men "of German appearance" broke in, pinned his arms behind him and demanded that he kiss a small Nazi flag. He refused.

Oct 3, 1938 2000 members and sympathizers of the pro-Nazi German-American Bund met at the Prospect Hall, 261 Prospect Avenue. 200 pickets from the American League for Peace and Democracy, "a leftist group," picketed outside.

March 16, 1939 400 members and friends of the German American Bund attended a rally at the Schwaben Hall, Knickerbocker and Myrtle Aves. Sponsored by the Brooklyn unit of the Bund in Ridgewood, the meeting was held to show motion pictures drawing comparisons between the old and the new Germany. The event included speeches by Karl Nicolai, Brooklyn chairman of the Bund, and Gustav Wilhelm Kunze, national director of public relations. The Schwaben Hall in Bushwick was a particular hotbed of Nazi activity. In fact the final page of our program invites German Americans to meetings at the Schwaben Hall "Jeden Mittwoch" (every Wednesday) at 8:30 P.M. The headquarters of the Friends of the New Germany was nearby at 533 Knickerbocker Avenue, and Hamburg Ave was renamed Wilson Ave after Word War I.

Belcher Hyde Miniature Atlas of Brooklyn, 1912.

The Schwaben Hall, shown as the pink square at the top right of the map, burned down in 1977.


Local businesses of all kinds were not shy to advertise in the program. The particular meeting documented here included musical excerpts, as well as a speech by Gauleiter Schuster. The Star-Spangled Banner opened the event; Johann Strauss's Fledermaus Overture came next, then a few other items followed by the Radetzky March.  After speeches, athletic displays and songs by the youth group, the program ended with the Horst Wessel Song.  

And what happened to the members of these organizations when war broke out? Some surely quietly hid their involvement. But according to Mark D. Van Ells, "When Hitler declared war against the United States four days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Bund members found themselves stranded in enemy territory. Federal agents seized Bund records. Many of its members faced denaturalization proceedings and imprisonment."  

Faces on the Path with Photographer Jamel Shabazz, Wednesday, Feb. 27th, 7pm

Feb 21, 2013 1:35 PM | 0 comments

We are pleased to welcome one of our most popular speakers back to the Brooklyn Collection this Wednesday, February 27th, for the latest installment of our monthly lecture series.  Join photographer Jamel Shabazz as he talks about his experience coming of age in Brooklyn as a young photographer. Through his images he will share stories about his growth into manhood and his desire to document the lives of the people who impacted his life.  Shabazz's photography is currently on display throughout the Central Library building and in the Brooklyn Collection.  You can also see some of the photographs that he has donated permanently to the Brooklyn Collection in our catalog. 

All programs are held in the Brooklyn Collection, on the 2nd floor mezzanine level of the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. A wine and cheese reception precedes the talk at 6:30 P.M. Seating is limited to 40 people. Tickets will be given out starting at 6:30pm.

New Digital Exhibits at the Brooklyn Collection

Feb 12, 2013 1:59 PM | 0 comments

I'm happy to announce a new addition to the Brooklyn Collection's roster of online exhibits -- the Generation Preservation Project. The project was created by Philip Bond in 2009 during his time at the Macon Library in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is also home to the African-American Heritage Center. Using that historic Carnegie library as a backdrop, Bond invited the neighborhood in to have "family" portraits taken. Participants were given a copy of their portrait and, with permission, the portraits were also donated to the Brooklyn Collection to serve as a lasting documentation of the community. All were welcome, and the term "family" was used broadly, as befits a city as diverse as ours. Some families comprised multiple generations, some groups of friends, and some only one soul. The popular program was repeated in 2011, and an exhibit of the photographs was mounted at the Macon Library. Our digital slideshow of images from the project also includes an interview with Philip Bond, who discusses the genesis of the project, the community's response to it, and whether or not it is OK to pose with one's cat.

Additionally, in honor of Black History Month, the Brooklyn Collection has put together a resource page on African-American history in Brooklyn.  Drawing from several of our digitized collections, including city directories, Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, and the Civil Rights in Brooklyn collection, the resource guide focuses in on abolition efforts in Brooklyn, daily life for Black Brooklynites in the 19th century, and the efforts of the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the 1960s.  Both collections can be accessed from our Programs and Exhibitions page.  For a wider-angle view of Black history in America, Brooklyn Public Library has also put together several Black History Month webpages, including one focusing on Black genealogy, which can be accessed here. 

Intro to Buildings Research Workshop, Feb. 20th, 7-9pm in the InfoCommons

Feb 11, 2013 12:38 PM | 1 comment

As you may have heard, the library has opened a beautiful new workspace and learning center in our Central location -- the Shelby White and Leon Levy InfoCommons.  The InfoCommons offers much-needed space for laptop users as well as computer workstations with specialized software like Photoshop and Dreamweaver.  More exciting to us is the Lab adjacent to the InfoCommons.  This classroom space comes equipped with laptops and A/V equipment, and affords us the new opportunity to lead workshops in topics relating to Brooklyn history.

Our next workshop is coming soon! Introduction to Buildings Research will be held in the InfoCommons Lab on Wednesday, February 20th from 7 to 9pm.  Looking to learn more about the building you live in?  This class is for you.  There are a myriad of city agencies and public institutions that maintain research materials on buildings' history, and navigating your way among them can be daunting.  This class will provide an overview of the kinds of information you can expect to find when researching your building, and where you can go to find it, including resources available at the library, like Sanborn insurance maps and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper as well as online portals like the NYC Department of Buildings' BIS database and the Municipal Archives tax photo collection.  To clarify, this event will be held on the main level of the Central Library in the InfoCommons lab, NOT at the Brooklyn Collection on the mezzanine level.

The Graham Home for Old Ladies on Washington Ave, below, was built in 1851 as a home for... old ladies.  It is currently a condominium but only after going through a rough period, in the 1980s, as the Bullshipper's Hotel.  Perhaps your home has a colorful past as well!

We hope to see you there!  And if you're distressed over missing the genealogy workshop we held in the InfoCommons last month, don't worry, we'll be offering both of these and other workshops again in the future.  Keep any eye on Central's events calendar or follow us on twitter to get updates on upcoming classes.  Is there a topic you'd like to see covered in a workshop?  Let us know in the comments! 

The Library Rap is Here

Feb 8, 2013 11:00 AM | 0 comments

Let's take a moment for ourselves, shall we, Brooklyn Public Library? Rather than blowing the dust off yet another Eagle story or manuscript collection -- holdings which, don't get me wrong, we are proud to preserve and promote here at the Brooklyn Collection -- let's navel gaze a bit to see what archival lint we've been storing up ourselves. So... to the morgue we go where, a few months ago, we found this.

This thing here (never mind that this is a scan of the thing) is a 3/4" Umatic S video cassette, one of the earliest video cassette formats. Unfortunately for us, when we found it in the morgue along with 81 other similar cassettes, we couldn't, as is the case with a closed book, simply open it to find out what it contained; and doubly unfortunate for us, we had long since done away with any equipment that would allow us to view the tape. But the labels, both on the cassette itself and on the case for the cassette (pictured below) had us intrigued.

What was LIBRARY RAP, CROWN HEIGHTS, MASTER, 5/6/85? Our bookish brains went wild imagining the lyrical wizardry and 80s fashions that must surely be contained on this tape. We had to find a way to watch it! And as if we needed further convincing, a little more digging around in the 82 Umatics led us to additional attractively labeled treasures, such as:

P.L.A.Y. Animation workshop films -- March 1978 featuring, presumably, animated films like: Space 1999 1/2; Flatbush Avenue Cave-In; and Revenge of the Hypnotizer.

CORTELYOU BOOK COMMERCIAL CONTEST, NOVEMBER 30, 1983, MASTER. Who participated in this contest? What were the books being hawked? Just what, in general, was this anyway? In order to satisfy our curiosity, we sent these three tapes off, as a sort of test run, to a Brooklyn-based video transfer company. The transfering process took a few weeks. In the meantime, we speculated, we waited, and we speculated some more. And then, when they were returned to us on DVD and as digitial files, we gathered around a computer and watched and were not disappointed.

In addition to the above clip, there are 3 other library raps you can watch.  Clicking here will take you to the playlist on our Brooklynology YouTube page. Likewise, if you want to watch some of the P.L.A.Y. animation workshop films, films made by young library patrons in collaboration with librarians and local animators, begin with this breakdancing video called Do It To It on Bergen. The audio tracks on these animations didn't transfer well, so we opted to post the videos without sound.  The quality of the films themselves leaves a little to be desired, but they are all charmingly rough and bleary, and who wouldn't be, having first come to life on film only to be reincarnated twice, on video and now digitially.

Our third tape, the Cortelyou Book Commercial Contest, can still be used today by library staff as a wonderful facet of Readers' Advisory services. Thinking of reading Treasure Island but aren't sure if it's the right book for you? Well, listen to what this young literary critic and future advertising executive has to say...


And again, to watch all of these darling book talks, just click here to visit the playlist on our YouTube page. Both the Library Raps from Crown Heights, and the Cortelyou Book Commericals were produced by Brooklyn Public Library's very own A/V Department. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s this department, now a thing of the past, did valuable work capturing life in Brooklyn and at the library. Sometimes it's easy to forget that the library is not just a place for preserving culture, but also for contributing to and fostering it.  Free, open, and dynamic... the library, as one of our young rappers puts it, is "where all the young ladies scream and shout/ and everybody knows what the library is about." We hope to have all 82 Umatic cassettes transferred shortly and available for viewing on our YouTube page. Check back soon!

Still from Crown Heights library rap