Growing up in Bergen County, N.J., I had older neighbors whose fond memories of their wild-oats days included the occasional trip to Hackensack or Newark to pick fights with members of the German-American Bund — the “New Jersey Nazis,” as they were known. You can laugh about it now, but as Ephemeral New York reminds us, there was a time when the Bund was no joke.
The Bund began in the early 1930s as Friends of the New Germany, with the endorsement and financial support of the Reich, but by 1935 they had become the German-American Bund, under the leadership of a German veteran named Fritz Kuhn, who was named Bundesleiter by Adolf Hitler himself because he’d become an American citizen in the years following World War I. Its headquarters was in the Yorkville section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, but it had chapters in any part of the country with heavy concentrations of German-Americans. In New Jersey there were (in addition to Hackensack and Newark) chapters in Clifton, Fairfield, Passaic and North Bergen, where local whacko Hal Turner keep flying the swastika for old time’s sake.
There was also a weekend getaway called Camp Nordland, which opened in 1937 in the Sussex County town of Andover. Some of the families who went there may at first have just wanted to spend a couple of days enjoying German heritage activities, but it quickly became apparent that Camp Nordland was a spigot for Nazi propaganda and funding for isolationist political groups trying to keep America out of the action when the conquest of Europe started rolling. The camp eventually collapsed due to financial scandals and the sexual peccadiloes of its founders, and the property was absorbed into nearby parkland.
The most thorough and complete book about the Bund movement in New Jersey is Warren Grover’s Nazis in Newark, which combines formidably detailed research with what can only be called a morally ambiguous attitude toward the oppositional groups — notably gangs of thugs connected with Essex County gangster Longy Zwillman — that sprang up to attack and harass Bund members.