Nazi Town, USA (2024)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Director
Peter Yost
Run Time
54 minutes
Rating
TV-14

VP Content Ratings

Violence
1/10
Language
0/10
Sex & Nudity
0/10
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

They surround me with words of hate
    and attack me without cause.

Psalm 109:3
Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes

Isaiah 10:1

This episode of the PBS series “The American Experience” covers similar ground that Rachel Maddow dealt with in her 2022 podcast Ultra and 2023 book Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism. Forgotten by most Americans, the decade of the Thirties, when the Great Depression threw millions of Americans out of work, saw desperate people willing to give up on democracy in the belief that a strong man was needed to rescue the country.

In Europe Italy and Germany had yielded to the rule of Mussolini and Hitler, with the latter especially disastrous because antisemitism was an integral part of his ideology. The hateful ideology also infected millions of Americans, linked with nativism, racism, and anti-Catholicism. (As a boy growing up in the 40s I still remember the adults in my family bragging about bargaining a person down to a lower price, “I jewed him down!”)

Directed and written by two-time Emmy nominee Peter Yost, this episode aired on PBS on Jan. 23, 2024, and is available at Nazi Town, USA.  Using archival photos and newsreel clips we are introduced to such vitriolic leaders as Catholic priest Father Coughlin who each week poisoned the minds of millions of Americans with his hate-based sermons. There is also U.S. Congressman Martin Dies from Texas who struck fear in many intellectuals and artists because he equated liberalism and social justice concerns with Communism and loved grilling them at the abusive hearings of his House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). J. Edgar Hoover’s rabid anti-Communism is duly noted, and auto-maker Henry Ford is highlighted as promoting anti-Semitism through his publishing of the “The International Jew,” an antisemitic tract. Even the superhero of the 20’s, aviator Charles A. Lindberg was caught up in antisemitism. Both he and Ford were admirers of Adolph Hitler.

The core of the story is the rise and fall of the American Bund, led by German immigrant Fritz Kuhn, an ardent Nazi. Formed in 1936 the  German American Bund elected Kuhn, who successfully appealed to hundreds of thousands of citizens of German extraction. He mixed patriotism with Nazi ideology, as can be seen by the giant full-length portrait of George Washington on display at the famous rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939. That rally probably marks the highpoint, with over 20,000 Nazi sympathizers in attendance.

The Bund, like Hitler, targeted youth by organizing camps at which young people were indoctrinated in hate and issued uniforms. At the camps and at Bund rallies the Nazi flag was displayed along with the American flag. At one of the camps Camp Siegfried in Yaphank, on Long Island, homes for members were built, with one of the streets in the tract named Adolf Hitler Street.

If there is a hero in this film, it is probably reporter Dorothy Thompson, a courageous reporter who was the first American journalist to be expelled from Germany in 1934 because of her critical articles on Hitler. In America she became a broadcaster and columnist, read by up to ten million Americans.

This is a good documentary for understanding today’s far right extremism. When people are afraid and desperate, whether they be Americans or Germans, many will seek easy answers that fascists are eager to provide. Scapegoats are sought out to explain problems and simple solutions offered. We should be grateful to PBS and American Experience in particular for making this insightful program so readily available.

This review is in the May issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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