American Experience: Nazi Town USA

Tuesday night, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE recounts the little known story of the Pro-Nazi movement that aimed to displace American democracy in the 1930s, melding patriotic values with anti-Semitism.

TUESDAY, JAN. 23 at 8:00PM

American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn

American Nazi leader Fritz Kuhn

In February 1939, more than 20,000 Americans filled Madison Square Garden for an event billed as a “Pro-American Rally.” Images of George Washington hung next to swastikas and speakers railed against the “Jewish controlled media” and called for a return to a racially “pure” America. The keynote speaker was Fritz Kuhn, head of the German American Bund. American Experience: Nazi Town, USA tells the largely unknown story of the Bund, which had scores of chapters in suburbs and big cities across the country and represented what many believe was a real threat of fascist subversion in the United States. The Bund held joint rallies with the Ku Klux Klan and ran dozens of summer camps for children centered around Nazi ideology and imagery. Its melding of patriotic values with virulent anti-Semitism raises thorny issues that we continue to wrestle with today.

The German American Bund emerged in the 1930s, a period that tested the fabric of American democracy. The economic hardships of the Great Depression left many Americans fearing that the whole social order might collapse and extremist groups on both the right and the left found willing converts. Many, like the Bund, saw European fascism and Nazism as models that could and should be emulated in the United States.

1930s America was also a place of deep anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and racial segregation. Millions of Americans belonged to the KKK, including dozens of members of Congress. The popular right-wing radio priest Charles Coughlin told listeners that Jews were destroying their country, and industrialist Henry Ford devoted his time and money to the widespread dissemination of anti-Semitic conspiracies. All of this led members of the Bund to believe that America offered fertile ground for their ideas.

American Experience Nazi Town, USA will stream for free simultaneously with broadcast through February 22, 2024, on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. The film will also be available for streaming with closed captioning in English and Spanish.

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