The German American Bund

By Mr. Gustave Neuss

November, 2002

   This notorious period in the history of Yaphank began in early 1935. The Coombes property on Mill Road west of the upper dam of the Carmens River, and immediately north of the John Jones farm, was purchased by the German American Settlement League.  Initially the change in ownership was felt to be a boon to the community.  Jim Coombes had always been a 100% flag waving American.  The prospective users of the property of German ancestry were initially assumed to be loyal Americans of the sort Jim Coombes would approve.  Later events were to put the lie to this.

   Ernst Mueller, head of the German American Settlement League, upon completion of the property transfer prepared a letter that was sent to members of the League, the German American Bund and other organizations of German Americans, inviting all to visit this beautiful lakeside property.  They could get away from the big city and enjoy the fresh country air.  The members of the various societies were post World War 1 immigrants then living in the New York City area.  The letter included instructions on how to reach the camp by automobile and advised that a Long Island Railroad special train would leave the Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, station on that Sunday morning to bring members to Yaphank.

   In November, 1933 Gustave Neuss, Sr. ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat on the Brookhaven Town Board.  Since the Township and Suffolk County were Republican strongholds under the leadership of W. Kingsland, {“King”} Macy, it was rare for a Democrat to be elected to any political office.  In 1933 dissension in the Republican ranks resulted in Gustave Neuss, Sr. being elected to the Brookhaven Town Board for a four year term.  He would serve as Judge Neuss from January 1, 1934 to December 31, 1937. His initial reaction to the arrival of the German-Americans was one of welcoming.  His parents were both born in Germany, arriving in the United States in the late 1840’s. He spoke German fluently.  Until he found out the true purpose of the Yaphank, Camp Siegfried groups, he was a friend of the organizations. As they displayed their pro-Hitler, anti Semitic leanings he became their nemesis.

Judge Gustave Neuss

   In 1936 Hitler invaded the Rhineland and the Sudetenland.  He also accelerated his persecution of the non-Aryans in Germany.  Fritz Kuhn, the head of the German-American Bund, visited Hitler in Germany that same year.  Upon his return to this country the weekend meetings at Camp Siegfried repeated the anti-Semitic and anti-Communist and anti-Labor Union tirades.  A boycott of Jewish merchants was initiated and all German-Americans were encouraged to patronize merchants displaying the D.K.V. sign indicating that merchant was a member of the pro-German merchants.  The Jewish responded with a boycott of all German operated shops.  There was some confusion at the start as some of the vendors supplying the Camp Siegfried restaurant were of the Jewish persuasion.

   Judge Neuss, after observing the bias created by the weekly meetings at the Camp, changed his position to one that was anti-Hitler. What was originally thought to be a friendly and wholesome group of new visitors to the community became instead a faction whose ideas and actions were alien to our American traditions. The Sunday morning parades from the railroad station to Camp Siegfried by uniformed Brown Shirts, similar to Hitler’s Nazis, singing German marching songs as they moved along Main Street, identified the participants as anti-American.  Hitler and Mussolini formed their Rome-Berlin axis about this time. On more than one Sunday parading with the Brown Shirts were a group of Black Shirts, pro-Italian Fascists. At this time the American flag and the German swastika were flying side by side at the Camp and at least one building displayed the swastika in the shingles of the roof.  At the base of the flagpole near the restaurant building was a circular flower bed of swastika design.

   There was an enormous animosity on the part of the Bundists against the Jews.  I found this first hand on a visit one night to the Lakeview Inn, adjacent to the upper lake.  It was operated by Herman Bohlsen a friendly member of the Bund.  While sipping a beer, {I rarely drank}, I was approached by an older German-American who I will call Karl.  Our conversation is as follows.

Karl: Gus you know what Hitler is doing in Germany is a good thing. 

Gus: I don’t understand, please explain? 

Karl:  It’s the Jews. They ran all the banks, controlled all the money, what with Rothchild and the others like him.  They ran all the businesses.  Hitler changed all that and put the Germans in charge.

Gus:  You think this is good? 

Karl: Yes, and the same thing is happening in this country.  The Jews control the banks and most of the businesses and are telling those in Washington how to run the country. Roosevelt is one of them.  His name is not Roosevelt, it is Rosenfeld. 

Gus:  You have a great dislike for the Jews don’t you? 

Karl:  And you know why?  They are Semites which means half white.

Gus:  Karl, are you a Christian? 

Karl: Yes.

Gus: Are you a good  Lutheran? 

Karl: Yes. 

Gus: Do you believe in Jesus Christ? 

Karl: Yes, of course.

Gus: Do you know Christ was a Jew? 

The conversation ended abruptly, Karl never spoke to me again.

   Recognizing that the Bundists by their actions and speech were un-American and subversive, Judge Neuss decided to try and identify as many of those attending the Camp Siegfried meetings as possible and to notify the responsible Federal government agency for its action as necessary.  The members arriving by special trains could only be identified by photographs and then not by name.  Since hundreds came in their own automobiles each Sunday, Judge Neuss decided to collect the license plate numbers of each of the attendees. To do this he recruited the male members of the Yaphank Young Peoples’ Club to patrol the Camp’s parking lots and record the plate numbers of the vehicles located there. 

    The Judge turned this information over to the local United States marshal in Patchogue, N.Y. The marshal in turn gave the data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The recording went on for several weeks until a curious German- American Youth spied the activity and demanded to know what was occurring.  Our Yaphankers advised that they were getting plate numbers for Waldemar Lindemann, the real estate broker for German Gardens, for him to get the names of Camp visitors as possible land sales prospects. A short time later Lindemann appeared but found no one to question.  The recorders had vanished.  The work they did was proved later to be invaluable in the prosecution for subversive acts.

   The activity was not limited to adults.  The German-American Youth also were active in Yaphank   In 1935 they were located at Camp Siegfried on tented platforms.  The accommodations were not the best.  In 1937 several Bund members purchased a parcel of ground adjacent to the lake opposite the Camp.  It was owned by Georgia Hammond and was located on the Middle Island Road between the Heywood Shannon and Daniel Neger properties.  Eleven acres, three of which were underwater, was the property size.  A two story house on the property was adjacent to the Middle Island Road. Purchase price was $8500.00.  The house was used for living quarters for some of the Young Siegfrieders.   However after clearing trees and underbrush from the hilly land, platforms and tents served as living quarters.  Several age groups of both males and females were segregated by sex and age.  There was much physical effort required in making the property habitable.  The labor was supplied by the Youth.  Some of the parents complained about the harsh conditions and at least one removed her daughter from the camp because of this.  The regimen included education in pro-Nazi doctrine to insure a new generation having the pure Aryan philosophy.  The property, although on the east shore of the Upper Lake, had no beach for swimming.  As a result, the Youth trooped from their camp past Iverson’s corner to the dam at the lower end of the Upper Lake.  This did not endear them to the local swimmers because of the limited water area for bathing.  Three of the Young Siegfrieders were arrested and served time for espionage, however several were members of our armed forces after we entered the Second World War.

  My brother, Henry, met and married one of the Youth girls.  Her name was Inge Joswig.  Her father, Fred Joswig owned and operated a restaurant in Ridgewood.  He was critical of the management of the Camp Siegfried restaurant then operated by Henry Hauck, spelling out the inefficiencies.  Inge was a German national, having lived with a grandmother in Germany for some time after her parents came to the United States.  With the turmoil in Europe caused by Hitler’s incursions, she was fearful that should this country be alienated she would be deported.  Marrying my brother gave her United States citizenship.  The couple parented two children, a daughter, Linda, and a son, William Henry.  Linda married a U.S. Navy dentist and later resided in Pittsburgh Pa.  William Henry married, and being a R.O.T.C. U.S. Marine Corp captain, was shipped to Viet Nam to take part in that conflict.   He was killed in action on October 11, 1967.  His legacy, the William Henry Neuss Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars here in Yaphank. His wife, Patricia, since remarried, and his son, Joseph, reside in Florida.

    Judge Gustave Neuss was up for reelection in November, 1937.  His four year term on the Brookhaven Town Board ended December 31, 1937.  He was a candidate on the Democratic ticket.  He had significant opposition, not only from candidates from the opposing party but also from the German American Bund and the German American Settlement League.  He received a letter from a Simon E. Koedel, who was later to be convicted as a German spy, critical of the Judge’s abilities and mental capacities.  Ernst Mueller, head of the German American Settlement League sent a flyer to all members of the League and to German- American Bundists to register to vote at the Yaphank precinct and to vote Republican, against Judge Neuss. The German language newspapers in the Brooklyn area carried advertising repeating the beat Neuss message.  Only ten of the faithful registered.  Ernst Mueller and his wife were among them although for some reason Mueller did not vote.  All but two of those registered were new voters.  The two had voted previously in New York City precincts.  Those voting in Yaphank were challenged to produce evidence of United States citizenship.  They had their papers with them and voted legally.  Gustave Neuss, Sr. was defeated for reelection but not by his pro-Nazi adversaries.  He was beaten by the “King” Macy dominated Republican machine which apparently felt that Party control of Brookhaven Town government carried precedence over combating the pro-Hitler menace in Yaphank and the nation..   ..

   The young people of the village expressed their disenchantment with the Bund pro-Hitler activities at Camp Siegfried with action of their own.  Some of the young men tore out the swastika shaped flower bed located at the base of the Camp’s flagpole, defaced the Von Hindenburg plaque type monument and using green paint wrote “DOWN WITH HITLER’ in large letters on the white side of the main camp building.  These loyal Americans then repaired to Hunters’ Inn which was located mid-way between Coram and Middle Island on Middle Country Road.  After refreshing themselves they exited the Inn and were met by a Brookhaven Town policeman.  He was driving by the tavern and on seeing the men leaving the building decided, since he recognized them, to make certain that they would be safe drivers.  He had been alerted to the mischief at Camp Siegfried.  Noting green paint spatters on the men he promptly cited them.  They appeared before Judge Donald Sorenson, who found them guilty.  Sentence was to repaint the building, clean up Von Hindenburg and replant the flowers.  The replanted bed was not the swastika shape. 

  There was no modern plumbing for residences.  Many used the old fashioned out-houses.  Forays into the Camp were made to overturn these necessary facilities.  The Youth Camp had a large metal water tank delivered and, prior to being set in final location in the Camp, it was lying on the ground in front of the former Hammond house, adjacent to Middle Island Road.  A single ball shell and a OO buckshot fired from a twelve gauge shotgun delayed the tank’s final positioning.  Our young people demonstrated they were loyal Americans.

   The German-American Settlement League and its officials ended up in the Suffolk County court when the charge that an oath was a prerequisite to becoming a member of the organization.  The case was prosecuted by Assistant County Attorney Lindsay Henry in the court of Judge Barron Hill.  A member of the GASL, Willy Brandt, testified that he was required to take an oath pledging loyalty to Hitler to acquire his membership.  Such oath taking for societies similar to the German-American Settlement League was illegal and anti-American.  Those GASL members on the defense testified that the accuser was not telling the truth, that no such oath was in existence or required as a condition of membership.  A jury empaneled to hear the case, after listening to the testimony, found the six defendants guilty.  Judge Hill sentenced all to a year in jail and fined each $500.00.  He also fined the German-American Settlement League $10.000.00.

   The jail sentences of all of the defendants were suspended, except for that of Ernst Mueller, whom the Judge considered the leader of the group.  Mueller served only a short time incarcerated, being released pending on the result of an appeal.  After several additional court trials, the Court of Appeals freed the defendants of any guilt and dismissed the fines and jail sentences. There was much rejoicing in the Bund ranks.  There was other litigation involving late or non payment of bills but no significant action until passage of the Alien Registration Act and the Selective Service Act in 1940.

   As Hitler’s armies proceeded across Europe, occupying nation after nation it became more apparent that involvement of this country in the conflict was possible.  We were already involved in assisting the British through the Lend-Lease program.  Overage destroyers were transferred to the British navy and assistance was given in supplying military and other materiel.  Recognizing that we were, possibly, to face a war situation, as the words had been stated “First Europe then the United States”, the local Bundists were vocal about Nazi supremacy.  Legislation was enacted to prepare for this eventuality.  The Alien Registration Act in August 1940 provided, amongst other things, for the deporting of aliens for advocating the overthrow of the government or the assassination of officials of the country.  This Act had an effect on the Bund and German-American Settlement League members as some of them or their relatives did not have United States citizenship.  The Selective Service Act enacted in August 1940 provided for the induction of personnel into the armed forces.  The act included a clause prohibiting the employment of Bundists or Communists to replace inductees.  This caused a furor in the Bund hierarchy who declared obvious discrimination.  The members were advised by their leaders to refuse induction until the law was amended.

   Former Judge Neuss ran again in November, 1939 in an attempt to recapture a seat on the Brookhaven Town Board.  The Macy Republican political machine was again successful in defeating him.  The Judge, however, in conjunction with others of the area citizens was able to convince the local Alcoholic Beverage Board to refuse to renew the license for Camp Siegfried.  Hauck appealed to the State Board and was, again, refused.  Hauck left the Camp and moved to Brooklyn where he opened a restaurant.

   In the period before Pearl Harbor espionage was occurring in the New York area.  Simon Koedel, the writer of the scathing letter to Judge Neuss, was reporting to the German Embassy in New York information on ships and their content.  He obtained this data, first by riding the harbor ferries, then in a small power boat.  His adopted daughter, Marie Hedwig, also contributed by dating sailors and getting confidential information on ship cargo and destinations.  They were arrested in October, 1944 and convicted of pre-war espionage.  Marie Hedwig was sentenced to seven and one half years in prison and Simon to fifteen years.

   Koedel was not the only Hitler agent active in this country with ties to Camp Siegfried.  Arriving in New York from Germany in March of 1939 was Kurt Frederick Ludwig.  He went immediately to a boarding house located in Ridgewood, Queens County.  He next procured leather pocketbooks to set himself up as a leather goods salesman and proceeded to contact the various German-American Bund groups in the New York/Brooklyn area, not to sell pocketbooks, but to prepare for his espionage activity.  In a few months he became active with the German-American Youth movement at Yaphank.  He recruited six men and two women to assist him in his spying program.  One of the recruits from the Youth Camp was Hans Pagel whose photograph accompanies this story. Initially, information on ships, cargoes and destinations was obtained and sent to Germany in letters containing messages written in invisible ink.  The letters, also, were addressed to mail drops in Spain and Argentina.  By December, 1940 information on aircraft manufacture and performance was included in the secret ink letters.  British Imperial Intelligence in Bermuda intercepted one of these letters and forwarded it to the F.B.I. in Washington, D.C.  The F.B.I.was able to decode the message and pick up Ludwig’s trail.  On March 18, 1940 Ludwig and a companion were crossing a New York City street against the traffic light.  The companion, who was killed, was identified as Julio Lopez Lido.  He was actually Capt. Ulrich von der Oster of the German army. He had arrived on the West coast from Japan, in January, 1940 to lead the espionage.  His death left Kurt Ludwig in command of the spy group.  They traveled the East coast and the Mid-West getting data on airfields, military encampments and munitions factories.  The two women, Lucy Boehmier and Helen Mayer, would use their feminine wiles to garner information from servicemen.  The F.B.I. was cognizant of the actions of the individuals in the group.  After a cross country chase, Ludwig was arrested in a small town near Seattle, Washington.  At the same time, the balance of the spies were apprehended.  On March 13, 1942 the Superior Court of the Southern District of New York found the confederates guilty of espionage.  The eight were sentenced to a total of 112 years.  Kurt Frederick Ludwig was sentenced to 20 years in the Federal penitentiary.

   After Pearl Harbor, with the declaration of war on both Japan and Germany, the pro-Nazi activity at Camp Siegfried ceased.  The F.B.I. had dossiers of the anti-Americans and began a round-up of these individuals to place them in interment camps.  A stockade was constructed at Camp Upton and many war prisoners were detained there.  Here on the East Coast they were primarily German and Italian.  Detention camps were located throughout the country.  Among the Camp Siegfried detainees were Fritz Kuhn, Waldemar Lindemann and Ernst Mueller.  Depending on the assessment of an individual’s threat to national security, a person could be considered an immediate threat and incarcerated, a potential threat and restricted in movement to specified areas or of no threat and given more freedom of action and travel.  The license plate records obtained by the Yaphank young men was one source of information for the F.B.I.  After Camp Upton was used for war prisoner detention it was not unusual to be stopped, at the intersection of Main Street and Yaphank Avenue, by a nervous young soldier, with rifle with bayonet affixed, ordering you to get out of your automobile and to open the trunk for inspection.  The check was for escaped prisoners, one surmised.  No reason was given.

    The property at Camp Siegfried was taken over by the Alien Property Custodian as an enemy asset.  A final disposition of the property would be made at the end of the war. Residences and other real property of detainees were also confiscated.  During this period a fire occurred that destroyed the original Coombes’ farm building.  The local fire company personnel had some difficulty in getting their fire truck operating at the scene.  When the truck was functioning properly the building was engulfed in flames and could not be saved.  Arson was suspected and although investigated by the F.B.I. was never proved to be true.

   Many of the Young Peoples Club and others from Yaphank were in the military in various war theaters. Those local patriots were John Hoeffner, Walter Kiezel, Jack Klase, Ethel Neger, Henry Neuss, John Purdy, Patrick Raimond, Joseph Scesny and Donald Voorhies.  Charles Hoeffner would have undoubtedly been included but he was a prewar casualty.  He had been involved in a fracas with some German-American Youth and injured to the degree that he was draft classified 4-F.  He would have made a good member of the military.  Fortunately, all returned safely home, no causalities.

   The German-American Bund activity was not limited to Yaphank and the New York City area.  Groups of the pro-Nazis were located throughout the United States.  Hitler’s claim was that after he had conquered Europe he would then take over the USA.  The Bund and other pro-German groups located throughout the country provided a cadre of subversives to assist in such a takeover. Detaining the most dangerous of these, defused a potential problem.  Fortunately the battlegrounds never reached the United States mainland.

 

What I have related here is a brief summation of what occurred in the ten years 1935-1945 in Yaphank and the surrounding area.  I have only touched on highlights of what transpired in those unforgettable days.

 

For a much more detailed history of this German-American Bund, pro-Hitler, pro-Nazi occupation of this good old USA read Wunderlich’s Salute by Marvin D. Miller.    Miller, a school teacher in Commack, N.Y. contacted me in early 1975 when I was living in Erie, Pa.  He had heard of the German-American Bund in Yaphank in the 1930s and had been advised to contact me for more details.  He visited me in Erie and reviewed the extensive scrapbook of newspaper articles that had been collected by my father, Judge Gustave Neuss.  The articles chronicled what transpired in those eventful years.  I augmented the printed information with what I remembered of those years as it related to this takeover of Yaphank by the German-American Settlement League and the German-American Bund.  Miller was appalled that such un-American activity could have occurred and decided to research further and document his findings.  The book, Wunderlich’s Salute is the result.  It was printed by Malamud-Rose, Publishers, P.O. Box 194 Smithtown, New York 11787.