Volksfront or Volksbund? The Political Mobilization of the German-American Minority Community in New York City during the 1930s

Activity: Talk or presentationPublic or invited talk


Paper presented at the panel "Mixed Loyalties? German Minorities between Nationalism, Solidarity, and Fascism (1920s-1940s)" co-organised by Kasper Braskén (Åbo Akademi University, Finland) and Swen Steinberg (Carleton University, Canada) at the FORTY-FIFTH GERMAN STUDIES ASSOCIATION ANNUAL CONFERENCE, INDIANAPOLIS, USA, 3 OCTOBER 2021.


Paper abstract:

During the 1930s New York City was the home of over 350.000 immigrants of German or Austrian decent. Still, although New York was the largest recipient and transit point of German and Central European anti-fascist exiles and refugees, the openly Nazi organisation German American Bund (Bund) had more members in New York City than anywhere else in the USA. Yorkville, a predominantly German area of Upper East Side of Manhattan, was also the location of the Bund’s US headquarters.
While German-Americans were integrating to American society, the Third Reich perceived the global German diaspora integrally bound to Germany. The new emphasis on their “German blood” that connected them to the eternal Reich demanded also a new level of loyalty and displays of sympathy. In many cases German-Americans indeed felt pride in the new strength displayed by Nazi Germany after years of political turmoil offered by the “weak” Weimar Republic. German-Americans were after 1933 thrown into a battle over loyalties and solidarities where the sympathisers of the Third Reich spoke of the necessity to prevail a Volksbund among the German Americans, based on the primacy of the “German race” that was not removed by American citizenship. Parallel to these developments a number of German-American communists, socialists and progressives were together with German anti-fascist exiles calling for the primacy of a German anti-fascist Volksfront in the USA. They argued that “Hitler was not Germany” and that that for the Germans in America it was possible to be both anti-fascist and show allegiance to the German people and the German working classes all the while denouncing German Nazism.
The aim of the paper is to analyse how both Nazi sympathisers and anti-fascist groups tried to mobilise the Germans in New York City during the 1930s. How were the two crucial concepts of Volksfront and Volksbund contrasted in the German-American community? How were diverging ideas of solidarity with the German people maintained in anti-fascist and Nazi groups and how did they change over time?

Period3 Oct 2021
Held atGerman Studies Association, United States
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • antifascism
  • New York City
  • German American Bund
  • urban studies