Goose Stepping on Long Island: Camp Siegfried

October 5, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Only forty-nine miles from our college campus on the Long Island Expressway there is a small mid-Suffolk village: Yaphank, an Indian name meaning "Valley of Peace." In the mid-1930s an organization called the German-American Bund established fifteen summer camps throughout the United States, including one in then bucolic Yaphank. Set on a wooded lakefront, the camp served as a summer place for youngsters and as a weekend campground for adults. On Sundays a special train would leave Penn Station headed directly to Yaphank, filled with people looking forward to spending the day in the country.

None of the above would appear ominous or threatening except for the fact that the "Siegfrieders", as the campers were called, their leaders, and the many thousands that joined the Bund (not to be confused with the Jewish socialist group of the same name), were all supporters of the Nazi regime in Germany, its leaders, and its policies, including an openly expressed hatred for African-Americans and Jews. Camp Siegfried, as well as all the other Bund facilities and gatherings, provided an opportunity for Nazi sympathizers to "meet people who think as you do." The camp's leadership "also established a youth group that recreated the Hitler Youth program for its young participants complete with uniforms, banners and songs," (Jud Newborn, The Jewish Week, December 1994). The name "Siegfried" referred to the medieval Germanic warrior, one of the heroic myths adopted by the Nazis.

Our exhibit will expose the work and the propaganda activities of the Bund at the time when a German/Nazi ambassador was representing his country in Washington, D.C., and when the threat of Nazism seemed foreign to the U.S., certainly to the hinterland of Long Island. We will underline the role that Camp Siegfried played in spreading the venom of Nazi propaganda in our own backyard, until it went out of business after the summer of 1939.

Exhibit curated by Rabbi Isidoro Aizenberg, Scholar-in-Residence.

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