When the Nazis Came to Newark -- Details Now Unveiled

by Nat Bodian


Turn back the clock to the early 1930s, when Hitler became chancellor of Germany.

Repression of the Jews in Germany had begun with a government policy of discrimination and exclusion of Jews from German life, and Jewish life and property were now at risk.

Here in the United States, Hitler had appointed a personal propagandist, with the title "Leader of the Hitler Movement in the United States."

And in meeting halls in places like Newark and Irvington that had populations of German aliens and recent émigrés, rallies were held by groups, first calling themselves "Friends of New Germany" and later, the "German-American Bund."

Their leader was Munich-born Fritz Kuhn, who referred to himself as "the American fuehrer".

His followers wore Nazi uniforms, brown shirts, or swastika lapel pins, gave the Nazi salute, waved swastika banners, and sang the German national anthem.

Reactions of Newark's Jews

In Newark, one of the nation's largest Jewish population centers at that time, one Newark Jewish group organized to stop such pro-Nazi meetings at Schwaben Hall on Springfield Avenue, and at Montgomery Hall in Irvington, just over the Newark border.

Other Newark Jewish organizations worked together to mount boycotts against the import of goods made in Nazi Germany.

Story is Now Told

The story of this piece of Newark history, and what Newark's Jews did to stop this pro-Hitler encroachment in the Newark area is now meticulously detailed and documented in an exquisitely-written book "Nazis in Newark" by Warren Grover, a Newark native, who devoted seven years to research and interviewing individuals and their heirs on these 1930s happenings in the Newark area, and how they were quashed by Newark Jews.

Grover makes clear, early on in "Nazis in Newark", that the supporters of the Hitler regime, although they operated in American cities with large German populations, were never large in number, and were made up of about 60 percent aliens, and the rest Americans of recent German descent. They represented a very small portion of the larger population of Americans of German ancestry who were loyal Americans.

Stopping the Newark Nazis

The efforts to quash the Nazis in the Newark area and to organize boycotts involved multiple Jewish groups. However, the major efforts were exerted by a muscular organization - The Minutemen - Who resorted to every means possible, inside and outside the law, to crush the proliferating Nazi activity in their backyard1.

They had the quiet, but unquestioned, backing of Newark's crime boss, Longy Zwillman, one of America's major bootleggers during the recently-ended Prohibition era, and a recognized leader in nationwide organized crime.

Most of the Minutemen funding, however, came from donations from Jewish businessmen through paid memberships and dues in the organization. The core of the Minuteman organization seemed to have been drawn from ex-prizefighters, taxi and truck drivers, movers, basketball players, and young college students. Some had helped run booze for Longy from boat-offloading to warehouse during the earlier Prohibition years.

The leadership of the Minutemen was taken over by Nat Arno, a onetime prizefighter and a former associate of Longy Zwillman, in 1934, and he actively led the group for six years until 1940.

Their main occupation seemed to be breaking up meetings of the Hitler-followers with fists, baseball bats, newspaper and rubber covered iron pipes, and stench bombs.

Their attacks at Nazi meetings often resulted in the Nazis panicking and running away. As one participant recalled: "We chased them and beat them up...Nazi arms, legs, and ribs were broken and skulls were cracked, but no one died."

How the Boycotts Succeeded

A portion of "Nazis in Newark" deals with how such Newark groups such as the Jewish War Veterans joined with other Jewish fraternal and welfare groups, and how they worked together to convince the owners of Newark's department stores, and other merchants or food distributors not to import or sell merchandise made in Nazi Germany, and of some of the 'arm-twisting' and monitoring that was done by the membership to make the boycott 100 percent effective.

Period Covered by Book

The book "Nazis in Newark" covers, essentially, the period from Hitler's ascension to power to the eve of World War II, when the 'commander' of the Minutemen, Nat Arno, was drafted into the Army, and at about the same time, the German-American Bund was outlawed.

Uniqueness of Author's Book

In the course of "Nazis in Newark," author Warren Grover delves into and describes, in illuminating ways not previously seen in print, Newark's vibrant Jewish life, and the evolvement of Newark's Jewish community as one of the largest and most active in America.

Among its approximately 65,000 Jews, there were, in the 1930s, 140 Jewish fraternal and family associations, Newark branches of 16 national organizations, eight athletic clubs, and three political clubs.

He provide details, previously little-known, of Newark's Jewish leaders, especially in Newark politics where Newark had a Jewish mayor from 1933 to 1941 -- Meyer C. Ellenstein -- and how he was aided in snaring that post. He also talks about leaders in the clergy, in business and in industry...in medicine and the professions...and how they reacted individually and collectively to area Nazi incursions that were harmful or upsetting to Jews.

"Nazis in Newark" is thus as much a detailing of Newark's Jewish history as it is of Newark's pro-Nazi activities. And because it was assembled with the aid of scores of personal interviews, it has the read and feel, for the reader of hearing it from insiders who were there and lived through it.

My Personal Reaction to Book

I, for one, thought to give "Nazis in Newark" a quick glance when I brought the book home. However, when I opened it and got started, I didn't put it down until four hours later.

It's that kind of a book.

As a son of Jewish immigrants who grew up in Newark, in the heavily-Jewish Third Ward, and was familiar with many of the book's locales and participants, I marveled at how meticulously author Grover had pieced together the various strands of Newark's divergent Jewish life, while never losing focus of the main object of his work -- the Nazi encroachment in the Newark area.

"Nazis in Newark" embraces a telling not only of Jewish history, but of Newark history, and American history. It provides expertly-written coverage of the Newark area from 1933 to 1941 in a clear way, while dealing with topics not previously touched upon in print.

Credit to the Publisher

It is to the credit of Grover's publisher -- Transaction Publishers -- based on the Rutgers University campus, that they have undertaken to publish this monumental history by a native Newarker who was also a former Newark history teacher and a well-connected Jewish community leader -- a man who knew all the right buttons to press, whom to interview and what archives to search to create this exceptional and fascinating work.

"Nazis in Newark" serves yet another important function. It marvelously augments and fills in many gaps in an earlier book from the same publisher: "The Enduring Community: The Jews of Newark and Metrowest" by Professor William Helmreich, published in 1999.

Author Grover vs. Author Helmreich

What make's Grover's "Nazis in Newark" special, for me at least, is that while Professor Helmreich's earlier Jewish history of Newark filled a niche as a detailed history of Newark Jewish life, mainly in the first half of the 20th century, it was researched and written by a professor of sociology and Judaic studies from New York City.

Warren Grover, on the other hand, writes as a native Newarker who grew up there, went to school there (Weequahic High), worked in and taught history there, and knows the history of Newark's now-disappeared Jewish community intimately.

Author Grover has other outstanding credentials. He is a founder of the Newark History Society. He also serves on the boards of the New Jersey Historical Society and the Jewish Historical Society of Metrowest (which includes Newark), of which he is the ex-President.

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Availability Details

Published by Transaction Publisher, New Brunswick NJ 08903
Cloth edition: $49.95 (ISBN 0-7658-0193-0)
Paper edition: $24.95 (ISBN 0-7658-0516-2)
Available in Bookstores, at Amazon.com, or from Transaction Publishers at (732) 445-1245.

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Postscript to "Nazis in Newark"

A block above the Newark line in Irvington, at the corner of Montgomery Avenue and Hopkins Place, which was between Springfield and Clinton Avenues, there was a meeting hall for German groups called "Montgomery Hall."

The Montgomery Hall property included the meeting hall and an outside picnic area with tables -- all surrounded by a huge wooden brown fence.

In the 1930s Hitler-era, neighborhood residents who were non-German, and a few nearby Jewish families referred to the place as "Hitler Park."

The rallies usually were short-lived and lasted until the anti-Nazi Minutemen from Newark's Third Ward would race over and break them up.

The son of a neighborhood merchant doing business near Montgomery Hall recalled for me recently that on VE Day (Victory in Europe) when Germany capitulated, in the midst of the joy and happiness that prevailed in the neighborhood, the now-outlawed Nazi sympathizers got to Montgomery Hall and ran up the American flag, field downward on the flagpole as a distress signal.

Again anti-Nazi activists were summoned to the scene, and local and state police were called into quell the disturbance that followed.

The area was then shut down.

He also recalled for me that on VE Day, some of the neighbors on Ellis Avenue "had constructed effigy's of Hitler, tied ropes around them, tossed them over the telephone wires, and burnt them in effigy."

Then, as an afterthought, he added "I just remembered; It is a funny thing that during that time, even those whose roots were from Berlin, suddenly became Austrian."


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