In the last newsletter, I gave you the big picture for the American Nazi movement during the 1930's. But while I was researching, I stumbled across a very personal historical narrative at Camp Siegfried. It's so dark that I was only able to include some of it in a kids book, so I thought, without getting too specific, I'd go into a little more detail here.
Previously, I referred to the Special Committee on Un-American Activities in the US House of Representatives, also sometimes referred to as the Dies Committee, after its chairman, Rep Martin Dies of Texas. The Dies Committee is probably best known for going after communists during the Red Scare of the 1950's. But in the late 1930's and early 1940's, it was more concerned with ridding the country of Nazis. One of their primary targets, of course, was the German American Bund, which they finally disbanded in 1939.
A large part of the success for that operation came from the hearings they conducted in August of that year. I was trying to get a sense of the daily life at Camp Siegfried, but there was little of the granular detail I was looking for in the nonfiction books I read. I started digging through the end notes and found multiple references to transcripts for the hearings. So I decided to see if I could find something useful there.
Boy did I.
Helen Vooros grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of German and Greek immigrants. She was a young teen who got sucked into the Bund's local recruiting efforts. She mostly attended Camp Nordland in New Jersey, which was for teens. But she would sometimes work as a counselor for the younger kids at Camp Siegfried. Toward the end of her time with the Bund, she was forced to fly to German to train with the actual Hitler Youth, and that was the final straw for her. She was able to get protection from the US Government in exchange for her testimony before the committee.
Here's a collection of the postcards that enticed parents to send their children to Camp Siegfried for "wholesome" German activities and education. If you can ignore the Swastikas, it actually looks kind of idyllic.
But the picture of the camp that Helen Vooros painted was quite different. Regular verbal and physical abuse, and anti-American pro-Nazi propaganda. Instead of relaxing swims, there were long night marches with heavy packs, and forced labor constructing buildings on the site. Helen's descriptions also skirted around what she called "immoral activities". She was adamant on not going into details, and congressional representatives were careful not to press her. We may never truly know the full extent of what happened at Camp Siegfried, but reading between the lines, there are some truly disturbing possibilities.
One part of the testimony in particular that caught my attention was the story of Tilly Koch. Tilly was a friend of Helen's from Brooklyn who worked as a full time counselor at Camp Siegfried. She complained to Helen that the boys were sneaking into the girls camp at night for "immoral activities". She told Helen that she had reported it to the Youth Director, Theodore Dinkelacker, and he had told her that it was "perfectly natural for German boys to express themselves in that way" and to let it be. Tilly decided to take matter into her own hands, and began keeping watch over the girls tents every night. After standing out in a damp, chilly field for several nights in a row, she developed pneumonia. Dinkelacker refused to call a doctor, saying that no true German would need such things. A few days later, Tilly died.
Tilly's tragic death is already heartbreaking. But I can't help but wonder what "immoral activities" were so terrible that she was willing to go to such lengths.
There were rumors here and there that cropped during my research. Whispers of eugenics, and a forced breeding program at the camp. But I have never been able to find any concrete proof that such things took place. All I have is the record of a brave teenager who died trying to protect her younger charges, and her friend, who escaped the Hitler Youth and testified against the people who perpetrated the suffering.
Okay, wow. That was really heavy. I actually have one more installment of my series getting ready for The Ghost of Drowned Meadow, BUT believe it or not, it's going to be fun and lighthearted! I promise! So all of you who have stuck through this grim series so far, I thank you. And get ready for some silly manga and anime talk next week! How on earth does that fit in with this SERIOUS book about SERIOUS things?? You'll just have to wait until next week to find out!