Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

When Nazis Took Manhattan

In February, 1939, 20,000 people filled Madison Square Garden for a rally in support of Fascism and Hitler.


In an election season when the words “Will you condemn white supremacy” are considered a gotcha question at a presidential debate, it seems like a good time to look at another moment in American history when race and ethnic division took center stage.

80 years ago, on the evening of February 20, 1939, the marquee of Madison Square garden was lit up with the evening’s main event: a “Pro-American Rally.”  The organizers had chosen the date in celebration of George Washington’s birthday and procured a 30-foot-tall banner of America’s first president for the stage. 20,000 men and women streamed inside and took their seats. The view they had was stunning: Washington was hung between American flags…and swastikas.

It was the eve of World War II. A few months after Kristallnacht in Germany, a few months before the invasion of Poland. The rally was sponsored by the German American Bund, one of several American organizations that openly supported Fascism and Hitler.

Now we tell the story of what happened…When Nazis took Manhattan.

This story was produced by Sarah Kate Kramer with help from Joe Richman and Nellie Gilles. Our editors were Deborah George and Ben Shapiro. The second story in this episode was produced by Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace, one of our favorite podcasts and a fellow member of the Radiotopia Network.

We were inspired to produce this story after seeing A Night at the Garden, a short documentary directed by Marshall Curry, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Read a blog post by Director Marshall Curry, Nate DiMeo of the Memory Palace, and Sarah Kramer of Radio Diaries, about how we all approached the same story in different ways.

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