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Oral History with Werner Ellman

Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois

At the time of Adolf Hitler's appointment as German chancellor in early 1933, more than 8 million people in the US identified as German Americans. The majority of these people had emigrated from Germany to seek economic opportunity in the United States.1 Many of them still followed political developments in Germany closely. Some German Americans were excited about by the Nazi rise to power, while others looked upon the Nazi regime's antisemitism and use of violence with fear. Influenced by Nazi propaganda, many German American organizations in the United States embraced an American brand of Nazism. In the featured oral history, Werner Ellman describes his involvement in one of those organizations—the German American Bund.

Werner Ellman was born in 1924 in Bodenwöhr, a small town in Germany. His father's business suffered from the massive inflation brought on by the Great Depression in the 1920s. When Ellmann was four years old, the family immigrated to Chicago.  

The Ellman family joined the German American Bund. They enjoyed its sense of community and its focus on family activities, such as holiday parties and youth summer camps.2 The Ellmans embraced the Bund's values and principles, which promoted a program of German superiority, antisemitism, and racism. Ellman defined it as "America's arm of the Nazi Party." With 25,000 official members and a large annual budget, it was "the nation's largest and most prominent Nazi-emulating mass organization."3

The Bund tried to link Nazism with American symbols and values. For example, the American flag often appeared next to the Nazi German flag during rallies. Ellman describes how the Bund reproduced the standard imagery of Nazi Germany by wearing uniforms resembling those of the SA (the Nazi Party’s paramilitary organization). Members also wore swastika armbands and sang Nazi anthems.

Ellman's testimony reflects childhood experiences as a Bund member through the eyes of an adult living in the postwar world. Examining his memories of these events raises questions regarding Bund members' role in generating support for Nazism—both in the United States and abroad.

Bradley W. Hart, Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press), 2018, 25.

For more on the Bund's youth camps, see the related item "German Youth in the USA."

Hart, Hitler's American Friends, 4.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois
RG Number 50.031.0012
Date of Interview
December 10, 1986
Duration 00:01:51
Werner Ellman
Chicago, IL, USA
Reference Location
Bodenwöhr, Germany
Interview Type Oral History
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