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Oral History with Werner Ellman

Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois

By the time of Hitler's appointment as German chancellor in 1933, more than 8 million people in the US identified as German Americans. The majority had emigrated from Germany to seek economic opportunity in the United States.1 However, many still paid attention to political developments in Germany. Some were enthused by Hitler's vision, while others looked upon the Nazis' antisemitism and use of violence with fear. Nevertheless, influenced by Nazi propaganda, many German-American organizations in the United States showed enthusiasm for generating an American brand of Nazism. Werner Ellman, featured in the accompanying oral history, was a member of 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 emigrated to Chicago.  

The Ellman family joined the German American Bund, embracing its sense of comradeship and community, as well as its family focus, including youth summer camps2 and holiday parties. The Ellmans adhered to the Bund's values and principles, promoting 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 aimed to link Nazism with American symbols and values. For example, during rallies, members would brandish the American flag next to the Nazi German flag. 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), as well as wearing swastika armbands and singing Nazi anthems.

Ellman's testimony reflects childhood experiences as a Bund member through the eyes of an adult living in a postwar world. Examining his memories of these events raises questions regarding Bund members' role in generating support for Nazism 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
Werner Ellman
Interview Type Oral History
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