Nineteen-year-old Elisabeth “Betty” Lehmann squinted beneath the glare of the July sun. Taking in her surroundings, Betty was impressed, as always, at the spectacle her father had organized for the day.
More than a dozen swastika banners—red and white and black, fluttered in a trace of a midsummer breeze. The colors were resplendent in the glare of the hot afternoon sunshine. The banners rimmed a wooden speaker’s platform, a temporary structure that was stored in a barn when not in use in a Bund rally.
About a hundred people were gathered before the platform. Many of them were dressed in brown paramilitary uniforms. Practically all of them were wearing swastika armbands. Betty was wearing a swastika armband, too.
Betty stood amid a cluster of other young people, as everyone in attendance waited for the next speaker to take the podium.
Today’s rally was shaping up to be quite a success. The Führer would be proud, Betty thought, if only he could visit Pennsylvania. But that was an unlikely outcome, given the current state of relations between Washington and Berlin.
If not for the influence of the Jews, Betty’s father, Horst, often said, American public opinion would not be against us!
By “us”, Betty knew, Horst meant the greater German nation, the Volk. Betty and her two siblings, Frank and Heidi, had all been born in the United States. They were part of the Volk, nonetheless.
Residence and place of birth made no difference, so far as Horst Lehmann and his children were concerned. The Germans were one people, wherever they happened to be residing.
And at present, the Germans had but one leader: Adolf Hitler.
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer, the saying went. One people, one Germanic empire, one leader.
The next speaker was a man of about forty years of age, around a decade younger than Betty’s father. The speaker’s name was Fritz Julius Kuhn.
Fritz Kuhn had a strong Teutonic chin that seemed to accentuate his perpetual frown. He had heavy eyebrows and a prominent nose. Kuhn, too, was clad in a paramilitary uniform. But his was more elaborate than any of the others, and complete with a black, gold-trimmed garrison cap.
This was not to be the first time Betty would hear Fritz Kuhn speak, though the presence of the founder of the German American Bund was always something of an event.
Betty had once remarked to her father that Fritz Kuhn was an overly serious man who never seemed to smile. Horst had reminded his daughter that Fritz Kuhn was an important man engaged in important work, that left little time or space for humor. Kuhn labored tirelessly to correct American public opinion, which had been distorted by Bolshevik and Jewish influences.
There was hearty applause as Kuhn took his position behind the podium. Then there was total, respectful silence.
Kuhn paused, and tested the microphone by tapping it with the tip of his finger. A little electronic whine came from the adjacent loudspeakers.
“Heil Hitler!” Kuhn said, beginning his address. As he enunciated these two words, Kuhn raised his right arm, palm extended. Now widely known as the German salute, the gesture had originally been an innovation of the Italian Fascists.
Betty raised her arm, too, and repeated the words, “Heil Hitler!” Along with everyone else present.
The crowd answered in kind, with outstretched right arms. Kuhn waited a moment before continuing. As usual, Kuhn would speak in German. Practically everyone here had at least a basic command of the language, including those, like Betty and her siblings, who were first-generation Americans.
Kuhn himself had been born in Germany in 1896. He had emigrated as a young man, and received his American citizenship just three years ago, in 1934.
“Even here,” Kuhn said, his voice reverberating, “in the American heartland, the spirit of the German people is strong, as is the love for our Führer!”
This was met with cheers.
Yes, the American heartland, Betty thought. If someone were looking for a stereotypical American scene, then this would be it. They were just outside Dutch Falls, a small town about ten miles south of Harrisburg, on the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River.
The speaker’s platform had been placed in the middle of an untilled meadow. Pennsylvania forest enclosed the meadow on two sides. On a third side was a rural two-lane road.
On another side was the gravel parking lot of Lehmann’s Emporium, which Betty’s father owned, along with the adjacent land. The emporium was actually a general store, but her father had preferred the more grand-sounding word when he’d founded the business, more than a decade ago.
Lehmann’s Emporium was a family business. Betty, as well as Frank and Heidi, had put in many hours working there, right alongside their father. Betty’s mother, Claudia, had worked there, too, until her death five years ago.
The emporium occupied a warehouse-sized, wood-frame building. Horst was proud of the fact that his business was the largest retail establishment in the immediate area.
“I am so glad to see you young people, especially,” Fritz Kuhn continued. “Many of you, I know, have never been to the Fatherland. Yet you are the future of the Volk. The Führer has high hopes and expectations for you!”
Although the crowd ranged in age from roughly five to well past seventy, it did, in fact, skew younger. The Bund was run by men of middle age, like Betty’s father and Fritz Kuhn. But young people were by no means excluded. On the contrary, the German-American youth were actively encouraged to attend. As Fritz Kuhn had said, the movement was about the future, not the past.
A local young man named Stefan Schneider, who was closer to the podium, turned discreetly away from the speaker and smiled at Betty. This was not the first such smile or appreciative glance that Betty had received at the rally today. In fact, Betty had noticed many men—more than she could count—sneaking glances at her. Not just young men like Stefan, but men even older than her father.
Betty had shoulder-length blonde hair, high cheekbones, and blue eyes. Since the age of twelve, she had gone for almost daily swims at the nearby YMCA. This gave her a slender physique that was simultaneously strong and feminine.
Betty smiled and nodded back at Stefan, giving him just enough encouragement, but not too much. Make him put in some effort. Nothing excited men, Betty had learned, like uncertainty that contained a shred of hope.
Her brother, Frank, was standing a few yards closer to the platform than Stefan was. As if Frank had eyes in the back of his head, he turned and glared at Stefan, then gave Betty a disapproving stare, too.
Betty frowned back at Frank, but the damage had been done. Stefan’s friendly flirtation shifted to startlement and guilt, as if he had been caught in the commission of a crime. Stefan returned his full attention to Fritz Kuhn. Then Frank refocused on the podium, too.
Frank was four years older than Betty, but he guarded her virtue as if he were her father. Whenever a young man came near Betty, Frank would swoop in and discourage him. And Frank, being tall, broad-shouldered, and a known brawler, was able to dissuade most men once they realized he was serious.
There was something odd about Frank’s possessiveness, Betty thought. It was normal for an older brother to be protective of a younger sister…to a degree. But Frank was not her father. Frank acted almost as if—
No, don’t allow yourself to even think that, Betty. Surely Frank doesn’t—
Betty turned as she heard a commotion behind her: the sounds of automotive engines. Four automobiles had stopped in front of the meadow, and were now disgorging their human occupants, who were carrying signs.
Fritz Kuhn stopped speaking.
The crowd began to murmur among itself. The rally-goers were puzzled at first, then actively annoyed.
Betty was aware of movement closer to the platform. Frank was walking toward the road, his face red with anger.
“It’s that Jewish son-of-a-bitch, Barry Rosenberg!” Frank shouted at anyone within earshot.
As the protestors continued to clamber from their automobiles, Betty took a closer look at the signs. She could read most of them, even from a distance. Some of the signs were in all capital letters.
“UNITED AGAINST FASCISM!”
“Hitler is the Enemy of Democracy!”
“THE NAZI WAY IS NOT THE AMERICAN WAY!”
Betty saw her father, Horst, breaking through the crowd to head down to the road. Frank shoved his way through the crowd to join him.
Betty did not intend to confront the protestors. But she wanted to get a closer look and a better hearing of what was to follow. She gently edged her way toward the road, saying “Excuse me,” or the German “Verzeihung”. Practically everyone here knew she was a Lehmann, and they quickly moved aside. Some of the young men, eager to please her, nudged others aside so that she could pass.
By the time she arrived at the road, Horst and Frank were already standing toe-to-toe with Barry Rosenberg.
Horst was in his fifties. But despite his weathered face and white hair, he was still quite formidable, with his size and visible strength. Horst was nearly as tall as Frank, and equally broad of stature.
Though no longer the young man Frank was, there was something about Betty’s father that made him intimidating to outsiders, when he set his mind that way. Of course, the same Horst could just as easily be jolly and welcoming with the customers of Lehmann’s Emporium. Her father was a complex, multifaceted man, Betty had long noted.
Barry Rosenberg, by contrast, was a short man with drooping, narrow shoulders. He was round around the middle. He looked pathetically soft and fragile when standing in the same space as Horst and Frank. Even Rosenberg’s fine clothing, complete with a jacket and tie, could only prop him up so much.
Barry Rosenberg was an attorney who had a law office in downtown Dutch Falls. Until recently, he had had little interaction with the Lehmann family. That had changed after Horst began hosting Bund rallies here, just outside town.
Watching from a distance still, Betty cringed as Frank plunged forward, both hands clenched into fists. Rosenberg’s friends—the ones carrying the signs—all stepped backward to avoid Frank’s charge.
But Barry Rosenberg stood his ground. In fact, the lawyer looked serenely unperturbed as Frank towered over him, now close enough to strike.
“What are you going to do?” Rosenberg asked. “Are you going to punch me? Beat me up? Big tough guy like you?”
Frank looked down on the attorney, his face bright red.
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking about doing, you little Yiddish scum—”
Then their father intervened.
“Don’t!” Horst said, with a seriousness in his voice that stopped Frank cold. “That’s exactly what he wants you to do, Frank. He wants to provoke an incident. Then he’ll have something provocative for his friends in the Harrisburg press to report.”
Nearby Harrisburg was the state capital, and—according to Horst—a den of Jewish influence.
Horst stepped forward. He pulled Frank backward, and pushed him away from Rosenberg—not roughly, but in a manner that brooked no argument. Then he addressed Rosenberg directly.
“Why are you here bothering us today, Mr. Rosenberg? We have done nothing to you. You have no cause to come here, and disturb us like this.”
“Ha!” Rosenberg said. “Quite the contrary! Every freedom-loving American has the right—the duty—to protest Nazism on American soil. You’re actively collaborating with the enemy, I’ll remind you!”
This was a charge that infuriated Horst, Betty knew. For a moment she feared that her father would be the one to succumb to this provocation with incriminating violence.
But Horst held his temper. He probably knew that Rosenberg was deliberately baiting him.
“And I’ll remind you, Mr. Rosenberg, that Germany and America aren’t at war. In fact, Germany is at war with no one, at present. Hitler wants nothing but peace—”
“Oh, really?” Rosenberg countered, interrupting Horst. “Hitler and the Nazis are at war against the Jews!”
Horst sighed. “You and I have been through this before, Mr. Rosenberg. Germany is a different country, and it has a different history. The Jews who don’t like Germany are completely free to emigrate. Just like Albert Einstein did back in ’33. In fact, your own parents came here from Germany, did they not? And that was decades before Hitler.”
“My parents emigrated from Bohemia,” Rosenberg said, “when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Now Bohemia is part of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler wants to grab that, too. He wants to grab the Sudetenland, and impose his barbaric Nazi rules on the Jews there, as well!”
“You’re exaggerating! And if you want to protest Hitler’s policies, why don’t you get on a plane to Berlin and protest him there?” Horst gestured to the Bund rally behind him. Despite the presence of hostile opposition, the members of the Bund were exercising remarkable restraint. They glared at Rosenberg and the other protestors, but they remained still and silent while Horst worked it out. “Everyone here is an American citizen, and we’re exercising our right of free speech.”
“As are we!” Rosenberg shot back. He turned to the small group behind him. Rosenberg’s friends were much fewer in number than the crowd at the Bund rally, but more than numerous enough to disturb the afternoon’s events. They had already interrupted Fritz Kuhn’s speech, after all.
“Your exercise of ‘free speech’ amounts to nothing more than an interference with ours!” Horst said. Betty’s father was growing angrier and more frustrated now. He had gone to great pains to prepare for Fritz Kuhn’s visit. And here were Barry Rosenberg and his friends, trying to ruin everything.
The situation was exactly as Horst had assessed it to be. It seemed to Betty that the Bund’s enemies liked to pay lip service to America’s First Amendment, which they ostensibly revered as if it were a holy writ. But they were quick to jettison their commitment to free speech as soon as someone was delivering a speech they didn’t like.
Fritz Kuhn, for his part, had remained at the podium. Kuhn’s anger was palpable; he doubtless had a few choice words for Rosenberg and his cronies. But Betty’s father was in charge here; and Fritz Kuhn, even though he was the leader of the German American Bund, was also a guest in Dutch Falls, and a guest on the property of Horst Lehmann. He would therefore let Horst Lehmann handle the situation, unless called upon to intervene.
Finally, Horst decided to accept a stalemate. He turned to the crowd behind him.
“Come on!” he shouted in German. “We will let Herr Kuhn graciously continue his address.” Then Horst turned to Rosenberg. “You and the rabble you’ve brought are to stay in the road, in the public space. If you step onto my property, several of the young men here will move you elsewhere!”
“We will observe the full letter of the law!” Rosenberg said primly.
With that, the rally-goers turned their backs on Rosenberg and his troupe of sign-carriers. Horst signaled for Kuhn to resume his speech, which he did.
Betty turned back to the podium, too, and reflected on what had just happened.
Rosenberg’s group had come here today with the blatant intention of disrupting the Bund rally. Although there were four cars full of them, they were vastly outnumbered by the members of the German-American Bund.
Rosenberg’s plan had been to provoke a confrontation that would cast the Bund in a bad light. Betty’s father was right about that, too. Somewhere among the protestors would be a man or a woman with a camera, possibly even an Eastman Kodak movie camera. As soon as anyone from the Bund so much as shoved a protestor, they would be captured on film.
But no one from the Bund had succumbed to the provocation. Frank had come close; but Horst had held him in check.
Within a minute or two, Fritz Kuhn was energizing the crowd with talk of the new Germany, and how the Nazis were America’s true allies. Adolf Hitler, Kuhn declared, had much in common with the heroes of the American Revolution, like Sam Adams and George Washington.
These declarations brought multiple cheers from the crowd, and more shouts of “Heil Hitler!”
The rally was continuing, as if the sign-carrying busybodies weren’t even present. Rosenberg and his protestors were still back there. But the Bund members were studiously ignoring them.
This was a victory for the Bund, Betty decided.
One person who did not have his eyes on Fritz Kuhn, though, was Frank Lehmann. Betty’s older brother had even forgotten, for the moment, about the men ogling his strikingly attractive younger sister. Frank was looking back angrily toward the road, at the men and women with their signs.