That night, Madison Square Garden filled up like on big occasions. The bleachers overflowing, all the seats occupied, screams and expectation. Some 20,000 attendees waited in ecstasy at the appearance of the idol. And they burst into cheers when he finally took the stage. But Fritz Kuhn had not come to shoot rock with the guitar. He also did not put a basket, furled the ice on roller skates or left K.O. to your opponent with a hook. For something Kuhn called himself "the American führer". So he went to the microphone and said that the United States should be returned to "the people who founded them". He asked for a "fair and white" leadership, to cancel the "Jewish and Moscow domination". The audience applauded and raised their right arms towards the leader of the German American Bund, an anti-Semitic organization financed by Hitler's Germany. A camera did not stop filming. And so it was recorded a busy Nazi evening in New York that today almost nobody remembers.
"A friend told me a year ago and I was amazed that there had never been talk about it," says Marshall Curry. The filmmaker maintains that the vast majority of Americans do not know this story either. So he insisted on returning it to light. He met with a researcher, rescued pieces of the recordings in different archives of the country and added almost an hour of material. "When I finally saw it, I was shocked," he adds. Even so, he applied a ruthless filter that survived only seven minutes. A tiny film, that he titled A Night in the Garden, and that this Sunday competes for the Oscar for the best short documentary.
"I felt that seven minutes counted the heart of what happened, without any addition. I also thought that, if I managed to make it brief, it would be more likely to be seen and shared on social networks, just what happened, "adds the filmmaker. The truth is that the film, available for free on-line, it is so short that it can be frustrating. You can barely see a series of original fragments and give time to intuit the darkness, although that was Curry's objective: "I decided to edit the material and launch the audience in the middle of the rally without further explanations. I think the questions he poses are more powerful than if he had turned them into a history lesson. "
A Night in the Garden yes, you can listen to part of Kuhn's speech, as well as discover the iconography of the evening: national flags and a huge banner of George Washington, surrounded by swastikas. "The assistants were not terrible madmen. They were normal Americans, often of German origin. They wear suits, ties, they look like the kind of people that could well be my neighbors in Brooklyn, "Curry emphasizes. The filmmaker also included in his film the irruption of Isadore Greenbaum, a Jewish plumber who tried to protest against Kuhn. And, above all, his epilogue: he was beaten, insulted and ended up being detained by the police. Before, someone was responsible for lowering his pants. The "American führer", while laughing.
Of course, in the short film there is not everything that surrounded that event. Neither the mention of Kuhn to Father Charles Coughlin, responsible for radio programs that reached 30 million listeners where he elevated Hitler and Mussolini. Neither do the tens of thousands of citizens who demonstrated outside Madison Square Garden against the meeting. There were even many previous doubts about the authorization to be held. "Finally, it was decided that the difference with Nazi Germany was that in the United States everyone was allowed to speak," the filmmaker explains.
"We like to think that during the rise of Nazism, all Americans rejected it. The overwhelming majority did, but there was a significant group that sympathized with white supremacism and anti-Semitism, "Curry insists. The director believes that Nazi seeds would hardly have flourished in the country, and that Pearl Harbor and the development of World War II even eliminated its roots. However, he wants to invite you to remember that maybe there could be another outcome. And he cites what then-powerful businessman and journalist William Randolph Hearst said: "When you hear a prominent American called a fascist, you can usually be sure he's just a loyal citizen who defends Americanism."
Curry also notes that the conservative broadcaster Fox News rejected a few days ago to retransmit his trailer. "Beyond the message of the film, it is full of lamentable Nazi images", declared a directive of the chain to IndieWire. The announcement was subsequently modified to make it clearer that it was a short nominated for the Oscars, before CNN or MSNBC did. But, according to Curry, the reason was different: that "can happen here" that closed the video. The director emphasizes: "In the film we see a leader who attacks the press, asks the public to rescue America from the minorities that are destroying it and laughs at the violence against an opponent." It does not name anyone, but it is not necessary.