The Summer the Nazis Came to Yaphank
In 1935, children of German heritage came out for summer camp to canoe, swim, and participate in sports and enjoy the forest/lakes setting, just as others came to the Girl Scout camps, Boy Scout camps, Greek heritage camps along the lakes for years. Then more families started to arrive, and spend time here on weekends originally enjoying German culture, music, and food, and they started building small summer bungalows along the lake. The crowds grew on Sundays, with trains full of people coming from the city to spend the day here and they supported the local farms and shops and restaurants on the lakes which had been hurting since the depression and the decline of the mills- the village economy was helped with their buying beer, ice cream, lunches and picnic food, and no one thought anything of it.
But soon the crowds coming had a political agenda. There was a faction promoting Hitler, and the tone of the summer retreat took on a secretive air and the numbers kept increasing. Extra train cars came out from the city (Jamaica and Yorkville) and they marched down Main Street to the other end of town to Camp Siegfried. People in Yaphank were now feeling uncomfortable with them and it was out of their control. Local residents were frightened and some couldn’t get past them to drive out of their own homes. Residents went to the local Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County and federal officials to see what they could do to stop this. They had no legal recourse as this group had the right to free assembly under the First Amendment. Local boys sneaked up to the camp and took down license plate numbers and submitted them to the police. Judge Neuss of Yaphank contacted the FBI, and they finally came to investigate and found nothing. As things were heating up on the world stage, and Hitler invaded Poland, it all ended. The Camp lost it liquor license, the US government took over the property and Yaphank was quiet again. It all happened and was over in 2 – 3 summers. The property was bought up after the war and converted into residential communities.
As Ryan Shaffer, Stony Brook University History Professor describes it:
"While some were ardent Nazis, many were patriotic German-Americans whose families were in the country for decades. What needs to be understood by such groups is that for the rank and file, they were patriotic for both Germany and the United States. The Bund's activity on L.I. was a way to mesh patriotism of the two countries locally even if the ideology conflicted."
This Nazi activity was not generated by residents of the hamlet of Yaphank. When the Friends of New Germany evolved into the German American Bund, and bought property at the edge of town, they brought this faction here from the city, and tainted Yaphank’s reputation for years. Yaphank residents who happen to be of German ancestry are still here and live in and around German Gardens and the German American Settlement properties and are part of the community along with residents of Irish, English, Italian, Jewish heritage and many other nationalities.
1935 Lakeview Farm on the outskirts of Yaphank was sold to Friends of New Germany
and became Camp Siegfried. Children came from Jamaica, Brooklyn, and Manhattan for summer camp for water sports, crafts, and German culture.
1936 Camp Siegfried was sold to the German American Settlement League.
A separate political faction developed, part of the German American Bund,
and began holding weekend rallies there
1937 Huge crowds arrived from NYC in Yaphank for pro-Nazi rallies.
Yaphank residents protested, sent pleas to Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County
and FBI to stop this invasion.
1938 FBI, at Yaphank’s request, investigates Camp Siegfried, finds no munitions, weapons, sabotage as reported, cannot shut down as they are protected by the
First Amendment and they are allowed the right for free assembly.
Camp Siegfried lost liquor license, attendance diminished dramatically.
1939 Hitler invaded Poland, and the parades and rallies stopped.
1941 US Government/Alien Property Custodian took over Camp Siegfried
1957 The German American Settlement League purchased the land back from
US Government, called it Siegfried Park and received a charter in 1959 from New York State for German American people to purchase the old bungalows and over the years it has been settled by a mix of German American and non-German American residents of all nationalities.