NEWARK, NJ — The new ordinance outlawing white supremacist activity in Newark, signed into law in June, may be the product of contemporary events, but it’s hardly the first time the city has postured itself as an arbiter of justice.
According to Warren Grover, author of “Nazis in Newark,” Nazi sympathizers in New Jersey’s largest city were an invasive species determined to convert the large German American population living in Newark during the 1930s and 40s. The city’s Jewish and ethnic communities resisted with protest signs and fists.
While Nazi groups would find themselves in a legal bind should they organize in Newark today, it was up to residents and various organizations during the WWII era to combat an encroaching white supremacist presence. Here are a few ways Newarkers showed Nazis they weren’t welcome.
Gangsters Punched Nazis in the Face
Even in the 1930s, Newark was known for its robust black market and boxing, but it took the rise of the Third Reich for the city’s gangsters and fighters to form a watchdog group called the Minutemen.
The Minutemen, who hailed from what is now Newark’s Central Ward, actively shut down Nazi activities in Newark and northern New Jersey with fists, bats and clubs. Backed by criminal czar Abner “Longie” Zwillman, the group operated under the leadership of Nat Arno, a minor prizefighter and enforcer for the city’s preeminent Jewish gangster.
Zwillman, born to working-class parents in the city’s Third Ward, was no stranger to anti-Semitism, having organized a gang to fight anti-Semites in the streets in his youth. Seeing the Nazis begin to appear in his neighborhood as Hitler rose to power in Germany mobilized him to protect his community with the “large, violent” gang he had built as a crime boss.
Local Organizations Led Boycotts Against German Goods
In 1933, Jewish American organizations nationwide responded to increasing legal restrictions on German Jews by boycotting German goods, shipping and services. Newark’s local leagues and Jewish leaders, such as the Newark Post 34 of the Jewish War Veterans and The Hebrew Club, were no exception.
Samuel William Kalb, a physician and organizer of Newark Post JWV, spent seven years relentlessly leading various actions in Newark to help disable Germany’s market. He met with executives of the city’s department stores to persuade them not to buy German goods, including Kresge’s, one of the largest retailers in the United States and in Newark at the time.
The JWV and several other Jewish organizations lobbying department stores and retailers joined under the Newark division of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights to unify their campaign efforts. The committee successfully took on Essex County’s leading department stores, even employing the Minutemen to picket against Louis Bamberger, the city’s no. 1 retailer and funder of the Newark Museum's construction.
While big names like Bamberger and Hahne & Co. violated the boycott at times, Grover notes that Newark was the exception to the national and international trend of the boycott movement. Thanks to Kalb and the Jewish organizations he counseled, German goods in Newark were hard to come by throughout most of the city.
City Communists Ambushed Nazi Meetings
Planning anti-Nazi action became a regular routine in Newark during the years leading up to WWII, and there were few more motivated to do so than the members of Newark’s Young Communist League and their allies.
In May of 1933, hundreds gathered for Nazi speakers at Montgomery Hall in Irvington, including 45 uniformed Nazi sailors from the Hamburg-American liner “Hamburg.” It wasn’t long before more than 40 YCL jumped from taxis armed with banners bearing “Down with Hitler!” A fight ensued when the Friends of New Germany, a pro-Hitler group founded in the United States, came outside, and soon 35 at the scene.
Ruth Miller, who was arrested for protesting the arrest of fellow organizer Albert Woods, told police at the time, "I was there protesting against fascism in Germany and protesting against the birth of fascism in America.”