There Was A Massive Nazi Rally In NYC In 1939. This Oscar-Nominated Doc's Message: Never Again

An image of George Washington, several stories tall, looks over uniformed men and boys onstage as Fritz Kuhn speaks at a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939. (Courtesy of Marshall Curry Productions)

By Andrea Gutierrez with John Horn

It looks like a scene out of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle: A troop of uniformed young men and teenagers march with American flags down the middle of a packed Madison Square Garden, while an exuberant audience of 20,000 raises their arms in a Nazi salute. An image of George Washington, several stories tall, flanked by swastikas, makes up the backdrop.

But it's not fiction. It's real-life archival footage from Marshall Curry's seven-minute documentary, A Night at the Garden, nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary (Short Subject) category. You can watch it in its entirety right here:

"It's a really frightening scene," Curry told the Frame, "and something that feels strangely contemporary," despite having taken place 80 years ago.

He was referring to Fritz Kuhn, the then-leader of the German American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization in the United States that was small but active in the 1930s. Kuhn, who in the film speaks English with a German accent — his cadence and fury a clear knock-off of Adolf Hitler — makes verbal attacks on the "Jewish-controlled" media and tells the audience that they must take back America for the "American people who founded it."

The marquee at Madison Square Garden advertises a "Pro-American Rally." (Courtesy of Marshall Curry Productions)

Curry considered himself well-informed about history, but he was embarrassed that he'd never heard about the rally before a friend told him.

"I was stunned by how grotesque it was, and how timely it was," Curry said.

With the help of a researcher, he tracked down footage and audio in several archives across the United States, assembling the pieces into the short film.

Curry hopes that this film will be "footage that every American would know, that would serve as a cautionary tale about what happens when our political leaders whip us up against each other."

Listen to this interview on KPCC's The Frame podcast.