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American Swastika book cover

"More Than Money: American Collaboration with the Third Reich"

Book Essay on:
Charles Higham, American Swastika
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 332 pages.
UCSB Library E743.5 .H5 1985

by Joshua Morris
March 14, 2008

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in German History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2008

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
at amazon

About Joshua Morris

I am a 4th year history major focusing on the political and economic outcomes of policies in Europe during the 20th century. I have been interested in history since I was taught how valuable it was by my father with his stories from the Submarine Service. I have taken 5 courses in total which covered German history and 6 courses which covered the Third Reich. I have always been interested in the Third Reich because it is a pivotal regime and era for understanding my main focus on 20th century Germany, the GDR. I chose Higham’s book because I felt that it highlighted many feelings and theories about American involvement with the Third Reich that I had already presumed, or concluded based on other resources.

Abstract (back to top)

Charles Higham’s text on American collaboration with the Nazis is a quick easy read, perfect for the novice historian. Covering an expansive 45-year period, Higham draws a line to link all the known U.S. collaborators with Nazism and highlights one major feature as the thesis for the text, that the majority of collaborators did so for personal ideological reasons not financial ones; much different from the traditional view that U.S. support for Nazism was motivated by a drive to succeed financially. Many remember Henry Ford’s close relationship with the Nazi camps of France to make tanks for the regime while producing capital back home in the states; what many do not remember is that Ford, and many others, were antisemitic themselves and supported the Third Reich for far more elaborate reasons than to merely ‘bring the U.S. out of depression’. American Swastika traces from the origins of the war-time German-American Bund to the most recent Klaus Barbie trial of 1985, which was Higham’s original motivation for writing the book. Never before has such a collection of stories been linked together to prove something so distasteful about our own commanding economic heights, and about the true motivations of those participating in the economics of World War 2.

Essay (back to top)

Book Summary

Few books in our collection of libraries have historically taken on the challenge of attacking pro-Fascist groups in America throughout the Cold War. Most of the American groups associated with Nazis during the 1930s were assumed to be financial; businesses and corporations like Henry Ford trying to help America out of the depression by supporting whatever buyers they could find. Charles Higham approaches this subject and tells a very different story, portraying the majority of Nazi collaborators as perceived allies and members of the American government. In an overall attempt to highlight the Klaus Barbie trial of 1985, Higham uses his book to draw a line historically connecting the trials of Nazi perpetrators and the effects of their actions on not only America, but the war itself.

The styling and presentation of Higham’s book is well thought out and well researched. Each chapter leads into the next and creates a cohesive narrative. Each story is told in a way to condemn the particular group or individual it is highlighting, such as the German-American Bund or Klaus Barbie, by showing that the group or individual was not acting in accordance with personal reasons for financial gain, but rather they were ideologically and materially supporting pro-Nazi organizations here in the States. In this way Higham tries to rid the notion that certain groups like Ford were collaborating with the Third Reich for such noble notions as ‘aiding the end to the American depression’ or ‘protecting young American boys from war’, and instead portray them as ideological opponents to the ideals of democracy and the American way of life.

Overall, Higham’s book is a stylistic and enthusiastic read for the avid Nazi historian. The only reservations I have against it are that it relies heavily on research previously made in Higham’s older publication, Trading with the Enemy. It assumes that readers have extensive knowledge of World War 2 and the Nazi groups associated with it. The drawback here is that background research and information is left out and readers are forced to either presume that Higham is correct, or research the material themselves. The book however is clear, entertaining, and concise.

The story of American collaboration with the Third Reich is an intriguing one that attracts attention and provokes the imagination. Ideological support of the Nazis was never a secret, even in the 1930s, as many well known American businessmen supported the Third Reich because they shared Hitler’s vision of a great fascist society. Businessmen like Henry Ford and American icons like Charles Lindberg supported the Nazis in various ways for different reasons. Strangely, few historians have attempted to connect these events and circumstances and explain them collectively. Historian Charles Higham, author of other World War 2 highlights such as Trading with the Enemy, 1982, has attempted such a collective analysis of Nazi conspirators in his volume American Swastika, 1985. Published in 1985, this book was written to draw attention to the Klaus Barbie trial, set to air on television later that year. Drawing from his previous research, Higham attempts to trace the history of Nazi collaboration and its subsequent effect on the war from the early instances of the German-American Bund to the most recent Barbie case. The conventional view that “[conspirators] and isolationists in the Senate and the House were merely misguided, that in their desire to keep America out of the war, to protect young American boys from being killed, they meant well; that they were innocently oblivious of the real meaning of Fascism in Europe” (Higham 38) leaves out any possibility of antisemitism and/or sedition. One problem with Higham’s text is its attempts to link events together without creating an overall thesis. Rather what we see when observing these cases is that allegiance to Hitler, and illegal funding for the German cause, was far more than just a desire to protect America. Although Higham argues that people collaborated with the Nazis for many different reasons, common to all of them was a strong ideological affinity to the ideals of the Third Reich: each case was characterized by an obvious allegiance to Nazi Germany as well as a personal commitment to the ideals of world Fascism.

The German-American Bund

The origins of American support of Nazism are best expressed in the origins of the pro-Nazi American interest group, the German-American Bund. Hitler’s secretary, Hans Thompsen, arrived in America in 1936 to promote the foundation of a pro-Fascist organization protected by the American bill of rights. According to Higham he had no trouble finding supporters of appeasement in the states where “anti-Semitism and fear of communism were two overriding concerns” (Higham 2). Thompsen knew that the American public “wanted to stay out of the European conflict for as long as possible” (Higham 2) and thus knew that his goal would be promoting a platform of non-involvement. Fritz Kuhn was the man who quickly became head of this organization, and its principal leader in spearheading American politics. Laying down the constitution of the Bund, Kuhn hypocritically called for an “allegiance to the United States and to the preservation of law and order” (Higham 5), despite the fact that the “organization was bent upon the wholesale subversion, subordination, and collapse of the U.S. democratic system from within” (Higham 5). Even more compelling is that “many Bund members were trained in the use of rifles, pistols, and machine guns and were expert in demolition work” (Higham 7). In this ironic way, the Bund was as active as the Communist Party during the 1930s and condemned it for promoting a very similar platform, which was the subversion of capitalism by the lower classes. The unique feature of the Bund was its ability to “crystallize the feelings of a vigorous minority of Americans while greatly aggravating the majority with its torchlit street parades and strutting in uniform” (Higham 3). As a result the Bund made the headlines frequently during the ‘30s, and was sometimes just as controversial as the Communist Party.

The German-American Bund was much more than just a pro-German organization, however. The Bund’s activities likely fit the description of a terrorist organization, similar to how we view some radical organizations today, such as PETA. To this end, the Bund was relatively unsuccessful at promoting fascism in the states, mainly because it was turning the fear of communism into a fear of Nazism. One of the most obvious problems to the organization was that part of its audience, German-Americans, had left Europe to escape the very totalitarianism the Bund was promoting. Newsreels and press releases had a field day exposing the Bund’s camps where children were indoctrinated with Nazism as they “ate, slept, talked, and dreamed Nazism just as the Hitler Jugend did” (Higham 6). Overall the Bund was very unsuccessful and was eventually suppressed during the war, but it was clearly the first instance of a large pro-Nazi presence that was not financially motivated in supporting the Third Reich, but rather supported Nazism for ideological reasons.

America First!

The next major case from Higham’s analysis was the research done on the America First! campaign. One of America’s most prominent ‘heroes’ at the time was Charles Lindberg, and it was he who advocated this radical new perspective on the changing nature of European politics. Lindberg was most concerned with what he called the ‘yellow peril’, or the Chinese and Japanese alliance which he believed was masked over by a global conflict involving the Jews and the Germans (Higham 12). In a very racist tone Lindberg condemned the Chinese and the Japanese as a threat to whites around the world, and that “Germany could have been used as a weapon against this alliance” (Higham 12). It was on this pretext that Lindberg concluded that America needed to be more concerned with its own safety as a predominantly white nation and alliances with other white nations, including Nazi Germany, should be encouraged to strengthen that safety net. Thus America First! became the largest active ‘political force’ which continuously advocated a peace with Nazi Germany. According to Higham the philosophy behind America First! was much deeper than just a fear of the ‘yellow peril’, it “was based on ideological as well as financial considerations: purity of race and the destruction of Jewry and communism allied with financial empire-building all over the world” (Higham 13). This platform successfully attracted many of America’s most prominent figures including Henry Ford, Alice Roosevelt, John T. Flynn, and Kathryn Lewis. It is here where we see a clear distinction between supporting Nazism purely for financial reasons, and supporting it for not only personal gain but also because of their own sense of morality. It is expected that businessmen would be attracted to the prospect of increased revenue, but what we find after examining later meetings is that almost all members unquestionably supported Lindberg and his perspective, especially after his 1941 speech in Iowa where he stated that “the world conflict was engulfing the United States because of ‘the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt administration’” (Higham 14). America First! was only one of the many Nazi organizations in the States investigated by the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover. Postwar reports showed that America First! was allied with many other pro-Nazi groups such as the German-American National Alliance, which “circulated Nazi propaganda appealing for contributions to America First!” (Higham 15). Fortunately, the organization’s appeal and ability to attract attention to fascism died out quickly after 1943 and the inevitability of the war’s conclusion. America First! however, does give readers a quick glance at the philosophical motives of many prominent American icons such as Henry Ford, who was later found to have negotiated with Hitler to build tanks in occupied France; most specifically though, it shows that there was much more than just financial gain behind the motives of these individuals.

Conspiracy on Capitol Hill

The final case in this analysis was the Capitol Hill conspiracy, which investigated the covert support of pro-Nazi organizations by many prominent U.S. senators and members of congress. Following the mysterious death of Senator Ernest Lundeen from Minnesota, William Maloney took it upon himself to begin the investigation of Nazi propaganda activities within the congress. Maloney was a radical leftist who aided the Attorney General in investigating Nazi covert actions in the States. Using research gathered from Lundeen’s former secretary Harriet Johnson, Maloney was able to fit the jigsaw pieces into a narrative which “presented an unsavory picture of corruption and Nazi collaboration in both the Senate and the House” (Higham 38). Citing the conventional view of Americans at the time, Higham uses Maloney’s testimony to cover up the myth that senators meant well in their actions to try and prevent American involvement in the war. The truth, as explained by Maloney, is that seven senators and thirteen congressmen were negotiating secretly with the Nazi government, all of whom “aided and abetted the Nazi government by using their franking privileges” which allowed them “to distribute isolationist speeches, reprints of articles, and even books through the mail” (Higham 38). Far more controversial than merely trying to keep the country out of war, these members of congress showed elements of not only direct treason, but political and national dishonesty as well. These men, some of whom were bribed and thus not necessarily ideologically committed, were committed nonetheless to supporting the Nazi regime for their own personal benefit.

Hans Thompsen, a name we have seen already, knew how important penetrating Capitol Hill was to Hitler. He was able to “find valuable friends in the devious Assistant Secretary of the State Breckinridge Long,” and praised Hitler’s accomplishments in the States during the 1930s. Thompsen took it upon himself to help aid the penetration of Congress in 1940 when he stated it was “necessary to take ‘literary countermeasures’ against Roosevelt” (Higham 39), which he believed would help gain popularity of isolationism from the U.S. public. He proposed five book projects which were carefully created in order to portray isolationism as not only desirable for Americans, but necessary as well. Later in 1941 he arranged for the German-American National Alliance to support America First! with campaign funds and German agents in order to organize a “flood of isolationist letters to Congress.” (Higham 39) Thompsen’s most important contact however was George Sylvester Viereck, who received $500,000 from the Nazi government to aid in the subversion and corruption of U.S. congressmen and the administration itself. Viereck as early as 1910 had written about his personal opinions about the necessity of an American-German alliance, and was thus very ideologically connected to the nationalist sentiments of Nazi Germany (Higham 40). Throughout the 1930s as an author, Viereck spent most of his time praising Hitler’s regime and writing books and articles talking about the necessity of a German-American alliance. Viereck was only one person who aided the Nazi infiltration of the Congress, but he is clearly an element with much larger visions than someone merely trying to exploit a situation for financial gain.


Higham’s text was criticized as being “jounalistic whistle blowing” (Booklist review) by the reviewers at Booklist, most likely referring to the energetic nature of the text’s presentation. What I think this review does highlight though is the way the text expects readers to have already known Higham’s previous research and is thus more of a journalistic coverage of Nazi collaboration than it is just one examination of it. Higham’s text definitely lacks in its ability to bring all the elements together into an overall thesis, instead choosing to link the events chronologically to 1985. The text however was not without its own arguments and its own specific perspectives on Nazi collaboration, which the book would have better presented if it had addressed a specific aspect about Nazi collaboration in the States, namely that the most prominent supporters did it not for financial reasons but rather because of their ideological affinity to fascism or Nazism. We see this all linked together with the German-American Bund, which was ideologically committed to fascism; the America First! foundation and its success in attracting prominent businessmen, who also found an ally in America-Nazi collaborators; and finally the flood of Congress with Nazi reports, isolationist speeches, and illegal contract funding. When we look back on this history with this new perspective, it is hard to say that we have not been affected in some way by fascist politics. Charles Higham’s text does a good job at creating this new perspective, even if it lacks the cohesiveness of true historical writing. Hopefully we can use this information to help us better explore our own nation’s desires at a time when we thought we were all on the same side.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/24/08)

Book Review

  • "Review of Higham, Charles: American Swastika." Booklist. Chicago: American Library Association, 1985. 803-804.
    “This Prolific and popular writer has explored U.S. cooperation with Nazis before, in Errol Flynn: The Untold Story (Booklist 76:1333 My 15 80), a biography of the famous action that suggested he was a Nazi spy, and Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949 (79:414 N 15 82), in which Higham held up for public disdain some deals made during World War II between Germany and U.S. companies. This time he is incensed over the assistance given to Nazism during World War II and afterward by still more people in influential places in this country. Amazingly, this group of Third Reich supporters even included some U.S. senators and congressmen. Exactly what all the individuals he has unearthed did and why they did it will leave wide-eyed those many readers who love loud (but documented) journalistic whistle-blowing.”
    Bibliography; to be indexed. WBH.

Web Sites


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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 3/23/08; last updated: 12/20/11
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