Ama­teur box­ing match, New York Pub­lic Library

Grow­ing up, my mom told my sis­ters and I sto­ries about liv­ing through the Depres­sion, pan­demics, and war years in Newark, NJ, but there was one sto­ry in par­tic­u­lar that still shakes me. At her 90th birth­day par­ty, she regaled us with the tale of her old­er broth­er Har­ry, a prize-fight­ing box­er. I had long ago read the news­pa­per arti­cle about my Uncle win­ning the Gold­en Glove in Madi­son Square Gar­den in 1936. But, that night, my moth­er and her fam­i­ly rem­i­nisced about Uncle Har­ry and the oth­er box­ers work­ing for Mob boss Longie Zwill­man, all of them on a mis­sion to help stop the ris­ing Ger­man-Amer­i­can Nazi par­ty at the request of the US gov­ern­ment. They called Zwillman’s team the Newark Minutemen.

Ger­man Nazis in Amer­i­ca? Before World War II? Why had I nev­er learned about this in school? After hear­ing my mother’s sto­ry, I became devot­ed to fill­ing this hole in Amer­i­can his­to­ry and cap­tur­ing my Uncle Harry’s legacy.

Dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, in 1933, Amer­i­ca was fac­ing a pre­car­i­ous future. With Hitler rapid­ly gain­ing trac­tion abroad, the tran­si­tion to the FDR pres­i­den­cy, and the dusk of pro­hi­bi­tion on the hori­zon, Amer­i­ca was fer­tile ground for fanat­ics to breed fas­cism out of the con­fu­sion and uncer­tain­ty. Through­out the 1930s, Hitler was gain­ing sup­port in Amer­i­ca for his Nazi empire, well before he had fired a sin­gle bul­let in Europe.

Led by Fuhrer Fritz Kuhn, a Ger­man immi­grant liv­ing in New York, the Reich cre­at­ed a mul­ti-mil­lion dol­lar nation­al pres­ence called the Ger­man-Amer­i­can Bund. Kuhn uni­fied tens of thou­sands of Amer­i­can-Nazi Bund mem­bers in every city and man­aged twen­ty-five Nazi youth camps across the US. His six-com­pa­ny cor­po­ra­tion gen­er­at­ed mil­lions. He exploit­ed US resources like the NRA and Nation­al Guard to equip his army with guns and train­ing. After the war, the FBI traced mil­lions of dol­lars from lead­ing banks all across Amer­i­ca back to Ger­many, prov­ing ties between the Amer­i­can Bund and Ger­man Nazis.

Aver­age Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, how­ev­er, ignored him. Even though there were tens of thou­sands of sol­diers, dressed in smug­gled Nazi uni­forms, march­ing down Amer­i­can streets — Sieg Heil­ing and wav­ing Swasti­ka and Amer­i­can flags side by side — we ignored them. Even though the Bund sent their youth to Nazi train­ing camps in the Catskills, Long Island, and bucol­ic coun­try sides all across Amer­i­ca to study Mein Kampf and per­fect the goos­es­tep — we ignored them. And — even after Fritz Kuhn and his fac­tion incit­ed a Nurem­berg-like ral­ly at the icon­ic Madi­son Square Gar­den on President’s Day in 1939 — we turned the oth­er way.

Why? First­ly, they were pro­tect­ed by the first amend­ment, which awards free­dom of speech and assem­bly, and, sec­ond­ly, many Amer­i­cans did not want to enter anoth­er war. Because the pub­lic turned a blind eye, the Bund had free rein to spread their hate­ful mes­sage all across the nation.

Dis­cov­er­ing this his­to­ry pulled me into for­got­ten time. It was shock­ing to think that — if not for an under­ground band of box­ers who were recruit­ed by the gov­ern­ment in con­junc­tion with Jew­ish mafia to fight as a resis­tance group against the vio­lent hatred of Ger­man-Amer­i­can Nazis — we may not be hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion today. The box­ers were called the Newark Min­ute­men, and they fought against the Nazi pro­test­ers by going on under­cov­er spy mis­sions, ulti­mate­ly using their intel­li­gence to foil the Bund’s plans and gath­er proof about the Nazi youth camps.

The box­ers were called the Newark Min­ute­men, and they fought against the Nazi pro­test­ers by going on under­cov­er spy mis­sions, ulti­mate­ly using their intel­li­gence to foil the Bund’s plans and gath­er proof about the Nazi youth camps.

Newark Min­ute­men, my nov­el, and soon to be a film optioned by Fulwell73, is not anoth­er World War II Nazi sto­ry. It’s based on first-hand sources includ­ing FBI and Sen­ate hear­ing doc­u­ments, inter­views, diaries, news­reels, radio announce­ments, and arti­cles. How­ev­er, there were chal­lenges in find­ing these sources, includ­ing the death of many key char­ac­ters, the secre­tive nature of the mob and the gov­ern­ment, and the fact that by the time the sto­ry was cap­tured, many had begun over­shad­ow­ing the hor­rors of the sec­ond World War. I con­struct­ed scenes and dia­logue where miss­ing pieces arose and com­pressed and dra­ma­tized some events to best work for the nov­el, but at its core, Newark Min­ute­men is a real-life, for­got­ten Amer­i­can sto­ry about wak­ing up to the ene­my sit­ting on our doorstep.

Yael, the pro­tag­o­nist of the nov­el, is based on John C. Met­calfe, a Chica­go Times reporter who went under­cov­er in 1937, becom­ing a Nazi Stormtroop­er with his FBI broth­er Jim to uncov­er the threat of Hitler in Amer­i­ca. He ulti­mate­ly tes­ti­fied for the Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Sen­ate hear­ings and con­sult­ed on the movie Con­fes­sions of a Nazi Spy. I had the plea­sure of speak­ing with his son and read­ing his under­cov­er diaries in my research for Newark Min­ute­men. The hero­ine, Krista, is also based on a real per­son; Helen Vooros, who was a teenage camper at the Amer­i­can Hitler Youth camps and brave­ly tes­ti­fied for the Sen­ate hear­ings and FBI about the hor­ri­fy­ing eugen­ics prac­tices that went on at the camps, includ­ing the repeat­ed sex­u­al assault of the female campers in order to increase the Aryan pop­u­la­tion in America.

All of the mob­sters and Newark Min­ute­men fea­tured in the nov­el are based on real peo­ple, includ­ing Mob king, Longie Zwill­man, and the leader of the Min­ute­men, Nat Arno. In addi­tion to my his­tor­i­cal research, my mom and I vis­it­ed her fam­i­ly to devel­op the sto­ry fur­ther. Her four broth­ers all worked with the real Longie Zwill­man, a man known as the Gats­by of Gang­sters.” He was part of a nation­al crime syn­di­cate called Mur­der Inc. and an asso­ciate of well-known mob­sters, includ­ing Lucky Luciano and Mey­er Lan­sky. His pow­er earned him the addi­tion­al title The Al Capone of New Jer­sey,” but he also took care of his own, con­tributed to char­i­ties, and cleaned up Newark. One cousin, Pauline Levine, and her broth­er, Sey­mour, lived next door to the Mob’s hide­out, behind the can­dy shop. Pauline’s father Irv­ing was Longie Zwillman’s bar­ber. She told me how Longie helped rel­a­tives and oth­er flee­ing Jews escape from Europe dur­ing the war. My cousin Bruce reached out on the alum­nae site of his and my mother’s for­mer high­school to gath­er sto­ries about the Newark Min­ute­men. We received anec­dotes and pho­tos from many, all of which can be viewed on Newark​min​ut​men​.com.

Through the use of dif­fer­ent voic­es, I ulti­mate­ly intend­ed Newark Min­ute­men to offer diverse per­spec­tives and intro­duce empa­thy into uncom­fort­able places. The nov­el explores the con­vul­sive col­li­sion of his­to­ry and romance, invit­ing read­ers to take a frank look at the dev­as­tat­ing events that have occurred in Amer­i­ca, includ­ing the most dev­as­tat­ing and per­va­sive of all — complacency.

Leslie K. Bar­ry is most recent­ly a screen­writer, author, and exec­u­tive pro­duc­er. Her pre­vi­ous pro­fes­sion­al work includes exec­u­tive posi­tions with major enter­tain­ment com­pa­nies includ­ing Turn­er Broad­cast­ing, Hasbro/​Parker Broth­ers, and Mat­tel Mind­scape Video Games. She has spent the last twen­ty-five years with her hus­band in Tiburon, CA rais­ing their four kids and dog. On the side, she’s devot­ed to geneal­o­gy, which she has used to uncov­er many ideas for her devel­op­ing sto­ries and cre­ate fam­i­ly storybooks.