Jewish Lawyer Foiled Nazi Plans in LA During WWII

The Nazis hoped to gain influence on US soil.

Captain John H. Schmidt worked for a Jewish lawyer named Leon Lewis. Lewis set up a spy network on his own, without support from the US government. At the beginning of WWII, Lewis’s organization was an unofficial part of the US intelligence community. His group was the best source of information the government had about Nazis on our soil.

Lewis was born in 1888 in Hurley, Wisconsin, to German Jewish immigrants. He received his law degree from the University of Chicago. When the Anti-Defamation League started, he was its first national executive secretary. When he moved to Los Angeles, he took on the work of tracking anti-Semitic activities in the area.In 1933, a group of Nazis in Los Angeles met to plan how to take over the west coast of the US for Adolf Hitler’s Germany.


Dietrich Gefken, who was a member of the putsch that put Hitler in jail, was an organizer of the Brownshirts in Germany. He had killed Jews and had thrown acid in the faces of his enemies. In the 1930s, he traveled through the US. He worked as a cook while spreading Nazi propaganda.

Eventually, Gefken settled in Los Angeles and was leading a secret storm-trooper unit that was part of the local Friends of the New Germany (FNG) branch. The FNG was a front for the Nazi organization which was preparing for an eventual invasion of the US.

Gefken volunteered for the National Guard and used the opportunity to map out the armory in San Francisco. The armory contained enough weapons to outfit an entire regiment. He also made connections with people in the US Navy who sold him stolen weapons.

Meanwhile, other FNG members were training in street fighting and the use of bombs. They intended to start uprisings in San Francisco and San Diego. Gefken’s hope was that the rebellions would spawn additional riots along the coast. The FNG would use the uprisings as cover to capture officers in the US Army and imprison them. Any officer willing to pledge allegiance to Hitler would be allowed to join the storm troopers. The rest would be killed immediately.

The plan was well under way. They had a great deal of support in LA, including the LA chief of police, James Davis.

Hitler with Nazi Party members in the 1930s.

What they were not aware of, though, was that one of their planners was not what he seemed. A German-born US Army captain had joined their ranks as a spy.

In 1933, when Hitler took office as chancellor in Germany, the Nazis began meeting in Los Angeles and developing plans to unify the 15,000 Germans in the area in order to spread propaganda about Hitler throughout the US.

Lewis, who had experience in espionage during World War I, developed his own spy ring. He recruited people with German ancestry, knowing that people descended from Jews would be too recognizable. Schmidt was the first undercover operative he placed in the field.

Schmidt began by spending time at the Aryan Bookstore, located in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angeles. He struck up conversations, agreeing that President Franklin Roosevelt was working for the Jews and should be replaced with a leader that agreed with the Nazi platform.

The iconic Hollywood sign.

His blonde hair and blue eyes helped him to blend in and soon he found himself in the inner circle of the FNG. The whole time, he passed the information he learned to Lewis.

As a result of Schmidt’s work, the Navy was able to arrest two Marine corporals who were selling rifles and ammunition to the FNG. They also dismantled storm trooper units. Thus ended the threat from Gefken’s FNG.

For the next fourteen years, Lewis was the government’s best weapon against Nazis in the US. He uncovered a Nazi plot to sabotage American aircraft factories. The Nazis had many agents apply for work in these factories and they were planning to remove bolts from planes. Lewis’s agents informed him of the plot, security was increased at the factories and nothing ever came of it.

Lewis also uncovered murder plots against himself and many famous Hollywood celebrities. None of the plans of the American Nazis ever fully came to pass. They were successful, though, in increasing anti-Semitic feelings in the Los Angeles area.

Lewis kept fighting against anti-Semitism until he died at age 65 from a heart attack.