New York suburb reveals its Nazi past through discriminatory housing bylaws requiring that homeowners have German ancestry

The 1930s was a decade that saw the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany. In the small suburb of Yaphank, NY, Nazi-supporters threw parades and took to the streets to cheer Hitler. Though times have changed, that ideology is apparently still ingrained within some of the residents of Yaphank.

When Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer tried to sell their house, they uncovered the discriminatory bylaws enforced by the organization that owns the land.

According to the couple, the German American Settlement League (GASL) has violated federal laws by requiring that homeowners have German ancestry.

Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer both have German ancestry, which is why they were allowed to buy their house in 1999. When they tried to sell the house, their attempts to advertise were thwarted. According to the rules, they could only use the league’s internal bulletin to advertise.

Andrew Wilson, their lawyer, said, “That practice, coupled with the bylaws’ language regarding German ancestry, results in a closed community.”

The couple has filed a lawsuit against GASL in the federal court in Central Islip.

The lawsuit says, “Since its incorporation in 1937, the GASL has excluded non-whites from its membership, recreational programs, and summer homes in favor of new residents with German ancestry.”

A non-profit organization called Long Island Housing Services has joined in the lawsuit. They have included in the complaint a recent photo of a Nazi medallion above a German flag in the community’s clubhouse.

Robert Kessler, president of GASL, said that their rules were misunderstood and not exclusionary.

GASL has a documented history of being pro-Nazi. It was founded as an affiliate of German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi organization. The GASL owns a residential community in Yaphank called Siegfried Park, which was built in 1932 to foster German culture. According to the Yaphank historical society, this community—previously known as Camp Siegfried—routinely held massive pro-Nazi rallies attended by people from all over New York State, Reuters reports.

According to attorney Wilson, “While you don’t have brownshirts parading in Yaphank today, you still have the discriminatory effects because of the rules in place, and nobody has done anything to change them.”

“Attempts to revise the bylaws have failed over the years. They want to keep it German,” he added.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE