When Nazis walked the streets of Seattle

tags: Nazis, Seattle

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattlemagazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com or follow him on twitter @KnuteBerger.

“There is no organized mistreatment of Jews in Germany.”
— Seattle Times editorial, March 28, 1933

In 1936, a heroic University of Washington crew team took on the Germans at the Olympics in Berlin. But the “Boys in the Boat” were not the only Seattleites in Adolph Hitler’s capital city for the games. There were others who were soaking up Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda and later bragged that they’d been close enough in the Olympic throngs to see the Fuhrer’s “kind blue eyes.”

Much has been written about the Ku Klux Klan in the Northwest in the 1920s. There were also the fascist Silver Shirts of the 1930s, and the neo-Nazis from the 1980s — home-grown racists and anti-Semites who operated here, but were largely self-invented far-right fringe groups. During the 1930s, however, Seattle was home to, and a key pass-through point for, real Nazis who were sent here to win hearts and minds as a part of a strategy for world domination.

They sought to make friends, to find and cultivate potential supporters in the German American community. Seattle was a strategically important city for both potential allies and enemies. It was a major port connected by trade all over the globe, and especially close to Germany’s ally Japan. It had Boeing, which was building state-of-the-art aircraft and, by the mid-1930s, war planes like the new B-17 “Flying Fortress.” The city also had a significant population of people of Northern European heritage, people with a personal and business interest in seeing a stable Europe and a healthy Germany.

The result: chapters of Seattle’s history that clash with the city’s progressive self-image — chapters that have largely been forgotten in a collective act of moving on. Yet these events help us understand our history, our international connections, our relationship to race, immigration, and civil liberties. This is the first in a series of stories that attempts to jumpstart our remembering.

It began with diplomats. In the 1920s, Germany opened a consular office here, an outpost of the German consulate in San Francisco, which represented the interests of Germans in the Western United States, from Utah to the West Coast, from the Mexican border to Alaska. ...

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