New Jersey History I Did Not Know: Nazi camps for kids

When I bought my first house, in Hunterdon in the 1980s, I looked in High Bridge, the tiny town in the north hills east of a pretty reservoir and blessed with a train station, and a little main street. But people warned me off. High Bridge, they said, was KKK territory.

Well, I had a Jewish boyfriend and that wasn’t going to fly. So I bought an 1848 house in Flemington, the county seat, which I hoped would be a little less white. But on one of our first months here, we found a crude cartoon glued to the flagpole outside Flemington’s most famous building, the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse. It was signed: KKK. We used our fingernails to edge the cartoon off the white-painted surface, on every walk we took. It took weeks.

My town can still be uneasy with those white folks sometimes classify as the “other.” Thanks to several successful, multi-generational family businesses there have always been Jews here. But when a local arts group housed in a building owned by the borough put a BLACK LIVES MATTER sign in their window, it was removed by the borough as inflammatory. Republicans here campaigned with a full-color ad showing Hispanic day laborers congregating for work (at a local store where they are welcome), promising governmental protection from ”group ethnic loitering.” And – they were elected with that ad, and by using code language like “maintaining quality of life.”

That said, it’s 2017, and more people than not are of good will, here and everywhere.

I am not a native New Jerseyan. I’m from Brooklyn, the black and Puerto Rican neighborhood of Brownsville, by way of Detroit and St. Louis. There’s a lot of NJ history, good and bad, I’m still learning. So this amazes me; I knew there were German Bund camps in America; I didn’t know they were here. Below, a throwback to the 1930s. Photos curated by NY Daily News of two camps which housed hundreds of American boys bombarded with the permission of their parents, with Nazi propaganda:

Photos below: Camp Wille und Macht (Will and Power,” named for the Hitler Youth magazine) in Griggstown (Franklin Twp., Somerset), and Camp Nordland (“Northland”) in Andover (Sussex).

Below the photos: Video of Camp Bergwald (“Mountain Forest”) way up in Federal Hill in Bloomingdale (Passaic), the first showing uniformed boys and girls in NYC and the camp (National Archives), plus here’s a link to vid from Weird NJ – with coda, revisiting the Camp Bergwald ruins in 2009.

More photos here.

Comment (1)

  1. Miriam Nouri

    Hey came across your post just because I was looking up photos of Griggstown, can’t erase history but super sad to see these – although I’ve known for a long time that Hunterdon county, Flemington and particularly High Bridge are pretty racist areas which is unfortunate for how adorable the areas are. Underneath the surface, as it goes. Anyway, my husband and I just re-opened the Millstone Workshop and we are lbgtq, women’s rights, and human right supporters. If you ever need some liberal and progressive company, we are here. Stop by, grab a cup of coffee on us. Miriam and Zachary


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