Chapter XIV: Ripping the Swastika off the Bremen

The next three weeks were spent running up and down the eastern seaboard discharging and loading before the next trip across. Ninety percent of the crew had been fired, including my brother the "Fandango Dancer." He didn't mind one bit; he had a good payoff. Three days before sailing to Europe for the second trip, I decided to get off. The trip had cost me 20 pounds in weight and many hours of sleep. The engineers tried to talk me into another trip. "We gotta have at least one guy around conscientious enough to show up for work in a foreign port," the second engineer said.

I finally received a letter from Pele. "When the hell are you coming to Chicago?" she wrote. "Soon, I hope." I would write and tell her to expect me in a week or two. I'd take a bus up.

The struggle against fascism was intensifying. With every threatening speech made by Hitler, the American Left retaliated with bigger anti-Nazi rallies and demonstrations. The American League Against War and Fascism was growing. Leaflets, pamphlets and books against the repressive fascist system multiplied by the thousands. Pressure by the people for the White House to take a firmer stand against this menacing reality increased.

A small group of us gathered at the New York City pier of the SS America, which was taking on passengers and preparing to sail for Hamburg. The pamphlet I was passing out showed a beautiful picture of a German castle on the Rhine, and the caption read, "Welcome to the new Germany." Inside, there was a drawing of a Nazi storm trooper leaning over a body on the ground and one of a Nazi concentration camp. It was a powerful piece of literature, and those passengers who read it before boarding soon lost their gay smiles. But Nazism or not, thousands of Americans continued to book passages and pay fares on the many ships that departed weekly for Germany.

On board the United States Line's newest sleek passenger ship running from New York to Hamburg, the Manhattan, was a seaman named Lawrence Simpson. Simpson was one of us, though he wasn't an outspoken Red. His function on board the Manhattan, outside of his regular duties as able-bodied seaman, was to transport anti-fascist literature from the United States to the handful of anti-Nazis still operating around the waterfront area of Hamburg. This was to be his fifth crossing. In the past he had been able to get bundles of literature safely into the hands of those opposing Hitler with no hindrances.

The Manhattan employed several hundred crew members. Most in the steward's department were German and pro-Hitler. Simpson had to be especially careful because he knew the activities of the crew were being reported to the German authorities. On this trip, he had planted his bundles of literature in what he thought was a safe place. But in his locker amid some papers he had several anti-Nazi stickers. When the Manhattan heaved to at the mouth of the Elbe at Cuxhaven to allow the pilot to board, several storm troopers boarded. They moved directly to Simpson's quarters. At his locker, they used a crowbar to smash away the lock and found the half dozen stickers. When Simpson protested, he was smashed across the face with a billy club. The American mate stood by and said nothing. When the Manhattan docked at Hamburg, Simpson was dragged ashore, arrested and thrown into solitary confinement.

The news of Simpson's arrest and beating shocked us profoundly. No longer was this just a matter of Simpson's own safety, but also the safety of the underground anti-Nazis. If Simpson talked under torture, dozens of underground fighters might be seized. Everyone knew that the life of a Communist or an anti-Nazi wasn't worth two cents in Germany. Brutality and torture were the stock in trade for the storm troopers; they were experts in making the strongest of their foes reveal their innermost secrets.

The New York Times carried a story from Germany about the boarding of the Manhattan and the seizure of Simpson. It contained a statement from the police that Simpson was the leader of an underground group on the Manhattan committed to undermining the authority of the German government. It further stated that the American consulate was trying to interview Simpson, who faced no fewer than ten years in prison. Simpson had been transferred to the notorious Moatbit prison, the same prison where Ernst Thaelmann, the secretary of the German Communist Party, was being held. The news story ended with the comment that so far no statements had been forthcoming from the American State Department.

I felt terrible. I was more than emotionally involved. Simpson was a seaman. He was one of us. There had to be some way to retaliate. What about those goddamn officers on board the Manhattan who allowed the storm troopers aboard and stood by doing nothing while they kicked Simpson to the deck?

After reading the Times story I had dinner with my buddy Robbie. We discussed the case and what could be done to get Simpson out of the hands of the Nazis. "He can't reveal the names of his contacts since they were never given to him. It was part of the plan. Of course the Nazis will put the heat on him for the names, but remember this: what you don't know they can't beat out of you. Simpson was given only a code word for a contact. That's all he knows, and it isn't much for the Nazis to go on. By now that underground group has scattered, the way they should. Larry knew that the Manhattan was loaded with Hitlerites. He was told several times to be extra careful. He volunteered for the assignment, and he did deliver a lot of stuff over there. But damn it, you have to remember that these are perilous times. Don't remember names--get that into your own head right now--or addresses. Never have anything in writing with names or addresses; that's a must for survival."

I always remembered this advice and it would prove to be useful in the coming years. But right now I was interested in doing something for Simpson. But what? "I'll discuss it with the district leadership uptown and see what we can come up with," Robbie said assuringly.

Days went by without any decision coming down from the district leadership. Why the hell were they taking so long? Another item appeared in the Times. The American consulate reported that they had talked with Simpson. He was in good health and awaiting trial. Apart from some bruises received when he "fell out of his bunk," he was in good shape. Simpson's father, who lived in Washington state and was anxious about his son's welfare, had written the State Department. So far no action had been taken. The State Department was maintaining a "wait and see" attitude. More time passed and still no decision from the district. I grew furious with the leadership who seemed to be sitting on their asses and doing nothing. Second thoughts about the "great" leadership of our Party were beginning to assail me.

Hitler had stepped up his attacks on Jews. Now they were denied access to public beaches. The week before they had been denied access to public swimming pools. Catholics were coming under attack. They were accused of refusing to spout the Nazi line at holy mass. The storm troopers were arresting priests and accusing them of harboring Communists. The concentration camps were loaded with trade unionists. The Nazis were having a field day.

On July 25 word got down to the seamen's section from the district. All seamen were to gather at the French Workers' Club uptown the following day to discuss plans for a demonstration at the pier of the North German Lloyd. There the SS Bremen was berthed, preparing to sail for Germany the same night. We would try to get as many people aboard as possible. As soon as the "all ashore" whistle would blow, our people would form a corridor to the bow. One or two guys were to rush up and grab the swastika, dash back through the line and bring it ashore. the demonstrators would pour gasoline on it and burn it. That was the plan.

"Who the hell worked out a plan like that?" I asked, astonished.

"Some lunkhead who never saw a ship before, I suppose," someone else replied.

On July 26 we dressed in our best clothes, as per instructions. I looked good in my new suit and Panama hat which I had purchased two weeks earlier. Three of us--Pat Gavin, a burly Irish seaman, Blair and myself--headed for the French Workers' Club. Since we were early, we stopped at a restaurant near the Club for a sandwich. "The plan sounds stupid," I said to Blair.

"No one who knows ships would ever dare propose such an unthinkable plan," he said. "Just think for a moment what they're asking us to do. We may be lucky just to get aboard, let alone walk to shore with their swastika."

"I suppose," chimed in Pat, "that they want us to fold it neatly before we take it ashore. Sounds like we're getting into another fiasco."

At the Club we were joined by many others, some we knew and some we were meeting for the first time. No one had any control of who walked into the building or sat down in the small meeting hall. Everyone, including the dozen or two women, was nicely-dressed.

A member of the district leadership addressed the gathering of some 50 people. "This is the way we'll play it," he said. "Ten of our maritime comrades will be stationed on the main deck. When the "all ashore" whistle blows, ten minutes before they pull in the gangway, two women will handcuff themselves to the mast. Then the seamen will make a rush for the bow, haul down the swastika, race back to the gangway and get off the ship. The crew will be diverted from the flag by the shouting of the handcuffed women. There should be no problems. Once off the ship the flag will be handed to the chairman of the demonstration and burned in front of the crowd. Comrade Burney will pass out a dime to each comrade who will board the ship; that's the cost to board as a visitor. Remember, appear to be going aboard to see someone off. Act cautiously. If there are no questions, let's get down to the ship." Before we had a chance to question some parts of the strategy, the crowd was on its way to the ship.

Pat Gavin was no Johnnie-come-lately to the struggle for human rights. As a youngster in Ireland, he fought on the side of the Irish Republican Army for Ireland's freedom from England's Black and Tans. Since his first days in the States he had allied himself with the revolutionary struggle of the people. He was always a good man to have at your side in the event of trouble. He walked with me and Blair to the pier.

The three of us had come to the conclusion that if by chance we were arrested, it would be less effective if we said we were Communists. Instead, if we said we were Catholics demonstrating against Hitler's terrorism of the German Catholics and other religious groups, it would be stronger and more effective. Since that was our plan, we cleaned out our pockets of all identification and bought some prayer beads, crucifixes and medals of various saints. As seamen we knew the halyard ropes attached to the swastika were strong; we would need something to cut them. A few razor blades would do. On the Upper West Side, for two blocks on either side of the pier, people in cars looked for parking space as hundreds of people made their way to the ship. The Bremen stood motionless alongside the pier. Her bow jutted up, looming over the street. Large, powerful floodlights in various parts of the ship directed their beams to one spot: the jackstaff which held the Nazi swastika. It fluttered brazenly in the summer breeze. It seemed as if all New York could look out their windows and see this flag lit up like a house on fire.

Some vendors had taken up positions at the gate of the pier to sell souvenirs such as little Nazi flags, buttons, pictures of the Bremen, postcards, etc. Pat bought himself a little Nazi button and pinned it to his coat. Blair and I bought little flags depicting a German castle with the word "Vaterland." It would be good camouflage. We pretended to be slightly drunk, waved our banners and made our way to the crowded deck. Things took on a new perspective as we viewed our task from this vantage point. The bow and the swastika seemed miles away. It would be impossible to carry out the original plan. Those who made it were fools with no conception of the deck of the ship. Crew members were lounging around the forward deck. There were three or four sea-breakers that would have to be hurdled. They were at least three feet high and ran the width of the forward deck. If this were not enough, the jackstaff was on top of a seven-foot rise on the bowsprit. It would take time to hurdle the sea-breakers and climb the bowsprit. The "planners" in their ivory tower were foolish to assume that once the action started the crew would be sympathetic to our cause and do nothing.

We began to recognize some of the faces in the crowd that moved in the short space near the gangway. Our watches read 9:20. In ten minutes the whistle would be heard. Bellhops and stewards would circulate in the passageways and along the deck saying loudly, "All ashore that's going ashore." This was the agreed-upon signal for some of us to reach the bow. We moved closer to another small group that stood at the railing. It was obvious to all of us aboard that the plan could not work. There was not a chance. We had to agree on something else and put it into effect in the next ten minutes. The demonstrators on the dock were growing in numbers and becoming louder. Within an hour their ranks had swelled from a few hundred to a few thousand, and more were coming. Banners and placards by the hundreds were on display: "Free Ernst Thaelmann. Free Lawrence Simpson. Down with Anti-Semitism. Unite Against War and Fascism." The roar of the crowd attracted the crew members who had been lolling on the forward deck. They all shifted to the starboard or offshore side to better see the demonstrators. That helped us adopt a new plan quickly. Some ten or fifteen of our seamen were on board. At the sound of the whistle, Bill Howe, George Blackwell and Ed Drolette were to work their way up the starboard deck to the bow. This would distract any crew members on the forward deck to move to the starboard side. Our small group on the port side would then try to make it to the bow unhindered. We took our positions, moving closer to the rail, knowing only seconds remained.

The sharp blast of the whistle was met by a loud roar of the demonstrators on the dock. The summon to disembark could be heard on the loudspeakers. Our men on the starboard side started to move forward. When "Low-Life" McCormick, who stood next to me and Blair, moved out of our group and toward the bow, he was quickly grabbed by an officer. "Sir," the officer said, "you're going the wrong way. The gangway is this direction." McCormick quickly brought up a right-hand punch that knocked the officer flat on his back in view of the crowd now pressing toward the gangway to get ashore. Women screamed, and the captain, looking down on the scene from the bridge, shouted orders to stop our men who were now racing toward the bow.

On the starboard side our men were slow in moving toward the bow. We on the port side had covered a greater distance and were now attracting the attention of the crew members who leaned over the starboard railing. They started moving toward the port side. Halfway up the deck, McCormick was stopped again, this time by a young officer and a crew member. They argued, but Blair, Gavin and I couldn't afford the luxury of standing back to protect one member. We had to keep pressing forward.

Now it was Gavin's turn to come face-to-face with two members of the crew. He wasted no time in throwing lefts and rights at them. Blair and I raced ahead. Only a few more feet to the bow. By now, other crew members had discovered the men moving forward on the starboard side and a battle ensued. Crew members appeared from all over the ship as the captain shouted orders over the loudspeaker for all crew members to get to the bow immediately.

A sailor grabbed Blair by the neck and tried to pull him to the deck. Blair had uncovered one end of his fountain pen and was vigorously jabbing the pointed end of the pen into the face of the sailor. I wanted to stop and yank the German off Blair; instead, I hurdled the last sea breaker and grabbed the first rung on the short ladder leading to the bowsprit. Pandemonium was all about me as I reached the top. The Nazi symbol was just a few inches from me. I drew a deep breath. Behind me I could hear the screams of the passengers, the barking of orders in German of the captain and the blowing of police whistles as dozens of police boarded the Bremen.

I grabbed the swastika and started to pull. The banner at first resisted, but then I heard it ripping along the seam. Still, it was hanging onto the halyard. I yanked some more. It wouldn't part. I panicked. Time was getting short. Goddamn that flag! It seemed to be stronger than canvas. Why wouldn't the rope part? I had to be careful; one misstep and I would be over the side and in the Hudson River. I grabbed the swastika more firmly, preparing to give it my all, when I noticed a pair of hands reaching up to grasp the top rung. My first instinct was to bring my foot down onto the hands; I thought it was a member of the crew coming to get me. But in the next second I recognized one of our guys, Adrian Duffy, a short, wiry seaman. "Hold the bastard tight!" he shouted. A snap of a switchblade, a quick slash at the rope, and the flag was free. Quickly, I tossed it overboard as the roar of the crowd reached a deafening crescendo. When I turned to get off the bowsprit, Duffy was gone. I noticed that Blair was still being walloped by several crew members. I jumped down to the deck, stumbled when I tried to get up and fell forward. Two crew members grabbed me and pulled me to my feet.

A quick glance showed Blair lying stretched out on deck. I did not waste time after I delivered a blow to one guy; it knocked him over one of the sea breakers. The other guy panicked and moved back a few feet. As I looked for a safe way down the deck I saw him again moving toward me. For a moment our eyes focused on each other. For a split second I had the feeling he was telling me, "Good work, comrade, but I have to put up a front." I did not wait for confirmation of my thoughts. As soon as he came within striking distance I swung at him, catching him on the jaw. He fell back. But I felt a wallop in the back of the head, another on the back, and I was down. As I tried to get up I noticed three crew members standing over me. A kick in the solar plexus knocked the wind out of me. A kick in the forehead and I started to see colored lights. Another kick caught me in the jaw. Stupefied, immobilized, I lay sprawled against the deck railing. It could not have been more than five or ten minutes when I was lifted to my feet and half dragged toward the gangway. Through swollen eyelids I could make out a mass of angry and stunned people blocking my way as cops shouted, "Open up. Let us through."

I heard a voice: "Why, they're all young punks, probably college kids." Then the crowd parted and I was once more on the dock. I was taken toward a small booth used by the ship's officers to validate passenger tickets. Horrified, I saw one man lying on his back, blood all over his face. The cops dragging me shouted to the bloody figure, "Is this the guy?"

The figure looked at me. "No," he mumbled.

Quickly I was taken out, walked a few feet from the booth, then taken back in again. "This is the guy, right?" asked the cop.

The bloodied figure looked at me again. "No," he said.

After that I stayed in the booth and was told to sit down. Low-Life McCormick was already there. His ear was badly bloodied and blood ran down the side of his face. Bill Howe sat next to him, and next to Bill sat George Blackwell. Blair was dragged in, holding his stomach, bruised in the face. They dragged in Drolette and laid him almost at our feet. He had been shot and his mid-section was soaked with blood. He lay there moaning, still conscious.

I could hear the steel door closing on the pier as the gangway was pulled from the Bremen and she pulled away from the dock. Where only minutes earlier hundreds of passengers and visitors had lolled on the dock, an equal number of policemen were now clearing the dock of all civilians.

Ambulances and doctors arrived and quickly we were all checked over. Blair was taken to the hospital. Drolette was placed on a stretcher and removed. The doctors threw a bandage on McCormick's ear. The medics wiped some blood off my face and commented that it wasn't necessary to take me to a hospital. The bloodied figure that lay on deck got the most attention. Later we learned that he was a Jewish detective named Solomon. The cops carried him out with loving care, cursing us as they passed him to a special ambulance. With the wounded out of the way, the four of us remaining sat in the booth contemplating our fate.

With over 200 cops now occupying the pier, all sorts of possible dilemmas had to be considered. Knowing the brutality of the New York cops toward radicals was one thing. Knowing how they felt when one of their own was killed or injured was another. Here we were in a pier occupied only by cops. Every few minutes cops sauntered over to the booth to look in on us with scowls of hatred on their faces. One thing was certain, the way I saw the picture: we were going to get worked over. Who was there to say that we didn't receive our injuries while trying to escape? Almost three-quarters of an hour had passed since the ship departed. What the hell were they waiting for?

Two cops from the harbor patrol walked into the booth, dressed in blue overalls. The riot call must have brought the patrol boats to the scene. I had a cigarette in my mouth as one of the cops moved closer. He took a slow look at each of us. I could sense that he wanted further provocation before striking out. He found it. "Who told you to smoke?" he shouted. He then slapped the cigarette out of my mouth.

From my vantage point I could see through the window to the inside of the pier. The cops had formed a circle. A high-ranking officer in gold braid was speaking to them. We could not hear what was being said. Then the circle broke up and the cops formed two lines facing each other, two feet apart. "On yer feet, bastards," said a sergeant. We were escorted out of the booth and slowly made our way down the steps through the line of cops to the outside of the pier. The streets were empty of demonstrators; only dozens of police cars and motorcycles were evident. We were pushed into a large paddy wagon. The door slammed shut and we moved out, with motorcycles in front and more police cars in back of us. As our motorcade of "New York's finest" moved closer to the precinct station, police had to battle their way up the street. Demonstrators had shifted from the pier to the police station, blocking the street. Hundreds of cops had to converge on the demonstrators to clear a path to the door amid cries of, "Here they come!"

We sat upstairs in the detectives' room, waiting for what was to come next. We could hear the demonstrators yelling and banging lids of garbage cans. A detective at a typewriter got up to shut the window. "I'd love to turn a machine gun on them bastards. I wish it was legal," he said as he eyed us. I knew there had to be more to this than just sitting around; a detective had been "worked over" and here we were sitting with our limbs intact. I passed word to the others: this would be a test of our convictions; usually the first one or two blows were toughest, but remember: we are just anti-fascists pissed off at Hitler for what he did to Simpson and to religious people in general.

A detective walked out of one of the side rooms, took a good look at each one of us, then told McCormick to follow him. They both entered the room; the door banged shut behind them. A few minutes later, there came the sound of something banging against the wall. The door opened and McCormick came barging out with the detective following and kicking him as he hustled back into his seat near us. "What happened in there?" I asked McCormick.

"One bull wanted me to admit that we were all Communists following orders to sabotage the Bremen. When I told him he was wrong he gave me a few clouts and threw me out."

The streets had been cleared of demonstrators. Quiet prevailed. Our "life histories" had been taken down on paper by the clerk. Once again we were hustled into a police van and moved downtown to the central police headquarters, where we lined up for fingerprinting and pictures. A white-haired police captain with a strong Irish brogue walked over to where we were sitting. To each man he said, "And what would your name be?" As he jotted down the names, he looked puzzled. In a whisper he told another policeman, "Why, they're all Irish! Not a Jew among them!"

At about four in the morning we were put back in the paddy wagon and driven back uptown to the precinct station, where we were placed in cells. Now we had a chance to put the pieces together, to appraise the events of the last eight hours. So far, from any angle, the demonstration was a success. It had brought thousands of people to the pier to protest against fascism. Newspapers were running headlines about the "riot" at the pier. Pictures were in every newspaper. The radio constantly blared news reports of the event. A man was shot and lay "near death," said some news reports. A detective was "savagely beaten and his fate is unknown," reported another story. The true story had to be pieced together. Solomon, the Jewish detective, had been assigned to the Bremen along with a group of other detectives attached to the anti-Red squad. Solomon had heard rumors that a demonstration was going to take place, and his assignment was to be aboard the Bremen. When the "riot" began and he watched the first group try to break through on the starboard side, he trailed after them to try and hold them off. But before he had a chance to nab one of our people he was stopped by some of the crew members. The crew thought he was one of the demonstrators. He broke away from several crew members and proceeded to catch up with Drolette. Drolette took a swing at him and knocked him to the deck. Solomon took out his pistol and fired off a shot, catching Drolette with a bullet to the groin. The crew did not understand. They quickly grabbed the gun from Solomon and threw it over the side. Solomon shouted, "I'm a cop! I'm a cop!" and tried to pin his badge to his coat. Again the crew members tightened their grips on him. They took his badge and threw it over the side, then they ganged up on him, kicking and punching him until he was unconscious and his face was a bloody mess.

Now the police had to find at least one individual on whom they could pin this rap. That was the reason we had been dragged before him for recognition. When it failed the first time, the cops tried dragging us before him again, hoping that the dumb cluck would say one of us was the guilty one. But Solomon was too stupefied to realize that a recognition was expected of him. One crew member later admitted that to him "Solomon looked like just another Jewish demonstrator."

The police department was in a quandary. On the one hand, according to them, they had notified the owners of the Bremen that a demonstration was in the making and wanted to offer "additional police protection." But the steamship agency had notified the police that extra protection was not necessary. To further complicate matters, the police were not sure that all the demonstrators were off the ship when it sailed from its pier. they insisted that a company of police stay aboard the Bremen until they reached the Statue of Liberty and conducted a cabin-by-cabin search for any demonstrator who might have sailed with the ship. Of course the passengers were unnerved by the searches. It was said that the captain ordered a lifeboat lowered and the area searched for the swastika. The company said that the banner was located and restored to the pole; others maintained that it was never found. Instead, a new one replaced the one that probably settled on the bottom of the muddy Hudson River.

Were the police convinced that they had arrested six seamen, all of the Catholic faith? At first, perhaps. When we were put into our cells, the contents of our pockets were placed into envelopes. The contents included our prayer beads, sacraments and crosses. In the middle of the night, we were awakened by a rattle on the bars of the cell. A cop stood on the other side. "Here," he said, "come get your beads. No man has a right to deny a religious man his prayer beads."

At nine that morning we were taken downstairs where we appeared before a judge. Bail was set despite the protest of the International Labor Defense lawyers who appeared on our behalf. Back to the cells we went. At noon, some drunken jailer appeared at my cell door. His breath reeked of bad gin. "Give me the key, Riley," he shouted to the other jailer. "I want to get in there and beat these bastards to a pulp." He rattled the doors until the other jailer coaxed him away.

There were two things I had to do--stay clean and calm. Off came my socks and bloody shirt, into the wash basin, then onto my bunk to hang dry. From my small window I could see light but couldn't see out. I could hear a group of people marching up and down the street shouting, "Free the Bremen demonstrators!" It was nice to hear that we were not forgotten.

At five in the evening I was bailed out by a young man and woman, placed in a cab and taken downtown to the ILD office. I thanked my benefactors, then found my way inside the office. "There's a lot of money we have to raise to get your buddies out of jail," I was told. "Your work had just begun." Within two days we had the rest of the men out on bail. It took working 15 hours a day, speaking at rallies and meetings, to raise the bail money. Everyone I came in contact with wanted to give me something to help us pursue the case in the courts.

Blair had gotten out of the hospital but ached all over. Drolette was recovering fairly well. The anti-Nazi sentiment around New York and throughout the country was on the increase. More stories were appearing in the papers about anti-Semitism is Germany. Goebbels pushed himself into the picture. He made an announcement that "a thing like this could only happen in an American city where they had a Jew for a mayor." This, of course, infuriated Italian Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia who, in turn, lashed out at the Nazis. To further strain matters, the Nazis claimed that their consulate office was not properly protected. LaGuardia, incensed, assigned ten of New York's Jewish cops and detectives to "safeguard" the consulate office on lower Broadway. This did not sit well with its occupants. All of this shaped up as a result of the Bremen demonstration.

A more aggressive drive against war and fascism was permeating the city. I spoke at an open-air meeting in Yorkville, the heart of the Nazi Bund area. We had expected a strong Nazi disruption, but the meeting was so well-attended that the Nazi's retaliation was minimal. A meeting at Madison Square Garden filled the auditorium with some 20,000 people. Fifty members of the police "Red squad" were in the audience. Five of the "Bremen Six," as we were later called, were on the platform. It was a fantastic experience speaking before such a large gathering. The ovation lasted 13 minutes. For the next several weeks I spoke at two meetings a day, gathering funds and support for the coming trial. Meanwhile, the Bremen had docked in Hamburg. Most of the crew and officers were removed from the ship, and some of them were sent to jail for failing to "protect the honor of the new Germany."

At least one day every two weeks we were lined up in court alongside our lawyers, who argued before the judge for more time to prepare our case, or for a reduction in bail, or for a motion to throw the whole case out. In one of our court appearances I saw a short guy take over the whole defense. Nicely-dressed in a white suit, he stood before the judge and words flowed smoothly out. His demure tone of voice shocked me. "Who the hell is this guy?" I asked one of the lawyers.

"Oh, that's Vito Marcantonio, the congressman from Harlem's San Juan Hill. He's one of the best." Marcantonio had volunteered to join the staff of the defense team. He was to appear only when he was in the city, away from his duties in Washington. He made several appearances for us, each time insisting that all charges be dropped. "If anyone should be tried before the court it should be the Nazis for destroying the human rights of the German people, for destroying the trade unions, destroying political parties and subjecting the Jewish people to lives of terror and concentration camps," he argued.

In Brazil, an anti-Nazi rally tore down the swastika from the German consulate building and burned it in the streets. In other places demonstrations against fascism showed open hostility against the German embassies. In Germany, the swastika, symbol of Hitler's party, was changed by decree to henceforth be recognized as the official flag of Germany. No longer was the desecration of the swastika to be directed against a political party. From now on, it would be a direct insult to Germany and the German people. The old flag of the Weimar Republic was a thing of the past.


Copyright © 1993 by Bill Bailey. All Rights Reserved.

The Kid from Hoboken: Book Two