Siegfried Park is a Long Island community with a dark history.
In a bizarre case that was just settled last month, the German-American Settlement League, the owners of Siegfried Park, a 45-family homeowners association in Yaphank, NY, was accused of committing unlawful discrimination against–well, everyone except ethnic Germans.
Siegfried Park’s Dark History
The discrimination in Siegfried Park goes back a long way: The private community adjoining Yaphank’s German Gardens neighborhood was founded in the late 1930s by the German-American Bund. Siegfried Park–or Camp Siegfried, as it was then known–was literally built by and for Nazi sympathizers. While the women would go about the camp in traditional German garb, men could be found in Nazi brown shirts, heiling incoming trains and teaching Nazi doctrine at their youth camp. In a shocking Daily News article, author Arnie Bernstein describes:
“[Siegfried Park was] a family retreat and it was like any other kind of ethno-centric family retreat. […] They had German folk festival kind of stuff, oom-pa-pa bands, Oktoberfest–but with a Nazi flair. […] The most important thing about these places was these youth camps, where they were training the future little Aryans who they thought would run the country. On the surface it was like any kind of regular camp–swimming, athletic contests, singing, dancing–but underneath there were some really ugly things going on there.”
The weirdness wasn’t confined to Yaphank–thousands of German-Americans would flock to the camp to celebrate their heritage via the Long Island Railroad’s once-a-day “Siegfried Special” train.
Documents have been unearthed that indicate that Camp Siegfried’s directors even ran a Lebensborn-like program encouraging young men and women to create more Aryan babies. Camp staff were even accused of raping female campers–all at the intersection of Hitler and Goering Streets in Yaphank, NY.
There’s even a horrifying history behind the physical structures on Camp Siegfried’s property. Children were forced to build the camp structures because organizers believed that there were too many Jews in the area’s trade unions. Camp Siegfried’s landscaping included a swastika-shaped hedge, and the clubhouse’s masonry prominently featured a brick swastika.
Siegfried Park’s Ongoing Story
When war broke out with Germany in 1941, the Bund, which was once able to fill Madison Square Garden with 25,000 members, quickly fell apart. The swastika shrubbery, the Nazi regalia, and the Hitler street signs are now long gone from Siegfried Park. However, shocking rules from the community’s heyday persisted in Siegfried Park until 2016.
After the Bund’s collapse, Siegfried Park’s land was purchased by the German-American Resettlement League. They enacted and enforced a restrictive covenant requiring residents to only sell their homes to buyers of German origin. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act made the provision expressly illegal, the racist practice continued for decades. In fact, it was an explicit part of Siegfried Park’s CC&Rs until just last year; and residents had voted down multiple attempts to remove the discriminatory language.
Moreover, the League forbade homeowners from advertising the sale of their homes outside of the community. Siegfried Park residents couldn’t even post a ‘for sale’ sign. Instead, they were required to announce the availability of their home at community meetings, and other members would pass on the information to their German friends and relatives. Residents owned their homes, but the GASL retained ownership of the land; so upon selling their house, they would have to lease their land back to the GASL. This meant that the GASL could retain substantial control by deciding who they would lease to–and they wouldn’t lease to anyone not “of German extraction.”
Eventually, one couple, Philip and Patricia Kneer, decided that they’d had enough of Siegfried Park. Frustrated by the restrictions and their inability to sell their home, they contacted fair housing authorities in New York. The state brought suit against the GASL and forced the League into a settlement. They ultimately agreed drop the offensive language from their founding documents and CC&Rs, and they also paid the couple $175,000.
Nevertheless, Siegfried Park persisted in enforcing discriminatory provisions, including the restriction on advertising homes outside of Yaphank. New York’s attorney general found that even after the 2016 agreement, the League “continued to make new membership and property re-sale within the GASL community unreasonably difficult.”
Consequently, the State of New York was forced to undertake further de-Nazification measures within Siegfried Park. A new settlement, which arrived on May 17, 2017, required the League to sack its president and treasurer, and submit regular reports to the AG’s office to ensure compliance.
Under the terms of the settlement, the GASL agreed to:
- Cease discriminating against any individuals on the basis of race or national origin and fully comply with fair housing and nonprofit corporation laws;
- Adopt broad remedial governance reforms, including the immediate replacement of its current President and Treasurer;
- Regularly report to the Attorney General over a period of three years to demonstrate compliance with the agreement, including any changes to the by-laws, revised membership applications, meeting minutes, financial reports, and documents related to complaints of possible discrimination against individuals applying for membership or seeking to buy property from the GASL or its members;
- Publish notices within the Yaphank community publicly affirming that the GASL is committed to equal housing opportunity and does not discriminate against potential members or home buyers based on any protected status; and
- Implement a written record retention policy that will ensure proper storage of the organization’s corporate records, including the record of revised application screening processes imposed by the agreement that will enhance transparency and ensure the GASL does not discriminate against any individuals on the basis of their race or national origin.
“The GASL’s discriminatory practices were a remnant of a disgraceful past that has no place in New York or anywhere,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “This agreement will once and for all put an end to the GASL’s discrimination, ensuring that all New Yorkers are afforded equal access to housing opportunities–regardless of their race or national origin. My office will continue to uphold and protect all New Yorkers’ fundamental right to equal access to housing.”
The Attorney General’s office will be closely monitoring Siegfried Park at least for the next three years. Meanwhile, the German flag continues to fly in front of the clubhouse–only without the Nazi medallion that it once held.
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.