The Long Island Sunrise Village Inn
Another Local Fixture Lost
The Sunrise Village Inn (originally called the Sunrise Bavarian Village) was a restaurant, dance hall, and beer garden that stood on the south side of Sunrise Highway, just west of Bellmore Avenue in Bellmore, New York. Precious little information exists about this establishment except for some old postcards that are available through online sellers.
It was likely built in the 1920s, lasted until the early 1980s, and was torn down to make way for a King Kullen supermarket and shopping center. The large yellow stucco building, decorated in alpine fashion, looked out of place with the suburban sprawl that had engulfed it. Growing up in nearby North Merrick, we drove past it many times and the building's uniqueness always intrigued me.
It was 1979 and I was on a date with my future wife. We had been to most of the local restaurants and decided to give the Sunrise Village Inn a try. I had passed it hundreds of times in my life but didn't know anything about it except for a certain rumor. The restaurant was enormous and nearly filled to capacity with an older, well-dressed clientele. There was a dance floor in the center of the room and a stage on the right. We settled into our seats as the emcee stepped up to the microphone. After a brief introduction and a few corny jokes, the floor show started. The orchestra played the "Can-Can" and eight costumed young women burst through the curtain, legs kicking and skirts being tossed about. They disappeared behind the curtain as the orchestra played a vamp, only to return in mere seconds in Irish folk costumes as the music turned to a jig. Germany, Italy, and Poland were similarly represented in song, dance, and costume. Gail and I marveled at the girls' stamina as the unrelenting music and costume changes frenetically kept them moving. When the floor show was over, the emcee picked up a trombone and began parading around the dance floor playing a lively rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In". He beckoned the diners to join in and nearly everyone followed suit, forming a giant conga-line. Gail and I laughed at how silly it all was. It was fun, funny, and unexpected. It was a living anachronism and we loved it! The meal itself was rather forgettable, but the evening left an indelible memory.
After dinner, patrons were invited to dance to live music. I was scheduled to work the midnight shift at Kennedy Airport that night so we had to leave early. We had such a good time that we decided we would come back another night. In those days I had a secret power that only my closest friends and relatives knew about. One visit from me was all it took to close down a business or restaurant that had been around for decades. Sadly, the Sunrise Village Inn succumbed to my power and was demolished shortly after my visit.
Didn't you say something about a rumor? I'm glad you asked. As a kid, It was common knowledge among my circle of friends that the Sunrise Village Inn, formerly "The Sunrise Bavarian Village" had been a hot-bed of Nazi spies and a regular meeting place of the German-American Bund during Hitler's reign. There was a notorious Bund camp out in Yaphank, Long Island and most of the attendees made the trip from New York City by way of the Long Island Railroad. The Sunrise Bavarian Village was just across the street from the Bellmore train station and about half way between New York and Yapank. It would have been convenient to use the venue for Bund meetings.
The only problem with this theory is that there is absolutely no proof that it is true. My research hasn't turned up a single shred of evidence or even an insinuation that it might be true. My father was my source of information in this regard and he is no longer with us to clarify his statement. My mother thinks he might have heard it from a close friend of his who grew up in Bellmore during the 1930s. In any case, I have found no proof of any relationship between the Sunrise Bavarian Village and the Nazis.
If you're familiar with my writing, you'll know that my titles tend to be only tangentially related to subject discussed. If you read further, you'll discover that this piece is no exception.
Nazis in the Neighborhood
During my research for this article, I found some interesting information about Nazis on Long Island.
Fritz Gissibl, a Nazi Party member, started the Free Society of Teutonia after moving to Chicago, Illinois in 1924. The group underwent several name changes, finally settling on the German American Bund. He is also credited with being the first person to raise the swastika in an official capacity on American soil, when he did so during the opening of the German exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair. Fritz Gissibl returned to Germany in 1936 to become Propaganda Minister for Southern Germany. German-born, naturalized U.S. citizen Fritz Kuhn became the new leader of the Bund.
Camp Siegfried was located in Yaphank, New York (about 60 miles east of New York City), and was a retreat for Bund members and their families. It held rallies filled with swastikas, Nazi salutes and the singing of German songs. During the week, Bund children participated in programs that were an American version of the Hitler Youth. They were educated in the German language, German history, and Nazi ideals. They received firearms training from National Rifle Association instructors. On the weekends, they were joined by the parents, many of whom took the Long Island Railroad "Camp Siegfried Special" from Penn Station. Uniformed campers greeted the trains with Nazi flags and Hitler salutes.
Attempting to increase their popularity and influence in the area, columns of jack-booted Bund marchers paraded Nazi and American flags through the streets of Lindenhurst and the City of New York. They promoted antisemitism, handing out Aryan pamphlets outside Jewish-owned businesses, and campaigned in the 1936 presidential election against Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who they referred to as "Rosenfeld". They called FDR's "New Deal" the "Jew Deal". At the height of his power in 1939, Bund leader Fritz Kuhn held a rally in Madison Square Garden in front of a reported 22,000 supporters. His speech was a barely coherent rant against Jews
The Honorable Gustave Neuss
A Town of Brookhaven Justice of the Peace, who was of German descent, proved to be the Yaphank Bund's greatest enemy. Judge Gustave Neuss was staunchly opposed to the Nazis and to what the Bund was doing in his village. He reported their activity to an ambivalent FBI. When the FBI refused to take action, Judge Neuss engaged local youths to write down the license plate numbers of camp visitors, which he sent to the FBI.
Someone vandalized the camp, tearing up the flower bed that had been planted in the shape of a swastika, and painting "Down with Hitler" on a fence. It is likely that this was done by some of the same local youth who recorded the license plates, but not under direction from Neuss. No one was charged with the crime. Bund leader Fritz Kuhn sent an antisemitic-laced letter to Judge Neuss, accusing him of betraying his German ancestry in support of Jews.
In 1938, New York state brought charges against six leaders of the Long Island Bund, arguing that the Bund had a secret oath that pledged loyalty to the Nazis and Hitler. The state’s witness said he was given the oath, but under cross-examination was unable to provide details. To refute those claims, the Bund’s defense called Martin Wunderlich, a shipping clerk from New York City, who denied taking such an oath. He told the court that everyone at Camp Siegfried pledged their allegiance to the American flag. Wunderlich said, “I salute the American flag as a member and proud member of the White Race (witness stands up and raises right arm).” Then the prosecution asked, “That is the American salute?” To which Wunderlich replied, “it will be". All six leaders were convicted, but the verdicts were later overturned on appeal.
Ultimately, Judge Neuss brought down the Yaphank Bund Camp without the help of the FBI. Despite losing his re-election bid, Gustave Neuss rallied support to have the camp's liquor license revoked. With no beer or liquor available, participation in the camp dropped off precipitously. I guess the desire to march around in Nazi uniforms lost its appeal once the alcohol ran out. Shortly after the Madison Square Garden rally, Bund Leader Fritz Kuhn was arrested and convicted of embezzling funds from group.
Depending upon what you read, the German American Bund was either a very dangerous puppet organization of the Third Reich, or a delusional bunch of beer drinkers led by an incompetent, anti-Semitic swindler. In either case, organized hate is always dangerous.
German Subs on the Beach
On the night of June 13, 1942, a German U-Boat pulled up to Amagansett Beach to drop off a team of four saboteurs. The team, led by George Dasch, carried with them crates of explosives and timing devices along with $100,000 in cash. The mission, called "Operation Pastorius" was a two year plan to sabotage aluminum plants, railroads, bridges, tunnels and anything else that might be used for America's war effort. They were instructed to kill any witnesses to their landing.
An unarmed U.S. Coast Guardsman, John Cullen, Seaman Second-Class, was patrolling the beach on foot and saw a figure moving in the dark. "Who are you" he shouted.
Dache replied that they were fishermen who had run aground. As he spoke, one of his comrades arrived on the scene and asked in German, what was going on. He shouted for him to shut up and return to the others. Recognizing Cullen's uniform, Dasch figured that their plot had been discovered and handed the guardsman $250 in cash to forget about the encounter. Cullen took it an ran. While Cullen high-tailed it back to the Coast Guard station to report his discovery, the four Germans changed into civilian clothes which they had buried along with the munitions. They had come ashore in military uniform in case they were caught. In that event they would be jailed as prisoners of war instead of being shot as spies. By the time the Coast Guard returned to the beach the Germans were gone, having caught a train into the city. Their stash was quickly uncovered.
Turning the Tide on Operation Pastorius
Laying low in New York with an enormous amount of cash, some of the saboteurs spent time drinking in nightclubs and seeking prostitutes. After two days in New York, Dasch confided to fellow conspirator Peter Burger that he was going to expose the mission to the FBI. Burger agreed to go along with the plan. A phone call to the New York office of the FBI left Dacsh feeling that his story hadn't been believed, so he boarded a train for Washington D.C.. He met with the FBI in Washington and was originally met with skepticism until he dumped approximately $84,000 in cash onto the agent's desk. Dasch told his story in detail and the search for the remaining seven spies began. With Dasch's help, all were rounded-up within two weeks.
Dasch told the FBI that he and Burger were anti-Nazi and had planned the betrayal while still in Germany. Promised a presidential pardon for his actions, Dasch was arrested once all the other men had been jailed. During his interrogation, Dasch later said the FBI told him to plead guilty and not to mention his betrayal - just to put on "the biggest act in the world" and "take the punishment".
He expected that the FBI would soon come to release him, but it was not to be. President Roosevelt was never told of Dasch's or Burger's role in uncovering the plot. Since Dasch and Burger were American citizens (naturalized) they should be charged with treason, the other six should be tried as spies, and all eight should be executed.
Fearing that a civil trial might end in a light sentence because no actual espionage or sabotage had taken place, U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle cited a little-known precedent from the Civil War called "The Law of War" (Ex parte Quirin). The Law of War allowed for a military tribunal instead of a civil trial, greatly reducing the burden of evidence required for a conviction. Incidentally, this is the same law used for the "Enemy Combatants" held in Guantanamo.
During the trial, the cooperation by Dasch and Burger came out in testimony. Coast Guardsman John Cullen testified that Dasch had not attempted any violence toward him during the encounter. During the summation, Attorney General Biddle acknowledged Dasch and Burger's help in capturing the other spies, but urged the panel to give sentence them to death as a deterrent to other would-be saboteurs.
After nearly three weeks of hearings, the tribunal reached a verdict. They found all eight guilty and recommended death by electrocution for all. J. Edgar Hoover never told FDR about the role Dasch and Burger played in uncovering the plot and rounding up the spies. After reading the trial transcripts, President Roosevelt commuted Burger's sentence to life in prison and Dasch's to 30 years hard labor. Five days later, the six condemned men were executed. Six years later, both Dasch and Burger were released from prison and deported to Germany. Burger's fate is unknown, but Dasch died in 1992, still waiting for his Presidential Pardon.
Late in life, Dasch befriended Charlie Chaplin, who was living in exile in Switzerland. The two often commiserated about how J. Edgar Hoover had ruined their lives.
And that's all I have to say about the Sunrise Village Inn.
© 2013 Bill Yovino