The New Yorker
The Nazi Sites of Los Angeles: A walking tour of where the Fascists and Hitlerites gathered in California.
The first Nazi rally in Los Angeles took place in the summer of 1933, a few months into Adolph Hitler’s chancellorship, at a downtown biergarten nicknamed the Brown House, after the Nazi Party’s offices in Munich. It was here (now an America’s Best Value Inn) that the Jewish spymaster known as L1 sent his first undercover operatives, a husband-and-wife team of Christian German émigrés, with instructions to infiltrate the Fascist underground.
“Today people are marching and saying, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ ” Steve Ross, the author of a forthcoming book, “Hitler in Los Angeles,” which documents the rise of anti-Semitic hate groups and a covert Jewish-led resistance, said the other day. “In the thirties, they’re saying, ‘Kill the Jews.’ All it takes is one crazy person. People say, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but it is happening here. Once you have the Fascist takeover of the government, all the other things can happen.”
L1 was Leon Lewis, an unassuming lawyer who had served in the First World War and helped found the Anti-Defamation League. The Nazis called him “the most dangerous Jew in Los Angeles.” He worked independently; the F.B.I. focussed its scant resources on the Communist threat, and many on the city’s police force were Klansmen or American Fascists, or at least sympathetic to the anti-Jewish attitudes of the Hitlerites. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, Lewis’s agents had disrupted elaborate efforts to spread Nazi ideology in the United States, revealed fifth columnists and saboteurs inside the Douglas aircraft plant, and foiled two murder plots whose targets included not only the spymaster but also Jack Benny, Samuel Goldwyn, Charlie Chaplin, and Louis B. Mayer. “The Nazis saw L.A. as more important than Jew York, as they called it,” Ross said. “La Guardia, who was half Jewish, had the ports closely watched, whereas in L.A. they were able to bring in propaganda, money, everything they wanted, without a worry.”
Ross, an effusive professor in his sixties, was standing in the lobby of the Roosevelt, an imposing building downtown carved into apartments owned by professional athletes and millennials, where Lewis had his law office in the thirties and forties. “This was spy central!” he said. The Nazis and Fascists, knowing that Lewis had agents inside their organizations, posted their own outside the Roosevelt. He pointed toward other buildings, some extant, some ghosts. “Fascist, Fascist, Nazi, Klan,” he said. “He was surrounded.”
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