When I was a teenager, my family bought a summer bungalow in Yaphank, Long Island. The place where we lived was part of the German-American Settlement League, a private club exclusively for people of German extraction. They had 50 bungalows, a ballfield, a clubhouse, and a private beach on the Carmen’s River. Our house was right on the river. As nice as that sounds, there were still problems for me living there as a teenager. For one, I was a big fan of screaming guitars and Rock N Roll, while the neighbors all preferred accordions and polkas. When there was a dance at the clubhouse, it seemed that all they played were polkas and waltzes. There was no twisting, nor frugging, nor mashing of potatoes – and those were the only dances I knew at the time.
There was a bigger problem than the music selection at the dances, though. Most of the people were ancient, and there weren’t any girls my age there. I had a few male friends – Fritz, Freddie, Edgar, and Charlie, but there weren’t any Brunhildas, Annegrets, or Margaretes around. The only girls were Linda Zeltman and Carol Ann Schultz and they were only 12 years old. Lillian Lyons was the only eligible female in the entire neighborhood, but she was a college girl, so she was way out of my league. There were no potential girlfriends in the entire community, and that can be a real bummer for a teenager.
There were a few real Nazis among the resident there, but they weren’t really a problem. They came in two varieties – old Nazis or very old Nazis. They were the ones who had founded the place back in the 30’s. There weren’t very many of them left alive by the time our family moved in. The club’s rules stated that you had to be at least part German to be a member, but some of the newer families who lived there, like us, had only a few drops of German blood. My Dad had none. He was Irish and Swedish, but my parents got in because my Mom had a little German blood in her lineage. Years later, after he retired from the Telephone Company, my Dad, who had pounded the Nazis commanding a U.S. tank during World War II, actually became the President of the German-American Settlement League. The times they certainly were a changing.
The newer families moving in were more interested in a cheap summer getaway than preserving the proud tradition of Oom Pah bands. You had to be a member to buy a bungalow there, and you had to be part German to be a member, so the limited market kept bungalow prices way down. When I got married, Ginny and I bought our first house there, simply because the price was cheap, $12,000. That was less than half of what equivalent homes were going for just outside the community.
The German-American Settlement League came a long way from their Nazi beginnings, and, by the time my family moved there, it had become more of a retirement village. As the old guard died off, however, a few of us newcomers wondered aloud if, when it was time to sell our homes, the by-laws of the community might change and allow us to list the house on an open market, where it might sell for 2 or 3 times more than we would get selling it to a club member only.
Well, I read recently that it finally happened. Philip Kneer and his wife, Patricia Flynn-Kneer sued the G.A.S.L. for the right to list their home on the open market.
To win their case, all they had to do to was go to the newspapers with pictures of the community back in the 1930’s.
An undated photo at Camp Siegfried in Yaphank shows the swastika and the salute, familiar Nazi symbols, on display. In a federal lawsuit on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, a Yaphank couple said that discriminatory covenant restrictions of the German-American Settlement League, which owns the former camp site, have prevented them from selling their home. Photo Credit: UPI
Once their lawyers played the Ole Nazi card, it was impossible to get public opinion behind keeping the by-laws of the all-German community intact. Besides, like I said, many of the club’s members also hoped to be able to sell their homes on the open market when the time came, so the G.A.S.L. settled the lawsuit quickly.
Noe, with the German American Settlement League opening their doors to people of all kinds, who will still be around on Long Island to dance the polkas and remind the world of Germany’s many proud traditions, like Oktoberfest, lederhosen, Bratwurst, and beer? The answer, I recently found out, is Nephew X. He’s a teacher on Long Island, and he actually wore this outfit to school one day. I think it was National Pretzel Day, or something like that. At least I hope it was.
Peace and Love, and all of the above,