Los Angeles, California
June 14, 1940
"Imagine—it's a year from now, 1941, or maybe even '42—and Germany and the Axis have won the war," Hermann Schwinn was saying in a thick accent. "A long black limousine drives along the Pacific Coast Highway. Palm trees sway in the warm breeze, as sunlight glitters on the blue ocean."
Schwinn, a Frankfurt-born insurance salesman in his forties, was a member of the Bund, a German American organization, established in 1936 as a successor to the Friends of New Germany. The Bund was comprised of only Americans of German descent, and its goal was to promote a favorable view of Nazi Germany and recruit new members.
Schwinn was the Bund's Los Angeles regional commander. A naturalized American citizen, Schwinn was a devoted National Socialist, five feet nine inches and slim as a knife, a small mustache beneath his nose, a pipe stuck in his mouth at a jaunty angle. At his feet slept his dog, a large German shepherd, who Schwinn bragged would attack any Jews in biting distance.
"The limo turns right onto a small dusty road," Schwinn continued, "lined with tall sycamore trees. It approaches large black iron gates, opened by armed guards in uniform. They give the Sieg heil! salute as the limo passes."
Schwinn was sitting at a corner booth in the restaurant at Deutsches Haus, a German social club in downtown Los Angeles and home to the Bund. The restaurant had a bar running the long length of the room. Dining tables covered in red-checked cloths were piled high with the white-fleshed veal schnitzel, rich wursts, and sweet pastries German ex-pats craved, accompanied by draft beer and dark coffee. The air was fragrant with the scent of hops and fried meat. Cigar and cigarette smoke curled up to the ceiling, covered in plaster swastikas. Along the walls ran hand-hammered bronze plates flourished with the hooked cross.
A man in the booth next to them was reading the Los Angeles Times; the headline declared: "Germans March into Paris: French Are in Full Retreat." A black-and-white photograph showed Nazis raising the swastika flag.
He continued: "It follows a road winding through orchards and vegetable gardens—you can see red barns with horses and cows. The air smells of eucalyptus."
Across the table was another of the Haus's members, Wilhelm Wagner. Wagner was not impressed. "How poetic," he said with a Viennese accent. Wagner was the owner of the Continental Bookstore, screened German movies downtown, and was Schwinn's lieutenant. It was rumored he answered directly to Joseph Goebbels. Wagner looked more like the Aryan ideal: taller and younger, tanned and well muscled. His center-parted hair was so blond it appeared almost white and his eyes were an arresting silver.
Schwinn took a swig of dark bock beer and laughed. "Well, this might please you then," he countered easily. "Just out of view there's a water storage tank, with its own water supply from springs, along with a double-generator power station and a twenty-thousand-gallon fuel oil tank. Terraces have been leveled and planted with fruit trees, all supplied with copper pipes and a watering outlet for each tree. A culvert's been built for the stream and there's a cold storage locker for storing food." He beamed with pride. "It's completely self-sustaining! Is that practical enough for you?"
Wagner grunted as an oompah band began the stirring notes of the military parade song "Bayerischer Defiliermarsch." It was almost midnight; the regulars remained, drinking steins of beer and glasses of schnapps, celebrating the news of the fall of France. Hitler's triumphant taking of Paris was theirs to applaud—and the noninterference by the rest of Europe or America reassured them no one and nothing could stop the new Nazi world order. In a dark corner, two men in their eighties played kriegspiel, the Prussian version of chess.
"Like a military bunker?"
"Exactly!" Schwinn exclaimed. "Underneath, it's a bunker. We could fight a war, considering all the weapons we'll have stocked in the armory." He frowned, annoyed to be thrown off. "Where was I? Oh, yes—finally, the limo comes to a stop in front of a gorgeous four-story, twenty-two-bedroom ranch." He unrolled translucent tracing paper: an architect's plan showing scaled drawings of buildings. "Complete with servants' quarters, a garden, a tower, a swimming pool, an enormous garage. On one flagpole is the American flag. On the other is the swastika. More armed guards salute and open the passenger door.