Buffalo in the ’30s: German Day celebration clogs now-Schiller Park

       By Steve Cichon

Buffalo Police dealt with one of the worst traffic jams they’d ever seen as an estimated 50,000 people jammed Genesee Street near Genesee Park (now Schiller Park) for German Day in 1938.

Traffic was on the minds of the 50 officers on the detail in and around the park that day on foot, horseback and motorcycle – but it wasn’t their primary reason for being there.

Nazi Swastika flags parade among American flags in a German Day celebration in Genesee (now Schiller) Park in 1938.

“The large detail was ordered (the day before) when fears arose that there might be trouble when German swastika banners were permitted to fly alongside the Stars and Stripes,” reported the Courier-Express.

The swastika flags were flown in deference to Emil Pieper, German Consul for Western New York, who addressed the crowd. At a similar event in Rochester the week before, Pieper “stood in stiff Nazi salute when the band struck up the German National Anthem.”

The German Day celebration, held about five years into Adolf Hitler’s reign but a year before the start of World War II, had a representative of the Nazi government addressing tens of thousands of Buffalonians under the Nazi flag in the middle of a city park.

“Since 1933, many German-Americans have asked themselves, ‘What attitude should I take? How can I, as a German or German-American, best serve this country without giving up my German characteristics, of which I am unusually proud?’ ” asked Pieper.

He told the crowd that many German-Americans had lost their sense of direction, and that this event was a fitting time “to bring back to our memories the great deeds of our ancestors and the many contributions of the German element to American life.”

Pieper also told the crowd the best way to help Germany is by being good Americans. Pieper would stay in Buffalo and ran a travel agency specializing in tours of Europe through the postwar years and into the 1960s.

But back to 1938, Mayor Thomas L. Holling addressed the German Day group, speaking narrowly about the German-American contribution to Buffalo – not the goings-on in Europe where the stage was being set for what would become World War II.

“It’s good that sturdy German-Americans have helped us make Buffalo what it is today,” said Holling.

He added, perhaps to contrast Buffalo’s Germans with the Nazi Germans, that the Teutonic descendants of Western New York are a high caliber of people. “They are noted for their tolerant and sympathetic attitudes toward their fellow citizens.”

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.