Standing Up to Evil

An HKS alumnus tells the story of how a small town rebuffed the Nazis

March 14, 2013
by Mari Megias, Alumni and Development Communications

When Ed Edelson MPA 1981 bought an historic bed and breakfast a decade ago in Southbury, Connecticut, he never imagined the purchase would lead him to produce a documentary.
But it turned out that a former owner of the property had a pivotal role in an extraordinary yet little-known occurrence that took place in 1937. This event—where a small, rural town rebuffed the Nazis—is now a short film, thanks to Edelson’s tenacity and belief that standing firm in the face of evil is just as necessary today as it was on the eve of World War II.
Edelson didn’t pursue the story at first. A few years later, though, he attended a talk by a local rabbi on the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. In the discussion, the rabbi presented a PowerPoint slideshow about Southbury’s actions in 1937. Edelson was hooked. After some digging of his own, he knew he wanted to disseminate widely the story of how a small town in Connecticut quickly and decisively rejected the Nazis.
The essential problem for leaders in Southbury in 1937 was how to confront evil. “I don’t think there is a more complicated question for public officials,” says Edelson, who today is the town’s first selectman. “It is even more remarkable because Southbury rejected the Nazis before most of the infamous events occurred in central Europe.”
In 1937, Southbury was a sleepy farming community of 1,200 with just one Jewish family. By then, around the nation a German-American organization known as the Bund had established 22 training camps without much local resistance. At these facilities, the Bund tried to get Americans to develop favorable views of Nazism. They held rallies with Nazi insignia, led people in the “Heil Hitler” salute, verbally attacked Jews, and conducted paramilitary training.
Then the Bund tried to open its first New England site—the largest camp so far—in Southbury. This took place in the context of the recent Great Depression; the new facility promised jobs and economic opportunity to struggling residents.
Yet Southbury wanted no part of Nazism. A World War I veteran organized a group that worked with clergy and town leadership, and at a crowded town meeting, citizens established a zoning commission that would soon institute regulations to prohibit military training not condoned by the US government. At that same time, they unanimously passed a resolution asking President Franklin D. Roosevelt to “abate, dispel and destroy this menace (Nazis) to our constituted government.”
In the face of such opposition, the Bund moved on. Southbury today has the distinction of being the only American community to formally reject the establishment of Nazi indoctrination camps in its midst.
In 2012, Southbury was planning to celebrate the 225th anniversary of its founding. Realizing that the year coincided with the 75th anniversary of Southbury’s saying “no” to the Nazis, Edelson didn’t have much time to pull a film together. However, he used his new elected position to create a committee that, in short order, hired a professional filmmaker, gathered archival material, raised funds, and sought out remaining people from that time who could speak on camera about the incident. And in November 2012, the film premiered to sold-out crowds in Southbury.
Now a contestant in the Boston International Film Festival, the documentary—“Home of the Brave: When Southbury Said ‘No’ to the Nazis”—is being screened in Boston April 13 at the AMC theater on Tremont Street.
“Audiences appreciate learning about a part of our history they had never heard before,” says Edelson. “Most important, people are asking themselves, ‘What would I do in a similar situation?’ And that is the film’s true measure of success.”

Southbury historical photo

Two men holding signs at the trial of two German American Bund members in Southbury CT in 1937.

“Audiences appreciate learning about a part of our history they had never heard before,” says Edelson. “Most important, people are asking themselves, ‘What would I do in a similar situation?’ And that is the film’s true measure of success.”

movie poster

Poster publicizing the documentary, “Home of the Brave: When Southbury Said ‘No’ to the Nazis"


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