A Long Island enclave established by Nazi sympathizers has to dramatically change the way it operates to end decades of discrimination against nonwhite people, according to a settlement announced today by the Attorney General's Office.
The German-American League was founded in 1937 as an offshoot of the Nazi-promoting German-American Bund, and bought up tract homes in the Suffolk County hamlet of Yaphank. At first, the group operated its property as Camp Siegfried, a Nazi summer camp that for a time had its own train from Penn Station. In the late 1930s, Camp Siegfried officials were indicted on charges of violating the New York State Civil Rights Act, according to the New York Times.
Subsequently, as the camp transitioned into a 40-acre residential community, the League toned down the overt Nazi stuff, ending the parades and sieg heiling and coming up with new names for the streets originally named after Hitler, Goering, and Goebbels. Still, for decades, the organization has exercised strict control over who can live there. It owns the land beneath the houses, and long restricted leases to members and people sponsored by members. Membership, by the way, was limited to people "primarily of German extraction and of good character and reputation."
A federal lawsuit, by residents who argued that the racist covenant and other restrictions were making it hard for them to sell their house, ended in 2016 with the League agreeing to change its bylaws and end the German requirement. Nevertheless, according to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the group's application process and leasing structure made membership and home sales "unreasonably difficult," and disproportionately impacted nonwhite people.
Under the latest settlement, the group must allow owners to publicly list properties for sale, extend its land leases from 1 year to 30 years to make outside financing more feasible, place ads stating its commitment to nondiscrimination, and include a fair housing statement on its membership application.
The settlement also forces the removal of League president Robert Kessler and the group's treasurer. "GASL's present leadership has consistently failed to meet its obligations of care and loyalty in the oversight of GASL finances and membership practices," the settlement says, noting that Kessler missed seven of nine board meetings held after the June 2016 settlement of the civil rights lawsuit.
The settlement is binding for three years, and requires that the organization report regularly on membership, sales, and its finances.
"The GASL’s discriminatory practices were a remnant of a disgraceful past that has no place in New York or anywhere," Schneiderman said in a statement. "This agreement will once and for all put an end to the GASL’s discrimination, ensuring that all New Yorkers are afforded equal access to housing opportunities—regardless of their race or national origin."
The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race and national origin, among other factors.
Kessler and the League did not answer at numbers listed for them.
A fair housing group's lawsuit against Edgewater Park, a cooperatively owned, historically Irish enclave in the Bronx, alleged that the owners association used similar rules to keep out black home-buyers, telling them that they needed referrals while instructing white buyers how to get around the requirement. The suit concluded in 2013 with a settlement mandating that the owners train all their staff and board members about anti-discrimination laws, publicly affirm their commitment to fair housing in a variety of ways, and keep extensive records on their inner workings.