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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Trapped in a NY Nazi Enclave, Couple Claims

CENTRAL ISLIP, New York (CN) - A Long Island suburb that was once a hotbed for German-American Nazi sympathizers still flies a Hitler Youth flag above its clubhouse and fights to keep the neighborhood all white, a federal lawsuit claims.

Long Island Housing Services jumped in to represent homeowners Philip Kneer and Patricia Flynn-Kneer in a federal housing discrimination lawsuit filed Monday against the German-American Settlement League.

The Kneers say they've been trying to sell their home in the Nazi-founded suburb of Siegfried Park in Yaphank, Long Island, for the past six years, but can't because of the group's strict rules designed to keep the neighborhood German.

The league still flies a Hitler Youth flag in its clubhouse at Siegfried Park, and at least through the 1960s continued to use the emblem on its stationery, the 40-page lawsuit states.

"Since its incorporation in 1937, the German-American Settlement League has excluded non-whites from its membership, recreational programs, and summer homes in favor of new residents with German ancestry," the lawsuit states. "As stated in its constitution, one of the purposes of the league is to 'introduce, cultivate and propagate in every direction true Germanic culture and to cultivate the German language customs and rituals."

The league rents about 50 lots to members who live in Siegfried Park, but ensures that it remains a white enclave by "enforcing a number of rules that restrict homeownership to members who are required 'primarily' to be individuals 'of German extraction,'" the lawsuit states.

New members must be sponsored by a current member and approved by league's membership board.

The organization bans members from renting out their places and from publicly advertising their homes for sale to keep tabs on who gets in. "Instead, league members are only permitted to list their homes for sale in the minutes of league board meetings which are distributed by hand to league members," according to the complaint.

The Kneers, who are German-Americans, have owned since 1999 but have been trying to sell for the past six years. They say they can't get out because of the group's "racially restrictive" policies.

Until 1940, the league got funding from the German-American Bund party. Nazi sympathizers went to what was then called Camp Siegfried to hold rallies. A garden in the shape of a swastika was even planted there.

And still, 80 years later, a flag representing Hitler Youth, now modified with a shovel across it, files from the suburb's clubhouse.

The Kneers bought into the league in 1999 while engaged to be married, but had to go through an "investigating committee" to determine their ethnicity. Mr. Kneer is German-Irish-French, and Mrs. Kneer is German-Irish whose mother was born in Berlin.

They passed and got in.

After they had two daughters, the couple sought to sell their small, two-bedroom, one-bathroom home to buy a bigger one outside of the area.

They couldn't rent the house because of the strict bylaws, and couldn't put a for-sale sign on their yard. They say they had to instead list the availability of their home in the league's minutes.

No one wants to buy it, they say.

"Lenders are reluctant to provide mortgages to purchase homes at Siegfried Park because of, among other things, the league's preference for German purchasers, restrictive membership and advertising requirements, and ban on leasing," the lawsuit states.

Philip Kneer says he talked with the league board president about its restrictions, and was told that the rules "were not going to be changed because the members wanted to keep it the way it is," the lawsuit states.

So in March 2015, Philip Kneer contacted Long Island Housing Services, a private, nonprofit fair-housing advocacy group.

The couple left Siegfried Park this month and rented outside the neighborhood, their lawsuit states.

They seek unspecified damages for civil rights violations, and are represented by Diane Houk with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

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