This writer explored Southern California sites with Nazi connections. Here’s what she found.

"Mother Daughter Traitor Spy" author Susan Elia MacNeal (Cover courtesy of Bantam / Photo credit: Noel MacNeal)

By Susan Elia MacNeal | Contributing Writer

Los Angeles might look to be all blue skies, palm trees, ocean spray, orange groves, and movie stars, but there was (and still is) an underbelly of American Nazis living and thriving in the sunshine. In the 1930s and 1940s, Southern California had its share of ordinary folks — who also just happened to be members of groups like German American Bund, America First, the Silver Shirts, the Copperheads, and the Ku Klux Klan — all dedicated to a fascist takeover of the United States. They were your neighbors, shopkeepers, teachers, and police officers — and all in plain sight.

My journey with the history of Nazism in America starts at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2017, when my husband, a Jim Henson Company puppeteer, was performing as Sweetums in “The Muppets Take the Hollywood Bowl.” At the time, neither of us had any idea that the Hollywood Bowl had been used for aviator and Nazi political darling Charles Lindbergh’s rally on June 20, 1941 — railing against intervening in Hitler’s takeover of Europe and the East. But it was, and at LAX, on the way back to New York City, my husband picked up a copy of Steven Ross’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated book “Hitler in Los Angeles,” which details the history of the rise of Nazism in Southern California — including the America First rally at the Hollywood Bowl — as a gift for me.

“Mother Daughter Traitor Spy” author Susan Elia MacNeal (Cover courtesy of Bantam / Photo credit: Noel MacNeal) 

Sounds crazy, right? (Also: Were there no Dodger T-shirts? Was the See’s Candies kiosk closed?) But for me, a historical novelist writing about World War II, the book was the perfect gift: the catalyst for writing two books. The first, “The Hollywood Spy,” was part of my Maggie Hope series. But haunted by parallels to the rise of authoritarianism and White supremacy in the U.S. today, I was unable to let the idea of the Los Angeles Nazis go. Supported by my agent and publishing company, I embarked on writing my first stand-alone novel, about a real-life mother and daughter team, Grace and Silvia Comfort, who went undercover in L.A. in 1940, to infiltrate dangerous Nazi organizations. I loved the idea of two ordinary women committing to do such an extraordinary thing. How did a mother and daughter decide to embark on infiltrating Nazi cells? What was it like? What were the challenges, the payoffs? What was their day-to-day life like?

The front plate of Ross’s book has a wonderfully detailed map of both Nazi and anti-Nazi sites in Los Angeles, which I referred to constantly as I began writing. Despite spending significant time in L.A. over the years (on various Muppet-related trips), I’d never heard of these local places’ history of Naziism and White supremacy — and the spymasters and secret agents who fought against them. I took two research trips to Los Angeles, specifically to visit many of the places my characters lived and …read more

Source:: The Mercury News


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