HISTORICAL CORNER

Bay Shore Historical Society; Long Island’s role in WWII

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Each week, reporter and history-lover Mariana Dominguez visits a historical location on the South Shore. This week she attended the monthly Bay Shore Historical Society meeting at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Library. Dr. Christopher Verga presented about Long Island’s role in World War II.

All of the Bay Shore Historical Society events that I have attended over the past few months have been some of the most informative and interesting lectures. The one I attended this past week was no exception. Verga is an instructor of Long Island history and the foundations of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He has written multiple books, including “Images of America: Civil Rights Movement on Long Island,” “Images of America: Bay Shore and Saving Fire Island from Robert Moses,” “Cold War Long Island,” and his most recent book, “World War II Long Island: The Homefront in Nassau and Suffolk.”

Verga began his lecture explaining that the history of Long Island and World War II is very complicated. Everyone on Long Island is connected to WWII in some way, whether it be having a family member who was alive at the time, or even just knowing someone who was alive or living in an area like Levittown, which was a postwar development. World War II was also a catalyst for many things that made Long Island what it is today. Verga explained that the civil rights movement was pushed forward at the end of World War II when black soldiers came home after fighting tyranny abroad to find themselves still being treated as second-class citizens. Malls and mass consumerism also sprang up after the war, and where would Long Island be without all of our malls?

One of the most interesting parts of Verga’s lecture was when he talked about the German American Bund on Long Island. The German American Bund was a German beer-drinking club that quickly became radicalized. Verga explained that in time, it became the “establishment of the Nazi party in America,” and reached 25,000 people. Verga noted that anyone interested in the subject and fellow history nerds should go to the Longwood Library and ask about the German Bund collection, adding, “the pictures and documents are insane.”

I also really enjoyed when Verga discussed the Benson House in Wading River, which is still there today but is on private property. During WWII, the Benson House was a Nazi safe house for spies and had a radio transmitter. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI at the time, had the people in the house arrested, and put in double agents who fed bad information to Nazis. The only other known Nazi safe houses in the area were in Centerport and midtown Manhattan.

The Bay Shore Historical Society meets at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at the Bay Shore-Brightwaters Library. Everyone is invited to attend the lectures. The next meeting will be on Feb. 17 with Mary Reid, Deanna Watts and Jimmy Cornigans, who will present “Black History on Long Island.”

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