I was shocked this morning to read about this group of WWII re-enactors having their annual party at German restaurant in Minneapolis. I wanted to slap one of these guys upside that head and yell, “What were you thinking?!!”
I don’t have a problem with actors dressed as Nazis. In fact, what would a production of The Sound of Music be without the Von Trapp family fleeing from Nazis? Who else would be scarier to find melting on a deserted island than evil SS officers opening the Arc of the Covenant for the first time in Raiders of the Lost Arc? And would the The Producers be as hilarious without its dancing Hitler?
What doesn’t make sense to me though is a dinner in which people are celebrating with their WWII reenactment buddies, dressed in Nazi uniforms, and eating schnitzel in a room adorned by swastikas. How is this ok?
When asked why this group was holding this event, a party attendee stated, “All of the German [re-enactment] groups in Minnesota have a Christmas party because we don’t typically have events going on in the winter,” Boorom says. “It’s just like any club that has a party. Because they dress up like Germans from World War II, it’s cool to go to a German restaurant, eat German food, and drink German beer.” (Citypages.com)
Living in Germany I can pretend to be German whenever I want. I can braid my hair, wear a Dirndl, swing a stein of beer, and eat giant pretzels to my heart’s content. In June, I will paint my face in Schwartz-Rot-Gold, wear my Weltmeisterschaft tricot, and root for the home team in the World Cup. But I would NEVER pretend to be German by dressing up as an SS officer. There is nothing “cool” about Nazis.
To dress in Nazi uniforms, to yell “Heil Hitler,” or to hang the Nazi flag is strictly verboten here. You would be quickly arrested and charged under the German criminal code, section 86a.
In America, citizens cling to their 1st Amendment rights. And in America your 1st Amendment rights allow you to make stupid choices; like throwing a Nazi dress up party for example. But if you make this kind of choice, you should expect the backlash of public opinion. Both Germans and Jews find this kind of role playing disgraceful; my guess is that most Americans find it disgraceful too.
In researching this event, I came across this interview with Mel Brooks in Der Spiegel from 2006. I love what he says about how comedy can “rob Hitler of his posthumous power.”