World War II reenactment
World War II reenactment is the historical reenactment of the various combatants involved in World War II. The types of events include living history, which emphasises the garrison life of the average serviceman or servicewoman, and tactical events, involving simulated combat operations. The activities of groups engaged in Waffen-SS reenactment have been a subject of significant controversy.
Popular culture of World War II reenactment also includes Waffen-SS units, the paramilitary force of National Socialist Party in Nazi Germany. Although banned in Germany and Austria, SS reenacting groups exist elsewhere, including in Europe and North America. In U.S. alone, by the end of the 1990s there were 20 Waffen-SS reenactment groups, out of approximately 40 groups dedicated to German World War II units. In contrast, there were 21 groups dedicated to the American units of the same timeframe. The website of the U.S. Waffen-SS reenactor group Wiking was quoted by The Atlantic in 2010 as follows:
Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a "New and Free Europe", free of the threat of Communism. (...) Thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists.
Historians quoted in The Atlantic categorically rejected this contemporary characterization. According to Charles Sydnor, these groups "don't know their history" and have "a sanitized, romanticized view of what occurred". Rob Citino went further and condemned the reenacting activities, stating: "The entire German war effort in the East was a racial crusade to rid the world of 'subhumans'. (...) It sends a shiver up my spine to think that people want to dress up and play SS on the weekend."
In 2007, BBC investigative reporter John Sweeney produced a documentary entitled Weekend Nazis that delved into the reenactment scene in the UK. Members of German units, especially the Second Battle Group (SBG)), were interviewed and investigated about their hobby. Two SBG members were covertly filmed expressing racist views. The documentary was broadcast on 27 August 2007; in the ensuing controversy, the SBG issued a statement through their lawyers: "The views alleged to have been made by members of the SBG are, in the opinion of the SBG, fascist, racist and utterly reprehensible and as such are views we strongly oppose."
Within the UK, a number of events now only allow the portrayal of Allied service personnel and ban the wearing of any German uniform featuring the symbols of the Third Reich. In some cases events permit only Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe, whilst specifically refusing any SS uniforms. Some countries across Europe (France and Germany) have laws that have banned Nazi symbols like the swastika. There have been attempts to try and ban Nazi symbols across the European Union.
In 2010, Rich Iott, a Republican candidate for US Congress, came under intense scrutiny after images were released showing him wearing an SS uniform. Iott defended his interest in historical reenactment.
- Smelser & Davies 2008, pp. 226.
- The Atlantic 2010.
- Tibbetts, Graham (2007-08-27). "Neo-Nazis infiltrate WWII re-enactment group". Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2007-09-05.
- "Nazi uniforms banned at Lancashire Railway WWII event". BBC. 27 May 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Nazi uniforms banned from 1940s weekend after visitors came as SS officers". The Telegraph. 13 June 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2014.
- "Call for Europe-wide swastika ban". The BBC. 17 January 2005. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- "House Candidate Rich Iott Defends Nazi Uniform Photos". ABC News. 8 October 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
- Green, Joshua (2010). "Why Is This GOP House Candidate Dressed as a Nazi?". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 2015-12-21. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
- Smelser, Ronald; Davies, Edward J. (2008). The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-83365-3.
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