Yesterday, Mr. Torvik alerted me to this story from the Minneapolis City Pages. It seems that for the last six years a number of World War II re-enactors gather at the Minneapolis restaurant Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit and have a Christmas party. Re-enactors (assuming that is actually a word) are people who like to dress up in the costume of a particular period and pretend that they are in that period. I knew that people dress up as Civil War soldiers but I did not know that they also do this for World War II.
If you are like me, your first thought upon learning that WWII re-enactors are having a Christmas party would be to think that a bunch of folks got dressed up as Patton, Ike, Monty, and maybe those guys from Band of Brothers. That thought turned out to be very, very, very naive. The people who attended this party were dressed up like Germans. More accurately, they came dressed as Nazis. In what I assume was an effort to be historically accurate, they not only dressed like Nazis, they hung swastikas around the room. Because nothing aids digestion like looking at a symbol of racial hatred and genocide. City Pages has more pictures of the party here.
City Pages managed to get some quotes about the party from a gentleman named Jon Boorom. Mr. Boorom is a member of WWII Historical Re-enactment Society, Inc. Mr. Boorom, who attended the Christmas Party, says that the dinner is like "a Star Trek convention but for WWII enthusiasts." Mr. Boorom also explained that "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."
Since Mr. Torvik and I both used to live in Wisconsin (a state with a fair number of people of German descent), I think we can stipulate that it can be cool to go to a German Restaurant, eat German food, and drink German beer. But one can do all three of those things without dressing up like a Nazi. In fact, some might suggest that adding a Nazi costume to the mix makes things a lot less cool.
Mr. Boorom tells City pages that the German re-enactors are given extensive background checks to and that no actual Nazis can take part in the events. I hope that is true, although the groups "Join Us" page does not mention background checks. Mr. Borooom goes on to say "If you wear a German uniform or a Nazi uniform, it's not like you're saying, 'I think Hitler was super cool' or 'I hate Jews' or 'I hate gays' or 'I hate democrats.' You're not there because you believe in what Hitler stood for -- you're there to educate people about history, and a lot of that is so people don't forget. It's the same as wanting to be the bad guy when you're playing cowboys and Indians. There's an attraction to the bad side."
As an initial matter, of course, the Christmas party appears to be a private affair so the only people being educated about history are the wait staff. But what does it say about the "attraction to the bad side" that these people are actually spending their holiday season dressed up in the uniforms of people that killed six million Jews, 20 Million Russians, and millions of other Europeans and Americans? In what way can that possibly be considered cool or fun? As for the groups' educational mission, it seems to me that anyone who wants educate someone about WWII could do that just as easily by dressing up as a solider for one of the Allied countries.
Finally, one has to wonder how they recruit members to dress up as Nazis. Perhaps like this:
SCENE: A water cooler in a nondescript office.
Jim: Say Al, I’ve noticed that you like reading and watching shows about World War II.
Al: I sure do, Jim.
Jim: Me too. Have you ever thought about becoming an educator by being a WWII re-enactor?
Al: No, Jim. I didn’t realize people did that besides civil war buffs.
Jim: They sure do. In fact, I belong to a little group that could use some more members.
Al: Oh really, are you guys sailors, airmen, or soldiers?
Jim: Soldiers, I guess. Mostly storm troopers.
Al: Wait. What? Did you just say “storm troopers”? I thought only the Germans had storm troopers.
Jim: You’re right, Al. We dress up like Germans. I've got a spare Oberstleutnant uniform you could wear. Don't worry, you aren’t required to hate Jews (although that would be more authentic). Want to come to our Christmas party?
Al (slowly backing away): Huh. How about that? Um, I will need to check with the missus and get back to you.
What do you think Mr. Torvik can they sign you up?
UPDATE: This morning, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that the Christmas party was actually held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It just goes to show that things can always get weirder.