A group of war re-enactors — or “living historians,” as they prefer to call themselves — have upset some community members by performing in realistic Nazi uniforms.
The group set up a replica German prison camp over the weekend at Fort Mifflin, a Revolutionary War-era site in Philadelphia, as they do every couple of months, reported The Inquirer.
About 75 re-enactors, including some dressed in full Nazi regalia, acted out prison breaks and interrogations for nearly 100 spectators, although some questioned whether authenticity was necessary.
“I wonder whether this is really about learning, and I’m not convinced,” said Randi Boyette, associate regional education director for the Anti-Defamation League.
“They trivialize the experience of the victims,” she added. “They can leave students with the impression that they actually know what it was like, when in fact they clearly cannot.”
Joey Flynn, an Air Force veteran who brought a Boy Scout troop from Delaware, told the newspaper the re-enactment was a good learning opportunity — but the head of a Holocaust survivors group disagreed.
“I don’t understand by what anyone could gain by participating in something like this — it’s demeaning,” said Elaine Culbertson, executive director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
Culbertson, whose parents both survived concentration camps, told the newspaper that re-enactors couldn’t possibly simulate the horrors of the Holocaust.
“You come from your comfortable house, make pretend that you’re doing something, then you go back to your comfortable life,” she said. “That isn’t what happened.”
State education guidelines actually prohibit simulations of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, but the event — which serves as a fundraiser for the historic site — doesn’t take place in school.
“Our idea was to have a program that would show what American soldiers had dealt with during the Second World War,” said Joseph Nevin, program manager at Fort Mifflin. “We didn’t feel there was any sort of misappropriation in presenting the event.”
Michael Bernier, a 60-year-old who has spent $10,000 on his Nazi uniform, said the re-enactments serve as a form of escape to him. “It’s kind of like having two lives for the price of one,” he said.
But he never let his father-in-law, a World War II veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, see him dressed in the Nazi uniform — “out of respect for the man.”
But Larry Mihlon, who’s married to a Jewish woman who had relatives killed in concentration camps, told the newspaper his wife understands he doesn’t agree with Nazi beliefs.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you, there were many people who had something to do with all this who were supremely evil,” he said. “How did they get there? The dialogue’s got to be there. People have to talk about that.”
The 57-year-old Mihlon said it’s good that people are offended by his replica Nazi uniform. “They need to see it,” he said. “They need to know about it.”
Kurtis Henschel, a high school senior who takes part in the re-enactments, said he’s been confronted in public over his SS uniform.
“People get offended by us,” he said. “And they have a right to.”