Monday, March 24, 2014

Sitting Down Is Not An Option

UPDATE: Our silent flash mob deportation reenactment went off without a hitch. We had a good sized crowd and some good press coverage. 

Minneapolis Star Tribune - Photo Gallery - Jefferson Wheeler did a great job on the photos. 
Bring Me The News - also did a very nice piece.

More about this in next week's blog!


America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." 
"ACLU speech" from The American President by Aaron Sorkin

This week's blog is not about free speech. It's not about whether or not the Nazi re-enactors had the right to have a party in a restaurant on a night the venue was closed. This isn't even about whether or not decorating the Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit with swastikas and Nazi bunting is appropriate. This is about how...or even if... one responds when that event is made public.

On Monday night, January 20th, a group of WWII re-enactors gathered for their 6th annual holiday party. These guys said they were guys who played Nazis when there was a need to have Nazis. They gathered to celebrate their shared love of history by wearing their Nazi officer uniforms at a German restaurant that had been decked out with Nazi regalia. One might think those attending such a festive occasion would want to remember the evening with a few snaps, but alas.  restaurant staffer felt compelled to sneak a few pictures with his smartphone camera even though he'd been warned that no pictures were permitted. 

The pictures, as they appeared in CITY PAGES are, admittedly, not great, but good enough to be really scary. Although the participants likened what they did to a Star Trek convention where people dress up as both good guys and bad guys, I cannot help but think Nazi SS does not qualify for the  best fantasy costume category. Still....does there need to be a response?

Yes.

There are a number of responses going on. Most are discussions about why so many people (not just Jews) were totally offended by the event. The organizer, a fellow named Scott Steben issued a slightly odd apology:
Scott Steben had said earlier that the Jan. 20 dinner was a Christmas party and an exercise for period actors. But in an apology reported by the Star Tribune on Wednesday, Steben said his group understands that some items displayed at the dinner "have made people feel uncomfortable." He said, "That was not our intent." 
"We are a historical re-enactment and professional actor society dedicated to promoting understanding of World War II. In no way are we or any of our members affiliated with groups that promote the subjugation of anyone."     
                               from The Associated Press report of the event - March 19th, 2014   
     

This group seems not to have an official name. There is no Nazi Actor's Equity or Screen Nazi Guild. This appears to be (according to them, anyway) a bunch of guys who play the bad guys in film and other art forms. They say it's like playing the Indians in cowboys and Indians when you're a kid. It would seem they like to take their work home with them, and see nothing wrong with going out in public dressed as Nazis officers. Did they think there will be no visceral reaction? 

Well, being it's a private party and cameras were banned, the answer must have been yes, because there was no expectation that word of this event would get out.  But in this day of instant media, that's just not the way of the world. It escaped the walls of Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit in living color and did a bunch of spins around the planet. 

Setting aside the part about free speech, the actions of the re-enactors have set off a firestorm of disgust, horror, and anger. And it's not all Jewish. Veterans' groups are incensed that anyone in the US would celebrate Nazi anything. GLBT groups have come out against the event as an attempt to deny or denigrate their existence and their progress in society. And Jewish groups argue that an event like this, no matter how benign it seems, is a public endorsement of anti-Semitism. Whatever the intent was, the perception was not mainstream positive. Perception is everything, and everything is open to interpretation.

Is there an appropriate response to the participants as well as the owner of the restaurant that hosts the annual dinner? 

There have been lots of responses: community leader meetings, stuff on the op ed pages of local newspapers. Lots of people are talking about it, and there's lots of stuff on Facebook, but there has yet to be a public gathering. 

Having spent my formative teen years standing on Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in front of the UN with a variety of signs, as well as planning some of those events, I am compelled by my own history to do something. Not doing something is unnatural to me. Someone must stand up to represent those who no longer have a voice. There needs to be a public presence on their behalf that says, "We do not forget those who perished at the hands of the real SS officers." 

As abhorrent as that party was, as obscene as glorification of the SS and the Nazi party may be to many of us, as Americans we must also defend their right to have such an event. This is the hard part of free speech. But that does not mean we are absolved from taking a stand against what their free speech advocates or, perhaps, glorifies. If we do not physically stand up and make our presence known, are we failing those who perished at the hands of the Nazis?

I believe that we are. I believe by not physically showing up we are helping 6,000,000+ men, women, and children to disappear into the mists of history. Our physical presence is a concise reminder that we remember what happened to them, that they are always in our consciousness. When we stand up for them, literally, we are preserving their very existence. 

I am not sitting this one out. A bunch of us aren't sitting this one out. If you're in the Twin Cities and want to stand up with us, send me an email. 

Stay tuned, folks. I'll keep you all posted. 


The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Silence isn't always silent.
Sometimes, it speaks louder than anyone could imagine. 
It's all about context.....and perception.

18 comments:

  1. WP> Well, being it's a private party . . . Jewish groups argue that an event like this. . . is an public endorsement of anti-Semitism.

    Sorry I dislike this event but the rhetoric is over the topic. It was a PRIVATE event. One can argue it is a PUBLIC endorsement but the logic fails.

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  2. Kinda the point. It was a private party; it got leaked, and perception is everything. It doesn't matter what the intent was...what matters is how it was _perceived_. People react to their perception, not necessarily the originator's intent. My perception is that the event omitted recognition of the lives lost during the War and as an American it's my right of free speech to make that point. The rhetoric cited does not necessarily match my position. I simply reported how it was perceived by others.

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  3. If the restaurant's owner belonged to some neo-Nazi group, it would be a private matter. But once the business became involved, then it necessarily became less private and more subject to public scrutiny. Domino's Pizza used to deliver food to anti-abortion activists who were picketing abortion clinics. I boycott Domino's to this day for that reason. If the owner donated money to pro-life groups, it would be private, but once the owner decided to involve the company, it became subject to scrutiny and discourse. Same with Chik-Fil-A. The owner used the company to make a statement, as opposed to just supporting what he supported privately. The owner of this restaurant allowed the restaurant to be used, as opposed to having a party at his house, so it is now in the public sphere and open for debate.

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    1. Sorry, I'm not seeing the logic there at all. The restaurant was closed. It was a private party. It's nothing like the other situations you described. If you rent out a facility for a private party, are you consenting to have the facility's staff photograph it and send the pictures to the media?

      Lost in the outrage of the obviously distasteful theme of the event is whether, frankly, it's anyone else's business. If they're not doing anything illegal, I fail to see how it's a matter of public concern. Suppose it were a different kind of event. Suppose it were a bridal party in there, and the bride-to-be received a sex toy as a gag gift. Then suppose while she was giggling and holding it up to show the crowd, unbeknowst to her, one of the staff members took a picture of her, Tweeted it, and it went viral. Now the image of her giggling, sex toy in hand, is posted all over the interwebs and she has suffered tremendous humiliation.

      Would we say that what she was doing was "in the public sphere" so it was fair game for the staff member to take a picture of her and share it?

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    2. The bride with the sex toy is alive and has a voice and should use it...in a court of law if necessary. She suffered harm to her name and that should be pursued if she wants. Absolutely.

      Those who perished in the gas chambers, cattle cars, mass graves, and on the battlefield don't have that ability. It falls to us to make sure they are heard and not forgotten.

      The Nazi re-enactors have every right to hold a party dressed as SS men or Gestapo or naked Nazi clowns. That is their right according to the Constitution and no one from our side is arguing with that. In the same breath, we felt the voices that perished in the Holocaust needed to be heard, if only for a moment. Our silent demonstration was meant to draw attention to those now silent voices.

      Personally, I would not patronize Gasthof Zur Gemütlichkeit; I have my own questions about what my dollars would be supporting. Nor would I patronize a store or restaurant that openly or not so openly discriminates against groups I support. If the profits of a business go to support issue with which I disagree, I'm well within my rights to take my business elsewhere.

      As Americans, we are very fortunate: we get to make those choices every day.

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    3. Thanks for your reply, but if you think the bride should be able to pursue a claim in a court of law because she was wronged, why do you think it was acceptable for the staff at Gasthof's to photograph people there for a closed-door, invitation-only private event and leak those pictures to the media?

      I'm not arguing the level of distaste of what they were doing, but I think we're getting into some dangerous territory when we start saying that it is acceptable to subject private conduct you disagree with to public scrutiny by taking pictures or audio or video of them without their consent and sharing it on the web. (And I don't buy into the argument that because modern technology allows one to accomplish this with ease, it's OK to do it.)

      Nobody is questioning the right to patronize or not patronize a business for whatever reason you want. We do have that right. I will probably exercise mine the same way as you with respect to Gasthof's.

      But I do question whether we should have the right to expose the private conduct of others without their consent.

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    4. If the participants wish to sue the photographer who took and distributed the pictures, that is their right, just as it is the right of the bride with the sex toy. That was never in question.

      But the pictures _were_ published.

      Since the pictures were published, everyone gets to have an opinion. So let me ask you a question....how do you feel about Julian Assange and Edward Snowdon? Did they do public service, or are they criminals?

      Is there a difference between what they did and what the Gasthof server did?

      That is a serious question.

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  4. Many years ago (25??) one of the first stories I covered for a newspaper as a freelance writer was of a reunion of former Nazi officers and American soldiers. The reunion had grown from a chance meeting to an annual event. It served as a time for healing and forgiveness. Not one of those Germans would have worn an SS uniform to that reunion......So these guys can say all they want about acting and history. The fact that it was SO private that photography was prohibited.....seems like a red flag to me.

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  5. Two years ago I went to a Halloween party dressed as Hitler. To me it was mainly the challenge of becoming my physical opposite (I'm fair & bald) as well as my moral opposite. Entering the party house I received a Nazi salute but could not return it. I suddenly felt very dirty. However the feeling passed; no one was offended & the party was enjoyable.

    Was I wrong? I was certainly not intending to condone that evil man. Is there a difference between my actions & those of the guys at the party you mention? Was I trivializing the man &, as a consequence, the Holocaust? I asked myself these questions beforehand of course.

    I'd like your opinion.

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    1. You ask very difficult questions, Mr. Hotchkiss, and ones that can only be answered by you. There are many reasons people do dress up as Hitler, sometimes it's meant to be ironic, a butt of jokes, or, even serious. Just think of both versions of THE PRODUCERS.

      You had your reasons and if you walked away from the experience with a different understand of what it meant to appear as that person, then it wasn't a total loss. Did you walk away with a better understanding of yourself? Did you come to understand what the perception was of that image does to the viewer and yourself?

      If the experience increased your own understanding of yourself, then chalk it up to an experience that was useful, but that you probably don't want to repeat. IMHO.

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    2. Thank you WP for your reply.

      Yes, I learnt something about myself, but that is not so important. What is important is the perception of the viewer. Was this as I intended or did some view my Hitler impersonation the same as a latter day Guy Fawkes? I cannot be sure but there is a risk especially among the younger generation & that is what troubles me. I will not be repeating this performance unless it is on stage where the message can be defined.

      Clearly this is the same as with the SS party. Perception is everything. Thank you for speaking out. I enjoy you blog.

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  6. Saw the pictures in the Strib of last night's response. Very striking images. A more appropriate statement could not have been made.

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  7. Dear Susan, I can only applaud your creative response to the Nazi party. The pictures are more powerful than any more traditional protest could have provided. Your silent flash mob is on the leading German news website as one of the top stories today (http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/nazi-party-in-minneapolis-als-juden-verkleidet-zum-flashmob-a-961040.html), so hundreds of thousands over here will see it. Well done!

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  8. These actors were not real Nazis. They're actors.
    The event was not about "celebrating Nazism", but more about just sharing camraderie as part of a generic working group. These guys probably practice together. "Drill" together. Share tips on where to get the best uniform props and costume gear. And their costumes are just that, costumes which while being historically accurate, are NOT authentic. You can't re-enact WWII without someone playing the Nazis. If the local Nazi Party USA chapter were to have a rally in my town, I'd be the first to join a counter-rally across the street. But these actors are more likely historians who believe in an accurate re-enactment of history.
    Hey, even Gregory Peck played Mengele.

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    1. And Gregory Peck was brilliant in BOYS FROM BRAZIL.

      If you have direct knowledge about the clothing or artifacts being actors' props and costumes you might want to share that with CITY PAGES. I believe they were looking for that information. Also, information about where this group was performing as re-enactors; that would be super. I know there were a number of people trying to find confirmations of performances, but were unable to find anything.

      To date, none of the actors' organizations have confirmed memberships for these guys...at least that we've heard. So if you do know for sure...please feel free to share the information. It might help to ease public opinion.

      That said, they can have all the parties they want. They can dress up as Nazi wives if they want. Our _sole_ purpose in demonstrating was to remember the victims. As Americans, we also have that right.


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  9. And you never see the jews say iam sorry for the holodomor in ukraine in 1933 and no matter what the jews never did nothing wrong in in there history? I yell loud to them jews HYPOCRITE

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    1. Sir or Madam Anonymous,

      You need to take a class is history. The Holodomor was a product of the Russian government against the people of Ukraine. While there were Jews who became Socialists and Communists in the early days of the party, by the 30s, most of them were gone. The few remaining identified as party members, not as Jews.

      Of course, the Jews had every reason to hate the Ukrainians. There were so many mass murders of Jews in the Ukraine that people lost count. The word Pogroms was invented for those events.

      This is a blog for thinking, thoughtful people in search of a place to have conversation and an exchange of ideas. You, Sir or Madam, are a fool; a bigot and a fool. In this nation, you have the right to speak your mind no matter how bizarre or devoid of reality your statements are.

      Please go get an education, then come back to have a civil, non-moronic discussion about blog topics. Thanks for playing.

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