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Published: Sunday, 10/10/2010

Re-enactors: Whose side are they really on?

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The photos taken in the mid-2000s show Mr. Iott, a Monclova Township Republican, along with several other then-members of a Midwest group that re-enacts the Nazi's 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking.

RELATED STORY:

Iott under fire for past Nazi re-enactments Oct. 10, 2010

The Wiking Re-enactment Unit, whose Web site is www.wiking.org, is a self-described living history and re-enactment unit of the World War II Historical Re-enactment Society Inc. The Wiking unit features a sign that is a variation of the well-known swastika and another of the double lightning bolts that were a symbol of the SS troops.

While legal in the United States, it is illegal to display Nazi flags, uniforms, and insignia in public in some countries, including Germany and France.

"We march … We fight … We fall … We drill … We lead," says a caption. The Web site posted a 2009 Wiking recruitment video with footage that looks like a compilation of fighting scenes from World War II movies featuring battles between German and Russian troops.

"We educate," continues the video, showing men in Waffen SS uniforms talking to people in the street. "We learn," the video goes on, showing footage of uniformed men loading a machine gun. "We stand tall," concludes the video with footage of the same men marching in formation with rifles over their shoulders, "What path will you choose? Join us."

The nonprofit group describes itself as World War II re-enactors (or "living historians") of a combat group of German Waffen SS soldiers who share "interest in the German side of the war and want to tell the story of the average combat soldier of the German military."

The group calls itself a chartered group of the World War II Historical Re-enactment Society Inc. of more than 1,000 re-enactors all over the Midwest from all sides of the war.

David Jameson, the society's president, said the Wiking Re-enactment Unit is a member of his organization. "Personally I don't know any of its members," he said. "There isn't anything that would come up before the [society] board that would require taking any action [regarding them]."

He declined to comment further.

According to the group's Web site, its members are from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, "and even a couple in Canada." The unit has a full array of small firearms (which fire blanks) and engineering equipment. It has automatic weapons for rent.

Says the Web site: "Racism or any type of embracement of Nazi ideology of any kind is strictly prohibited by this re-enactment unit and our parent organization WWIIHRS, please review our disclaimer on the main page!"

"This page or anyone involved in its creation, or members of re-enactment groups listed here," says the disclaimer, "are in no way affiliated with real, radical political organizations (i.e., KKK, Aryan Nation, American Nazi Party, etc.), and do not embrace the philosophies and actions of the original NSDAP (Nazi party), and wholeheartedly condemn the atrocities which made them infamous."

The Wiking recruitment video appears to feature just one person wearing a uniform other than that of the Waffen SS. As the words "we fall" appear, the video shows what looks like a Russian soldier killing one of the Waffen SS soldiers.

Titled "Re-enactment Battles Past," a page on the Wiking group's Web site features a photo of a smiling, bespectacled, middle-age man sporting what looks like a historically accurate, detailed uniform of a Waffen SS command officer complete with the Death's Head, or Totenkopf, a skull-and-bones symbol of the SS.

The caption says, Marked 2005 Buckley Homestead, Lowell, Ind., and does not provide the name of the man playing the officer.

Dan Woodward, programs manager at Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, where re-enactments are often held, said the Wiking unit is typical for such events.

"That's usually how re-enactors work," said Mr. Woodward. "The vast majority of re-enactment groups pick a historical unit and represent it. I, for example, represent a private in the 2nd U.S. regiment at Fort Meigs, wearing a private uniform historically accurate to represent a soldier fighting in the War of 1812."

A 2002 graduate of the University of Toledo with a bachelor's degree in history, Mr. Woodward said that "history is full of good and bad. And to understand one side, you have to understand both."

Contact Mike Sigov at:

sigov@theblade.com,

or 419-724-6089.



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