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 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.
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 has 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 an 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 Face Book, 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 forgot those who perished at the hands of the real SS officers.”
As abhorrent as that party wa, 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.