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In Poland, Nazi Uniform Sales Cause Unease

The firms sell mainly to history buffs and film companies. But some fear the World War II replicas are falling into the hands of extremists.

October 15, 2006|Monika Scislowska | Associated Press Writer

POZNAN, Poland — Andrzej Frankowski holds up a Nazi-era German army jacket and says the officer who wore it must have fought in the hot deserts of North Africa.

"You can tell by the thin fabric it has been made from," Frankowski says, running his hand over the faded olive green jacket.

It's an original that he uses as a model for the replicas meticulously crafted in his cramped workshop.

Frankowski runs one of a handful of companies in Poland that make copies of Nazi uniforms -- a surprising business in a country subjected to six years of Nazi occupation that cost millions of lives during World War II.

His firm sells mainly to film companies and history buffs, although some people fear that uniforms he offers via the Internet may be falling into the hands of far-right extremists.

On one recent day, a few women in his workshop in the western city of Poznan hovered over sewing machines making copies of the uniforms worn by Poland's despised wartime occupiers. They also make related paraphernalia, including armbands saying "Der Fuehrer."

"This is my idea for business and for offering jobs to people," said Frankowski, 36. "I could also make Chinese uniforms, no problem, if only there were a demand for them."

The German invasion of Poland in 1939 started World War II, during which Poland lost more than 6 million citizens -- half of them Jews. Today, bitterness toward Germany persists in day-to-day politics and among older Poles.

Frankowski insists there is no ideology behind what he produces in his little work space, squeezed into an attic above a car repair shop that his family owns in a neighborhood of warehouses and empty lots.

He said the uniforms he makes -- some 5,000 annually -- include replicas of British, Polish, Russian and American army wear and are used in films and historical reenactments, a popular activity for history buffs.

He says his clients come from Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and the Czech Republic. A complete uniform sells for about $820, he said.

Officially, there is no market in Germany because displaying Nazi regalia is illegal there, but Frankowski said he buys originals at armaments fairs in the German cities of Bremen, Stuttgart and Kassel.

Boguslaw Woloszanski, a popular scriptwriter of state-produced TV documentaries about the war, said businesses like Frankowski's help reconstruct history faithfully.

"You could not make a historic film or a reenactment scene without them," said Woloszanski, who has bought historical uniforms from Hero Collection, another producer in Poznan.

Perhaps reflecting the sometimes strongly negative reaction to the work, Hero Collection declined to talk about its products. The company's website says it has supplied uniforms for such movies as the Oscar-winning "The Pianist," the TV film "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" and the Italian movie "Karol: A Man Who Became the Pope." Making uniforms requires great historic knowledge and accuracy, Woloszanski said. For example, a German uniform from 1939 cannot have a badge awarded to soldiers in 1941 for destroying Soviet tanks.

An anti-fascist group, Nigdy Wiecej -- Polish for Never Again -- worries that some of the uniforms and accessories are being sold to neo-Nazis. The group monitors the sale of such uniforms on Internet auctions sites and believes more are sold than are needed for reenactments and films, activist Jacek Purski said.

Frankowski dismisses that concern. He says far-right extremists dress mainly in black leather jackets and high boots, not in historic uniforms, and most could not afford a full uniform.

Piotr Kadlcik, leader of Warsaw's Jewish community, said he felt "distaste rather than indignation" over the idea of anyone wanting to own or wear a Nazi uniform, which he said would point to insufficient education about World War II.

"I would raise questions over their state of mind and education and also about their parents or their friends who see them wearing such uniforms," he said.

The law is clearly on the side of companies like Frankowski's.

"The making and selling of uniforms is not a crime," said Miroslaw Adamski, a spokesman for prosecutors in Poznan. "If someone uses the product for other purposes than intended, you cannot blame the producer -- like in the case of knives or gasoline used for arson."

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