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Hugo Boss comes clean on Nazi past

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Photo: DPA
14:30 CEST+02:00
Fashion firm Hugo Boss, long rumoured to be Adolf Hitler's favourite tailor, has published a report on its less than laudable record during the Third Reich.

The book, called “Hugo Boss, 1924 – 1945”, traces the life and times of Hugo Ferdinand Boss, born in 1885, who founded a clothes factory in Metzingen, Baden-Württemberg in 1924.

During World War II, the firm used 140 forced workers kidnapped by the Gestapo from Poland, as well as 40 French prisoners of war, in its production of Wehrmacht uniforms.

Although this has been known since the de-Nazification court hearing of Hugo Boss himself after the war, the subject has only recently been studied by academics on request of the company.

An initial study written under contract by Hugo Boss by a Münster academic Elisabeth Timm was not published, although she later posted it online, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported on Wednesday.

Now a book commissioned by the firm from Roman Köster, an economic historian at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, has been published.

He wrote that one of Hugo Boss' first big contracts Boss snared was for Rudolf Born, and included brown shirts for the then fledging Nazi party.

Uniform supplier

Boss joined the Nazis and promptly received a contract to supply party uniforms. After the war Boss was to say that this was a specific deal into which he entered to save his company.

“That may have been the case, but one may not interpret Hugo F. Boss' remarks to mean that he was personally far from National Socialism. That was certainly not the case,” wrote Köster in his book.

Both Köster and Boss state that although his work was funded by the company, there was absolutely no editorial influence.

By 1938 the firm was focussed on producing Wehrmacht uniforms. The company profited and grew during the Third Reich, but it did not become one of the industrial giants, nor did it as far as Köster could tell, play any part in designing uniforms. It was a typical mid-sized firm, he concludes.

The firm's turnover rose until 1942, when Hugo Boss was put into a fixed-price system which gave companies which produced uniforms at the lowest prices, good conditions on the supply of raw materials – and workers.

Hugo Boss used forced labourers, mostly women, and French prisoners of war from April 1940, after several textile firms in the region worked together to take workers from the Polish textile centre of Bielsko – with the help of the Gestapo.

The report says the male forced labourers were kept in a barracks owned by the firm while the women were initially housed with local families while a camp was built for them.

Awful conditions

Several larger Metzinger firms clubbed together to build the camp, which opened in 1943 and where food and hygiene conditions were sometimes awful.

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Hugo Boss tried to at least sometimes improve things for the workers there, with an application in 1944 to house his workers himself, and attempts to improve their food situation. Although the forced labourers lived under unpleasant conditions, in comparison to the situation of other forced labourers, their treatment was relatively better, concluded Köster.

After the war Hugo Boss was tried and found to be ‘tainted' by his involvement in Nazi structures, and fined 100,000 reichmarks, the second highest fine dealt to anyone in the area of Reutlingen. He later appealed the decision, which was then downgraded to a conviction for being a ‘follower' of the regime.

Yet Köster concludes that, “It is clear the Hugo F. Boss did not only join the party because it led to contracts for uniform production, but also because he was a follower of National Socialism.”

A statement on the firm's website said: “Out of respect to everyone involved, the group has published this new study with the aim of adding clarity and objectivity to the discussion. It also wishes to express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule.”

The Local/hc

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