‘Unacceptable mistake’: German army apologizes for Nazi uniform Instagram post

The German army on Wednesday apologized for posting a photo on Instagram of a military uniform complete with two Iron Crosses bearing the Nazi swastika and appearing to celebrate it as "retro".

'Unacceptable mistake': German army apologizes for Nazi uniform Instagram post
A sign for a Bundeswehr office in Cologne. Photo: DPA

After media reports sparked outrage, the army removed the picture of the
Nazi-era Wehrmacht uniform and explained that it was an “unacceptable mistake”.

The Bundeswehr said it was seeking to do a photo-essay on the influence of military uniforms on fashion through the ages but failed to provide the correct historical context in its captions.

“We are very sorry,” it said.





Liebe Community, wir möchten uns entschuldigen! Uns ist gestern ein inakzeptabler Fehler unterlaufen. Wir haben ein Foto von einer Wehrmachtsuniform, die für einen Film genutzt wurde, gepostet. Die Uniform ist ein Ausstellungsstück in unserem Militärhistorischen Museum in Dresden. Dieses haben wir aber historisch nicht eingeordnet und zudem mit einer falschen und unpassenden Bildunterschrift versehen. Beabsichtigt war, eine Fotostory zum jahrhundertlangen Einfluss von Uniformen auf die Mode zu zeigen. Leider haben wir bei der Vielzahl der von uns erstellten Fotos dieses fälschlicherweise veröffentlicht. Das alles hätte so natürlich nicht passieren dürfen. Extremismus jeder Art ist bei der Bundeswehr ein absolutes No-Go. Wir untersuchen jetzt, was da schief gelaufen ist und wie wir das in Zukunft verhindern können. Es tut uns sehr leid! Wir arbeiten daran, die gewohnte Qualität unserer Beiträge wieder zu erreichen. /Social Media Team (Fotos: #Bundeswehr) #milstagram

A post shared by Bundeswehr (@bundeswehr) on Nov 27, 2019 at 2:15am PST

“The uniform is an item on exhibition in our military history museum in Dresden. But we did not correctly label the image historically and gave it a wrong and unsuitable caption,” it added on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

READ ALSO: Outrage grows over Hitler masks on sale in Prague

Bild daily, which first reported on the photo, said it carried a “Retro” sticker and bore the caption “To this day, military style elements remain in haute couture”.

The Bundeswehr has over the years repeatedly come under fire over embarrassing associations with Germany's militaristic past.

Last year, then defence minister Ursula von der Leyen ordered the Bundeswehr to cleanse itself of all links to the Wehrmacht, after learning that steel helmets and memorabilia of the Nazi-era army were openly displayed at one of its barracks.

She also ordered barracks still named after WWII figures, like field marshal Erwin Rommel, to be stripped of their names.

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German justice contaminated by Nazis in post-war years

Germany's justice system was still filled with former Nazis well into the 1970s, as the Cold War coloured efforts to root out fascists, according a damning official inquiry presented Thursday.

Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report
Professors Friedrich Kießling and Christoph Safferling present their report "State Security in the Cold War". Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

In the 600-page collection of findings entitled “State Security in the Cold War”, historian Friedrich Kiessling and legal scholar Christoph Safferling focused on the period from the early 1950s until 1974.

Their research found that between 1953 and 1959, around three in four top officials at the federal prosecutor’s office, which commissioned the report, had belonged to the Nazi party.

More than 80 percent had worked in Adolf Hitler’s justice apparatus, and it would take until 1972 before they were no longer in the majority.

“On the face of it they were highly competent lawyers… but that came against the backdrop of the death sentences and race laws in which they were involved,” said Margaretha Sudhof, state secretary at the justice ministry, unveiling the report.

“These are disturbing contradictions to which our country has long remained blind.”

‘Combat mission’

It was not until 1992, two years after Germany’s national reunification, that the last prosecutor with a fascist background left the office.

“There was no break, let alone a conscious break, with the Nazi past” at the federal prosecutor’s office, the authors concluded, stressing “the great and long continuity” of the functions held and “the high number” of officials involved in Hitler’s regime.

Chief federal prosecutor Peter Frank commissioned the study in 2017. The federal prosecutor’s office is one of Germany’s most powerful institutions, handling the most serious national security cases including those involving terrorism and espionage.

With more than 100 prosecutors, it is “the central actor in the fight against terror,” the report authors said, underlining its growing role in the decades since the September 11th, 2001 attacks in the United States.

The researchers were given unfettered access to hundreds of files labelled classified after the war, and found that rooting out alleged communists was often prioritised over other threats, including from the far right.

“In the 1950s the federal prosecutor’s office had a combat mission – not a legal but a political one: to pursue all the communists in the country,” the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung said in a summary of the report.

‘Recycling’ Nazis

The fact that West Germany widely used former officials from the Nazi regime in its post-war administration had long been known.

For example, Hans Globke served as chief of staff and a trusted confidant to former conservative West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer between 1953 and 1963 and was responsible for recruitment to top posts.

However, Globke had also been a senior civil servant in the Nazi-era interior ministry and was involved in the drafting of the 1935 Nuremberg race laws that imposed the first dramatic restrictions on Jews.

In recent years, systematic digging into the past of key ministries and institutions has unearthed a troubling and previously hidden degree of “recycling” of Third Reich officials in the post-war decades.

A 2016 government report revealed that in 1957, more than a decade after the war ended, around 77 percent of senior officials at the justice ministry had been members of the Nazi party. That study, also carried out by Safferling, revealed that the number of former Nazis at the ministry did not decline after the fall of the regime but actually grew in the 1950s.

Part of the justification was cynical pragmatism: the new republic needed experienced civil servants to establish the West German justice system. Furthermore, the priorities of the Allies who won the war and “liberated” the country from the Nazis were quickly turned upside down in the Cold War context.

After seeking to de-Nazify West Germany after 1945, the aim quickly shifted to building a capitalist bulwark against the communist threat. That approach often meant turning a blind eye to Germans’ previous involvement in the Third Reich.

In recent years, Germany has embarked on a twilight attempt to provide justice for concentration camp victims, placing several former guards in their 90s on trial for wartime crimes.