absa-jewish-achievers-2017

Flying the Nazi flag ‘wasn’t the brightest idea’

  • nazi flag
It’s not every day you see a Nazi swastika hoisted on a flag pole above the walls of an ordinary Johannesburg home.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Jul 27, 2017

German-speaking Northcliff resident, Klaus Weber, bedecked in a soldier’s uniform, raised his flag on July 15, for all to see. A couple of hours later, he reluctantly took it down.

Outraged Melville and Northcliff residents reacted to the larger than life insignia like a bull to a red flag. And Weber apparently had no idea “what all the fuss was about”.

“It was only for a few hours,” he snapped in frustration, following social media backlash and WhatsApp frenzy.

Refusing to comment, the crotchety former soldier, appeared livid by a letter he received from the Jewish Board of Deputies asking him to remove it.

“I have done nothing wrong,” he blurted in a thick German accent when the Jewish Report confronted him for comment.

“It is a free country, this is not hate speech,” he insisted.

Weber, a German-soldier-supporting “living historian”, belongs to a society of German military memorabilia collectors and re-enactors.  

He and members of his group, which meets monthly, are angered by the hullaballoo. They insist it is their right to meet, dress up and re-enact scenes from history.  

At the Weber home, his daughter - who would not reveal her name - told the Jewish Report the flag flying  “was for a movie”.

Then she added: “I have Jewish friends, we are not hateful people. It’s what they do, they get together in the uniforms and discuss history.”

In a Facebook apology, she explains: “It was not meant to promote any hate or to hurt anyone. That was not the intention. The flag is part of a historic film that my father is making... and not to insult anyone.”

She admitted: “It wasn’t the brightest of ideas,” but she assured everyone “it was taken down the same day. I live there so I know. We are not hateful and disgusting people. There has just been a misunderstanding...”

There is no movie, however. Klaus and company are not movie directors. They are “re-enactors” with authentic costumes and artefacts. They have a private collection spanning “several wars and periods in history”.

Weber’s daughter said her family had received threats which were very “upsetting”.

Her Facebook apology says: “Please except (sic) our deepest & sincerest apologies if we have offended anybody... I apologize & on behalf of my family & the parties that were involved I apologize, it will certainly not happen again... Honestly the intentions were pure!”

According to the spokesman of the group, Alan Surmon, they proudly belong to a “historical and educational” society called PDOK which stands for the Prussisch Deutsches Offiziers Kasino or equally befuzzling the Prussian German Officer Society. 

“PDOK strives to honour and preserve the memory of those who served in German wars of independence, world wars as well as preserve the artefacts of that period,” reads its Facebook page.

Its mission is to “bring to life” the culture, “virtues” and traditions of the German military. And they do this by public displays and exhibits at educational and community events such as air shows and arms fairs where they put on shows.

Surmon, of Alberton, himself a retired soldier in the South African Air Force and colonel in the police force, explained this week: “We are not a right-wing group. We re-enact battles and moments in history; we cover all wars and we bring history alive by wearing the uniforms and using the flags and memorabilia of that period in time. We have 27 flags, including even an Israeli flag.”

He insists they honour soldiers “of all races and all nations”.

“We are non-political students of military history, pursuing our interests with a leaning towards Prussian German history.”

They steadfastly believe they are “not harming anybody” and that history “cannot be swept under the carpet”.

He laments that the situation has been “taken out of context” and has spiralled out of control.

“There has been a lot of unpleasantness and nastiness. At the end of the day we have not broken any rules. We live in a free society.”

The Board of Deputies received several complaints from outraged community members, prompting it to send a letter to Klaus Weber.

David Saks of the Board, said this week: “It’s not at all clear-cut. Displaying swastikas in the context of military history education and heritage for example in military history museums, is obviously no problem, and likewise if displayed in the context of bona fide artistic expression like when it featured in a playbill advertising a performance of cabaret a couple of years ago.

“The grey area is whether or not displaying swastika images for evident purposes of identifying with and showing support for the Nazi ideology, falls within the boundaries of the right to freedom of expression.”  

He said that the Board did not intend taking further action.

Saks added: “Most South Africans would likely be repelled by Nazism being promoted in a public space, particularly as hard-line white supremacists associated with it so closely during the apartheid era. Jews, understandably, see it as being both an ugly insult and a veiled threat, hence they tend to react very strongly.”  

Richard Freedman the director of the South African Holocaust and Genocide Foundation said: “There are lots of grey areas here. One cannot be simplistic in one’s response; one has to be nuanced and proceed with caution. It comes down to context. If it’s about glorification, celebration and profiteering, then it becomes problematic.”

Saks further explained: “In terms of South African law, everyone has the right to freedom of expression. However, this right does not extend to expression that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate, among other things, “a clear intention to… promote or propagate hatred”.

It could be plausibly argued that a public demonstration expressing support for and/or identification with Nazism, falls into this category of prohibited hate speech.

But Surmon disagrees. “If you ban one flag you have to ban all flags. Where do you draw the line? We abhor war, no one has learnt from the past; there is a certain kind of madness.”

Yes, indeed, there certainly is. 

2 Comments

  1. 2 Louis Joffe 28 Jul
    Mr Surmon,you are obviously not concerned with the fact that the swastika is a symbol of such a bad and evil time for the Jewish people.It is for me personally,and I am sure many other people very offensive.Many Jewish families through out the world have had family members murdered by nazis who used that symbol.
  2. 1 A GOLDMAN 29 Jul
    there was a similar uproar when our own rightwingers in SA were flying the old South African flag.....  not nice not done.

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