The Republican nominee for Congress in Ohio's 9th district, Rich lott, has—at least up to this point in the campaign—been one of the National Republican Congressional Committee's favorite prospects for the 2010 election cycle. The NRCC has highlighted Iott's challenge to Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo. as Republican strategists in DC have steered money and advice to a candidate identified as one of the party's "Young Guns."
lott's not very young, But he does know a thing or two about guns.
Until recently, he was a member of a group that re-enacts World War II battles as a German Waffen-SS unit.
Iott dressed up in a Nazi uniform, carried a Nazi sidearm and, he tells The Atlantic, adopted a Nazi name—"Reinhard Pferdmann"—in order to really get into the part.
Iott explains: "Part of the re-enactor's [experience] is the living-history part, of really trying to get into the persona of the time period. In many, not just in our unit, but in many units what individuals do is create this person largely based on a Germanized version of their name, and a history kind of based around your own real experiences. 'Reinhard' of course is 'Richard' in German. And 'Pferdmann,' 'pferd' is a horse. So it's literally 'horse man.' "
Even more interesting is this bit of perspective from the website of the Waffen-SS re-enactor group with which Iott was involved:
Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a "New and Free Europe," free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.
Who were the Nazi "idealists" fighting?
People like Marion Wojciechowski.
Wojciechowski was a Polish Cavalry Platoon Commander on September 1, 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland. After the defeat of the Polish forces, Wojciechowski’s joined the partisan resistance, was arrested, tortured by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Auschwitz.
Wojciechowski survived the ordeal, married another concentration camp survivor and, in 1950, came to the United States as a displaced person.
He settled in Toledo, where his daughter attended Catholic school with a young girl named Marcy Kaptur.
Kaptur grew up to be the congresswoman from Toledo, and she has made it her personal mission to celebrate the legacy of the anti-fascist resistance during World War II. She did so as part of a broader focus on remembering the struggle against the Nazis, which saw the congresswoman lead a seventeen-year campaign to create the the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Last year, Kaptur and Wojciechowski, aged 95, arranged to travel to Poland for what the congresswoman described as a celebration of "the ideal of liberty [that] knows no geo-political boundaries."
They visited the battlefields where Wojciechowski and his comrades battled the Nazi formations that swept across Poland.
Those formations served as the basis of the Waffen-SS. They would go on to support and commit some of the most horrific war crimes of World War II, burning the synagogues and executing en masse the leaders of Poland's Jewish community, systematically exterminating the intellectual leaders of Poland in the "intelligentsia action," crushing the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto, gang-raping cancer patients before murdering them at Ochota, going house to house to murder the women and children of the Wola district.
Richard Iott and his re-enactor buddies may think that the Nazis who attacked Poland were motivated by "a basic desire to be free."
But I can't get help wondering whether, when he was playing Nazi, Richard Iott and his faux-fascist pals ever re-enacted the battles where the units that would form the Waffen-SS swept into Poland and battled the Polish Calvary?
Iott has plenty of explanations and defenses for his Nazi role-playing, and sticklers for detail will point out that different Waffen-SS units massacred innocents in different places.
But, as someone who interviewed Marion Wojciechowski several times when I was a newspaper reporter and editor in Toledo, I'm pretty sure that the freedom fighters in Poland were Marion and his fellow anti-fascists. And while there are different definitions of idealism, I prefer Marcy Kaptur's vision of "the ideal of liberty [that] knows no geo-political boundaries."