A politician who for years dressed up in a Waffen SS uniform as a Nazi is now running for Congress as the Republican candidate in Ohio’s 9th district —and although he offered an apology to veterans—appeared unconcerned about the effect of his behavior on Jews.
Rich Lott participated for years in a group that re-enacted the movements of the Nazi 5th SS Panzer Wiking Division, a group whose soldiers were involved in the murder of Hungarian Jews in March and April 1945, before the surrender to U.S. forces in Austria.
Lott later released a statement on his website Saturday, however, saying, “Never, in any of my re-enacting of military history, have I meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war, especially the Jewish Community.
“I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, particularly those who fought to rid the world of tyranny and aggression by relegating Nazism to the trash heap of history. I also believe we need to ‘never forget’ what happened to Jews during that war. In fact, my respect for the military and our veterans and my concern for the victims of war is one of the reasons I have actively studied military history throughout my life.”
Asked by The Atlantic, Lott last week denied any commitment to Nazism, other than an interest in its history: “No, absolutely not,” he was quoted as saying. “In fact, there’s a disclaimer on the [Wiking] website. And you’ll find that on almost every re-enactment website. It’s purely historical interest in World War II.” Lott joined the group with his son as part of a "bonding experience" as far back as 2003.
Rabbi Moshe Saks of Congregation B’nai Israel in Sylvania, a suburb of Toledo and located in the congressional district, warned that Jewish reaction to Lott’s activities would be not be positive. “Any kind of re-enactment or glorification of Nazi Germany, to us, would be something unacceptable and certainly in poor taste, if not offensive,” he said. “I think the reaction here will be very negative. And not just among the Jewish community, but the broader community,” he told The Atlantic – which noted in a column written by senior editor Joshua Green, a weekly political columnist for the Boston Globe, there was “no specific mention of possible offense to Jews or human rights groups” in Lott's original emailed statement to the newspaper.
Although he denied any commitment to the tenets of Nazis, Lott nevertheless removed his name and all of his photographs from the Wiking group’s website. Moreover, he also carefully omitted any mention of his participation in the group from his campaign website as well.
Lott denied removing his name from the Wiking website due to political considerations and explained that it was taken off the site in 2007 after he quit the group when his son lost interest in the activity.
Retired history professor Charles W. Sydnor, Jr., author of “Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division, 1933-45,” said that groups like that the one in which Lott participated “don’t know their history… they have a sanitized, romanticized view of what occurred.”
Sydnor told The Atlantic that re-enactments such as those performed by the Wiking group are flatly illegal in both Germany and Austria, where Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was born. “If you were to put on an SS uniform in Germany today, you’d be arrested,” he said bluntly.
Lott, however, apparently had no problem with it. A member of the Ohio Military Reserves, the Ohio politician was quoted as saying that he had always been fascinated by Germany’s military prowess. “I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them,” he enthused. “From a purely historical military point of view, that’s incredible.”