Stacy Kravitz‘s series of photographs of re-enactors depicting World War II Germans is interesting partly for her inclusion of herself in the pictures:
For three consecutive years, Kranitz participated in nearly weeklong Battle of the Bulge re-enactments at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Pennsylvania. She took on the part of Leni Riefenstahl—the “super brilliant,” “gifted,” but ultimately “fucked up” German filmmaker behind the infamous Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will—with whom she’d been fascinated since she was 15.
While Kranitz and Camp were mostly well-liked at the Pennsylvania event, their presence was always contentious. They were the subject of many suspicious message board threads, and were once nearly told to leave an event. It didn’t help that, at the beginning, Kranitz’s Riefenstahl costume was “awful” and she mostly failed to cover up her modern Nikon camera with the prescribed historical camouflage.
To make matters worse, Kranitz is Jewish, a fact that didn’t escape her subjects, some of whom had histories as members of hate groups. Initially, she was accused of being an Israeli spy, and once, while hanging out at a recreated French Resistance café, she was singled out by Gestapo re-enactors, taken outside, and “shot.”
In my experience of the British re-enactment scene, I’ve not seen any evidence of “histories as members of hate groups” among those who depict German World War II units. Mostly these re-enactors go out of their way to tell you they’re not Nazis and to explain they deliberately chose to represent the Wehrmacht or regular army units. The few who do portray the Waffen SS are often shunned by other re-enactors and lurk on the fringes of events, but even they would say they’re depicting history with its warts, not expressing any hatred.
Of course, acceptability does depend partly on one’s own particular viewpoint. To my British eyes, British and American World War II re-enactment groups appear uncontroversial, the Italians too, but a group depicting our allies, the Red Army, provoked a completely-different reaction from a Polish friend. Other 20th century re-enactors also walk this fine line between good and bad taste, so for instance Spanish Civil War enthusiasts only seem to be Republicans and no-one wants to be on Franco’s side. Earlier periods are affected too, but how can the American Civil War be portrayed without the Confederate flag? Surely depicting a period can’t make someone guilty of endorsing its crimes and darker aspects, even when those events are within living memory. Still, I think it’s far better to stick to the 17th century.
Thanks to Richard Baker