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Posted Sunday, August 26, 2007

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David Irving at Beltring show July 2007

TV super-reporter John Sweeney needs help, says historian David Irving (above). Sweeney sees moustaches everywhere. A few minutes before this young Oxford University student asked for a photo with him Irving was filmed -- without invitation -- by Sweeney and his roving team at the Beltring militaria show. David Irving had a moustache, says Sweeney. What had he smoking? "He was sporting a slight toothbrush moustache like a white version of Robert Mugabe -- a comparison I did not care to mention." The rest of his report was of similar accuracy. High Court judges too sometimes hallucinate, says Irving, and see things in books that aren't really there at all.

London Sunday, August 26, 2007

Weekend Nazis have ways to make you shiver

by John Sweeney

THE last time Fred Roberts met Nazi troops it was on D-Day and he did not like the cut of their jib. Six decades on, the old soldier came across them again in a field in Kent: "I don't like it. I still feel a little bit shivery."

I know just a little how the Normandy veteran might feel. The SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (LAH) division were strutting their stuff at the War and Peace Show at Beltring in Kent -- it's Glastonbury with panzers -- when I bowled up to them.

The SS LAH are not the real thing, of course, but make-believe Nazi soldiers in a reenactment society called the Second Battle Group who spend their weekends, along with second world war American GIs and British reenactors, going "bang--bang you're dead".

The event looks like good muddy fun, but is all of it?

The SS LAH, for example, was originally Hitler's bodyguard, Aryan supermen to the heels of their jackboots. So when you have got the whole of the second world war to play with, why do 200-odd mainly British men choose to impersonate fanatics? Why be weekend Nazis?

One re-enactor who plays a Tommy from the Leicestershire Regiment said the British were outnumbered 10 to one by the Nazis and speculated that some "like the dark side".

All the SS uniforms are kosher, so to speak, but Second Battle Group's website does not mention the war crimes of the Waffen SS in general or the SS LAH in particular. In one example, the SS LAH took heavy casualties in the fighting around Dunkirk in 1940 when the retreating British did not fold. So Hitler's chosen lined up 80 British prisoners of war from the Royal Warwickshire and Cheshire regiments and shot them dead.

I asked one blond, floppy-haired Aryan specimen, an SS LAH soldier standing in a scout car, about the bad history. The sinister lightning flash runes of the SS were clearly visible on the lapel of his uniform.

SS Floppy: "We don't represent the SS as such. We're an armoured division."
Sweeney: "But the SS was a Nazi fighting machine that went around killing people."
SS Floppy: "I don't know about Nazi -- I'm Jewish." He did not volunteer the name of his rabbi.
Sweeney: "But the SS did commit massacres. If you're going to do this you should do it accurately."

SS Floppy called out to an officer on the other side of the scout car for help, not realising the full magic of television. Our sound man moved his boom microphone and picked up every word: "F****** get rid of him, Glen, because I'm going to f****** whack him otherwise."

Oh dear, it must have been the SS at a bad moment.

The more they were asked why they chose to reenact an Aryan killing machine, the more the SS turned and ran away from me. Finally I caught up with Sturmscharfuhrer -- which is something like Brown Owl, only more so -- Glen Swallow.

Sweeney: "You've decided not to talk to the BBC -- why's that?"
Sturmscharfuhrer Swallow: "No comment."
Sweeney: "You're wearing SS uniform -- why do you choose to reenact a Nazi racial supremacist fighting machine?"
Swallow: "No comment." Sweeney: "Why is it impossible in England in the 21st century to answer my questions?"
Swallow: "No comment." A colleague with a hidden camera caught up with Swallow outside the beer tent in the small hours of the morning where he was chatting to a reenactor from another SS group.

Swallow appeared to have been in the British forces and was happy to comment about black soldiers -- "all these f****** herberts out of Africa: they're a waste of time"; and about the "PC" culture inside the British Army, and Muslims.

The SS LAH and Second Battle Group say that they have no truck with racism or extremism and will be conducting an internal investigation.

Tiny working AFV model

This year the War and Peace Show attracted record numbers -- 100,000, including Roberts -- to look at military vehicles, savour the bang-bang and check out the uniforms of yesteryear.

The Living History community are, on the whole, glorious British -- and some European -- eccentrics. Most do the second world war. However, some of what goes on is very strange indeed.

Among the show's 1,000 stalls are some where the public can pick up Nazi knickknacks. One trader, from Belgium, was selling a "concentration camp trolley" from Belsen for £550. When challenged, he said: "That's just a wooden thing with iron on it. That trolley didn't kill anybody. It's not a bomb or a bullet. It's just a trolley."

When it was pointed out to him that the trolley was advertised as "a concentration camp trolley marked SS from Belsen", he replied: "There's a difference between politics and collecting.I don't do politics."

Someone who does is David Irving, the historian who last year finished a jail sentence in Austria for Holocaust denial. He was sporting a slight toothbrush moustache like a white version of Robert Mugabe -- a comparison I did not care to mention.

He was at a stall selling his books, believed by many people, including a judge in a High Court case, to deny the Holocaust. He offered a handshake. I hesitated and shook -- to be told I had now shaken the hand that had shaken the hands of more people who had shaken the hand of Hitler than anyone else.

Rex Cadman, organiser of the War and Peace Show, later said that Irving had not been invited by him or anybody involved with the show and he would not encourage the attendance of "a man whose views are so abhorrent". He added that the show's organisers have always tried to police the stalls and he regretted "the unacceptable stupidity" of a tiny minority.

Weekend Nazis: John Sweeney reports tomorrow Monday, August 27, 2007 on BBC1 at 8.30pm .

Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd

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