The organisers of a popular 1940s festival are facing calls to ban Nazi uniforms after ugly scenes saw clashes between locals and a group of men dressed in ‘deeply offensive’ SS costumes complete with swastikas.
The men were confronted by crowds on Sheringham High Street in Norfolk during the resort’s annual Second World War-themed festival at the weekend, which sees people dress up and watch aircraft from the time fly overhead.
The group of around ten to fifteen people subsequently had to be escorted out of the area during the ‘1940s weekend’ by police to stop trouble escalating.
The annual event drew up to 25,000 people across both days, many of them in period dress, with photos and video online showing dancing in the streets and family celebrations.
But the popular festivities were marred when the group in Nazi-era German uniforms assembled outside a local pub and ‘marched in unison’ through the jovial crowds.
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The men were confronted by crowds on Sheringham High Street in Norfolk during the resort’s annual Second World War-themed festival
Some of the uniforms had SS markings on their collars, representing Hitler’s infamous death squad, as well as badges featuring the ‘death’s head’ symbol and swastikas.
Their presence angered many locals with onlookers shouting at them and telling them they were not welcome.
Event marshals stepped in to ask the men to leave before police also intervened to shepherd the group away from the angry crowds.
Witnesses said the group congregated outside The Lobster pub, where they were confronted by locals.
Mike Keller, who lost family members in the Holocaust and whose father escaped Nazi Germany in the Kindertransport, was among those appalled by the sight of the uniforms.
He said: ‘It was a lovely family atmosphere and very friendly, when suddenly from nowhere there were 10-15 men dressed in authentic SS uniform literally marching in unison.
‘It was deeply offensive. These men were not milling about and blending in among people. They were marching and making a demonstration. It was frightening.
‘My father was from a Jewish family who lost his parents and brothers and sisters in death camps. He was fortunate to escape with my uncle via Kindertransport, so having to see this with my son was mortally offensive and a disgraceful act.’
Another witness said: ‘When the group gathered outside of the pub, the family-friendly atmosphere of the day fell tense. There was so much tension and shock in the air.
‘There were many jeers and heckles from onlookers. While the group stood proud, one man at the pub confronted them.
‘That’s when the police arrived and swiftly escorted the group out of town. It all happened quite quickly.’
Commenting online, visitor Julie Jones said: ‘Loved the effort of people dressing up plus their dogs. An enjoyable atmosphere too… until I spotted a group dressed in German uniform.
‘I was surprised how upset I felt and think it was totally inappropriate at a joyous occasion celebrating the good of the 40’s era.’
The incident has prompted calls to ban Nazi uniforms from future weekends and the town council has agreed to discuss proposals to make the event Allied-uniform only.
German military clothing from the period is not currently banned – although the North Norfolk Railway, which runs an associated event over the same weekend, does not permit such garments.
A spokesman for festival organisers claimed the incident had been a ‘misunderstanding’
A spokesman for the group who attended in Nazi-style uniforms admitted members wore Waffen-SS infantry uniforms but claimed they did not portray Germans
A spokesman for festival organisers said German uniforms are permitted, as long as they do not ‘promote the Nazis’.
He claimed the incident had been a ‘misunderstanding’ and that the group was there to ‘commemorate the German people’.
But an updated statement issued on the group’s website said the spokesman’s comments ‘are not representative of the Committee’s views about offence caused by a group in SS uniforms’.
It added: ‘Our volunteer marshals immediately took action with the help of the police and our volunteers escorted the group out of the town.
We are working collaboratively with Sheringham Town Council, the police and NNR [North Norfolk Railways] to reflect on what happened and prevent any future disruption to this event.’
Sheringham Town Council have said that they will discuss with Norfolk police a way to avoid a repeat situation at future weekends.
A spokesman said: ‘Sheringham Town Council has been made aware that on the Saturday there was an incident in the town that was managed by the police.
‘Sheringham Town Council will consult with the police, North Norfolk Railway and others to determine what happened and what action may be taken to prevent a recurrence.’
However, a spokesman for the Eastern Front Living History Group said the incident has been exaggerated, claiming local people were ‘shaking hands’ with them and taking photos.
The group said they have been attending the Sheringham 1940’s weekend for years, raising money for military veterans, and have never experienced any negative behaviour towards them before.
The spokesman said: ‘We do battle re-enactments, displays and educational visits across the UK, raising money for charity for wounded soldiers so they can have artificial limbs.
‘We represent the western European nations that fought against Stalin and communism during WWII.
‘We were wearing Waffen-SS infantry uniforms displaying national shields and insignia of the countries portrayed. Not one member of the group portrayed a German.
‘The uniforms were supplied by Germany, as were the weapons, to the foreign volunteers from 1941 – 1945. They’re as close to authentic as you can get.
‘As a group we’ve been attending the Sheringham 1940’s weekend for four or five years running and never had any problems before.
‘We were walking down Sheringham high street and people were stopping us, shaking our hands and wanting to take photos. It was a brilliant vibe. There was no one upset or offended at all. It was good natured fun as it should be.
‘We were a quarte of the way down the high street when a guy who was highly intoxicated approached a member of the group and assaulted him. He was foaming at the mouth – it was very scary.
‘He then attacked me and pushed me screaming about Jewish persecution and his heritage saying it was disrespectful.
‘I said to him I understood his point of view, but what we portray is a million miles from the point which was upsetting him.
‘As a group we do not tolerate any politics or any form of religious persecution. We simply won’t have it. That behaviour disgusts us and tarnishes what we do.
‘We were not asked to leave. We were leaving anyway to go back our campsite.. We felt it was the right thing to do.’
A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said: ‘A police officer on patrol in Sheringham came across a confrontation in the High Street on Saturday at about 5.30pm, involving a man and a group of people who had been attending an event.
‘The officer intervened and quickly resolved the incident. One man reported being assaulted and this is being investigated further. No one was injured during the incident.’