An annual festival that features reenactments of historical events that occurred in Michigan turned nasty on Sunday when a group of men playing the parts of Nazis posed with a Nazi flag for a photo that drew attention on Facebook.
It was the third year that Nazi reenactors appeared at the River of Time festival, held in a Bay City park on the banks of the Saginaw River.
Mike Bacigalupo, director of the Bay County Historical Society, told Michigan Live, “I’m going to need to take a long, hard look at this and make sure we are vetting people and making them understand that they need to be very sensitive — especially because of what’s going on in the country right now.”
Organizers had asked this year’s Nazi reenactors — part of the 9th SS Hohenstaufen Living History Group, which is based out of Metro Detroit — not to display World War II flags carrying Nazi symbols.
One of the group’s reenactors, Steve Cook, said those featured in the photo were relatively new and were behaving “foolishly.”
Cook, a Nazi soldier for 10 years, said, “We’re going to put the message out a little harder to those guys that they need to be respectful of the public.”
He added, “Had I seen that photo happening, I would have stopped it and made them aware, but I didn’t see it.”
Cook said that his group was neither political nor paramilitary, but existed solely for re-enactment.
The woman on the photo shown taking a photograph on her smartphone is reportedly the mother of one of the men.
One Bay City resident said he thought the event could do without Nazi reenactors.
“I think there are some parts of history that we can overlook for this event,” said C.J. Miller. “I think it’s time to move on from the hatred and bigotry and move on. We need to move past that.”
The woman who posted the offending photograph on Facebook, Sandra Rogers, said, “If we’re going to have Nazis, where are the Viet Cong? Maybe we should bring in ISIS or the Taliban.”
“River of Time needs to go back to being about education on American and Michigan wars.”
Event chairperson Jan Rau said the German group was invited three years ago to participate in River of Time when they re-enacted as World War I soldiers.
“They’ll switch who they are portraying to stay fresh and offer something new,” Rau said. “That’s very common of reenactors.”