Belfast Telegraph

Are we ever going to call out our own Nazi killers?

By Lindy McDowell

A funny thing happened on the way to the aftershow party. In an era when poking "fun" at the weak and vulnerable regularly passes for humour, a comedian took a swipe instead at the rich, powerful and fashionable.

At a GQ magazine event in London sponsored (reportedly to the tune of a quarter of a mill) by design firm Hugo Boss, Russell Brand took to the stage immediately after London Mayor Boris Johnston.

"Glad to grace the stage where Boris Johnston has just made light of the use of chemical weapons in Syria," Brand remarked. (Surely not, Boris?)

He added: "I mention that only to make the next comment a bit lighter because if any of you know a little bit about history and fashion, you'll know Hugo Boss made the uniforms for the Nazis.

"But they did look f****** fantastic, let's face it, while they were killing people on the basis of their religion and their sexuality."

At one point Brand held his finger under his nose to mimic the most notorious moustache in history and goose-stepped a bit around the stage.

As he handed over to the next "turn", the occasionally caustic Noel Gallagher, he commented: "Good luck getting more offensive than that, son."

From the sponsors' (and indeed organisers') point of view, offensive, undeniably.

The thing is, it was also completely accurate. Hugo Boss, founder of the firm that still bears his name, did make uniforms for the Nazis and did make a substantial profit from the work. Boss used both prisoners of war and slave labour in his factories.

After the war he was ordered to pay what was described at the time as "a very heavy (financial) penalty" but in retrospect, seems like a pittance in the circumstances.

The firm not only survived but flourished to become the design powerhouse it is today.

Just because a firm has a past doesn't mean it can't have a future? Granted. But conveniently for Boss, that whole messy business of dressing the genocidal SS – which Hugo had boasted about in Thirties adverts – had, in the post-war years, been neatly tidied from sight.

What a seamstress might refer to as invisible mending.

Then Russ let rip and it was all out in the open again. The stuff that other people knew about but were much too polite to talk about. Not exactly the Emperor's new clothes. More the Dictator's old ones.

These things don't go away. Unlike a tailor updating last year's wider lapels, attempts to rework – or rewrite – history tend eventually to come apart at the seams.

What will history make of the main players in our own Troubles for example?

The peace process has been built upon bringing on board (and keeping on board) those whom we coyly refer to as "former combatants".

Almost 4,000 human beings were killed in the course of the conflict but organisations which are happy to acknowledge their general role in the "war" are entirely in denial when it comes to specific atrocity.

Their "war" has been retailored by these "former combatants" on both sides into one-size-fits-all culpability. For now they have it stitched up. And for now nobody has the stomach to pull them on it. Not like some gobby comedian at an awards shindig.

How history in the long term will view them is another matter though. Unspoken, uncomfortable truths never really go away.

And just because "former combatants" have a future doesn't mean they don't have a past.

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