1940s re enactment and the hidden horrors of those smart German uniforms

germans 1940s weekend

I know there has been controversy about the growth of  German uniforms visible at 1940s events ,some events have banned the presence of  “German” re enactors while others limit the re enactors movements.

I can personally see that it is essential for some re enactments to have German soldiers as it’s quite hard to have a wartime battle that doesn’t have any of the actual enemy troops  and I know that  contrary to general opinion most “Germans ” are not neo Nazis ,many re enactors have a number of uniforms which they pick and choose from depending on the event .It’s very likely that the average officer or foot soldier in German uniform has merely picked it out for the day and hangs it up at the end of the day next to his GI or RAF uniforms.

I think perhaps casual “German” soldiers might think twice about wearing their uniforms if they knew the hidden cost of its production.

german black bull

The German uniforms are without doubt some of the smartest available on the re-enactment scene well cut and elegant ,this is because they were for the most part designed by Hugo Boss and because unlike the allies Germany had more resources available.

Primarily they had no labour problems and very low costs ,they had slave labour from the concentration camps ,they had the resources of their “subject” countries and their victims.Re enactors buying German uniforms should be aware they were made with slave labour and  the products of the nazis oppression and exploitation of its conquered states and may in some cases be made with human hair from concentration camp victims.

The first claim  with regard to “slave labour” is acknowledged by Hugo boss itself

Hugo Boss has recently officially apologised for its use of slave  labour,(I use the BBC report for its clarity )


While sources have claimed Hugo Boss had a much fuller involvement with the Reich and treated its workers badly ,I have prefered to use only the company’s report as this provides the very best view of their conduct .

The company’s own report states clearly that it was closely involved and aided by the Gestapo in providing workers to make its german uniforms,it also admits to using paid but forced labour

The first forced laborers started work at the company in April 1940. At that point several
textile companies from southwestern Germany joined forces to recruit staff from Bielsko in
Poland, a major hub in the Polish textile industry. Even at this early stage, the workers were
not recruited voluntarily, but rather with the active support of the Gestapo.

After detailing the living conditions ,which were much better than in the concentration camps and stating workers were paid it also admits ,,

they had no choices as to the duties they
performed and, from 1943 onwards, were forced to live in the special camp set up for eastern
Europeans, which frequently involved considerable hardship

There are conflicting reports as to how management treated the laborers. While several
witnesses, including one former forced laborer, expressed relatively positive views of Hugo F.
Boss as an individual, there were some committed National Socialists in the company who
treated the women extremely harshly and threatened them with concentration camps etc.
Hugo F. Boss was likely not personally involved in these incidents. However, he took no
action to stop them either.

the company preferred not
to house its female laborers in the eastern European camp, partly because the poor living
conditions there affected their performance at work. This in no sense implies that the forced
laborers at Hugo Boss enjoyed good lifestyles – the existing sources show that this was not
the case.

Thus any re enactor buying and wearing his or her uniform should be aware that the people making it were almost certainly suffering from hardship and oppression .

With regard to what may seem the sensational statement on the use of concentration camp victims hair  in uniforms the sources are primary source documents and records taken from the archives ,one directive is reproduced below in full including  dates and names to the doubtful can cross check .


August 6. 1942

Amtsgruppe D – Concentration Camps
D II 288 Ma./Ha. Tgb. 112 geh.

Copy 13

Re: Use of hair cuttings

To the Commandants of the Concentration Camps Arb., Au., Bu., Da., Flo., Gr.Ro., Lu., Maut/Gu., Na., Nie., Neu., Rav., Sahs., Stutth., Mor., SS SL Hinzert.

SS Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl, Chief of the SS Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt has ordered that the hair of concentration camp prisoners is to be put to use. Hair is to be made into industrial felt or spun into yarn. Woman’s hair is to be used in the manufacture of hair-yarn socks for ‘U’-boat crews and hair-felt foot-wear for the Reichs-railway.

It is therefore ordered that the hair of female prisoners be disinfected and stored. Men’s hair can only be put to use if it is longer than 20 mm. SS Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl therefore agrees for an initial trial period to the growing of the prisoners hair to a length of 20 mm before it is cut.


Directive to commandants of concentration camps dated January 1, 1943:
“The prisoner’s hair is to be sent to Alex Zink, Fur Manufactures, Ltd., Nuremberg. The company will pay 0.50 marks for every kilogram of hair.”

for one reference chekcHarvards Nuremberg transcripts here


Likewise there exist invoices from the Bremen wool carding company

There are several known extant examples of “fabric” made with human hair from the camps

It’s also probable that leather from victims shoes  and other items of clothing were reused often  in workshops or business staffed by concentration inmates.


The possible uses rumoured were ,shoe linings ,socks ,jacket interlining and as industrial felting.Its unlikely that human hair was practical to use commercially for socks but  without doubt hair was sold to companies and hair was used to make fabric so the individual re enactor must decided how far they feel confident that their uniforms do not contain human hair fabrics.

While many German soldiers and officers were merely defending their country and were conscripts .The SS were entirely different ,committed to Nazi ideology and responsible for many of its darkest deeds.Its perhaps not widely known that not all or even most SS uniforms were black ,many SS uniforms were other colours and its possible the re enactors smart-looking outfit was once worn by a concentration camp guard or by soldiers responsible for massacres.If you are planning on buying a German uniform consider its possible history and its original context.

I feel personally that is some one is wearing a genuine black SS uniform they are probably committed neo nazis as the cost of such items is extremely high and I doubt most re enactors would be willing to pay hundreds  or even thousands of pounds for items they will hardly ever wear .Likewise I also feel it likely  if an SS uniform is in very good condition the possibilty is strong that it will be from a camp as many SS officers on active duty at the front had extreemly hard times  .

For those who still feel the attraction of the smart black SS uniforms perhaps placing them in context would remove some of their allure.Discreation os advised past this point in the post

woman and child


Holocaust Add 8 SS Guards forced to bury victims at Belsen Concentration camp mass grave liberation

women and ssIndependent of the cloth and leather used for uniforms the sale of the uniform or other related items such as deaths head rings can be directly used to support those involved in past atttrocities.There is a posting  on this site for instance offering a camp ring (ie one issued to concentration camp ss personal)


Foot note

Hugo Boss company’s official statement  can be found on their website here,there is a further link to a pdf file from which I have extracted the quotes used in this blog post.


Transcripts from the Nuremberg trials containing the documentation on victims and the camps can be found online here


Invoices for hair available to view here

List of camps and ghettos and their use of forced or slave  labour in all industries can be found below


Items offered for sale on this site show that  its accepted Dachau was used to make SS insignia(,the items are not offered for sale by a Nazi veteran however but a member of the allied forces who was involved in the liberation of the camp)


another site however offers a dager which is ,,,

The grip show the usual bumps and nicks of a dagger that was worn, but not abused. This is a textbook example according to Thomas Wittman and he has observed that these daggers were presented for, among other things, appreciation for the recipient’s participation in the action of the night of the long knives. The putting down of the Ernst Röhm insurrection. This appears to be true since this dagger came to us through a family whose relatives included a man who took part in this scenario. We had his photo collection and this documented the purge against Röhm and his associates. This is practically the ultimate in an dagger and very sought after. Condition of the blade is near perfect. Overall condition extra fine.

And an SS  ring marketed using photos of the killing squads of the SS shooting “partisans” one photo showing what is clearly an elderly priest and several old men who hardly look like seasoned commando partisans,the photo incsription is from the site itself

ss photo

and this listing also tip toes around the chasm of Holocaust denial by claiming the Einsatzgruppen were merely working in self defence against partisans,it claims,,

“For many years after the war we have heard about the horrors inflicted by these Einsatzgruppen against the Jews and other eastern peoples, and no doubt about it, this war in the east was hell personified and atrocities were, in fact, committed by these SS commandos and their ethnic anticommunist allies especially among the Croatians and Ukrainians. Yes, we have heard these stories, and they were often true, but there were the usual exaggerations that seem to be the privilege of the victors in any war’s end. But on the other side—and shouldn’t we always consider the other side? Some of the most beastly atrocities imaginable or (unimaginable) were being committed against the Germans by partisans of Tito’s forces and Russian red bandits all over …..

Into this terrible fiery conflagration enters SS-Sturmbannführer Kuno Callsen. We do not know enough at this point about his actual activities, but there is sufficient documentation to assume that he was indeed a Sonderkommando of the Einsatzgruppen. It fell to him to undertake these thankless tasks and to later be persecuted and prosecuted for doing his duty for the fatherland. We may find out more about this SS officer and we have many requests out there to various archival sources, but, so far, we know only the above”


This and similare items sell for substantial amounts


Images taken from the site below



About hathawaysofhaworth

I am a Historian and author living in the north
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11 Responses to 1940s re enactment and the hidden horrors of those smart German uniforms

  1. Pingback: The vintage fur debate a personal view | Hathaways of Haworth

  2. Pingback: Please consider signing the epetition against the use of Nazi uniforms and symbols. | Hathaways of Haworth

  3. Pingback: Haworth 1940s weekend a cheats guide to the 1940s look | Hathaways of Haworth

  4. Why do you believe that re-enactors would use real uniforms. Also by 1935 the black SS uniform became impractical for daily wear in concentration camps and was phased out, and once the war started it was only used by Allgemeine-SS reservists. By 1942 Himmler ordered most all of the black uniforms recalled and stripped of insignia.

    • Most re enactors I met or know personally would aim to have genuine uniforms ,dedicated re enactors would further aim to have something unusual and hard to find or a uniform in as close to pristine condition as possible.Its also the aim to have an entire uniform or outfit down to the socks and shoes when possible,though for most people today vintage shoes are too small.Where uniforms lack insignia or buttons etc its possible to buy replicas,but its also not overly hard to buy loose buttons or insignia.
      The SS and other German uniforms are available on the web on certain sites with a provenance provided that traces back to the camps either by photos and paperwork or by receipts,passes etc.Dress uniforms from all ranks and services are much more likely to survive in a wearable condition.

      • Robert Parise says:

        Original German uniforms are waaaay too valuable for any reenactor in their right mind to wear in the field. I can guarantee you that the vast majority of uniforms worn by German reenactors are reproductions. Field gear is somewhat more likely to be original, but still mostly repro. Hell, original GI stuff is way easier and more affordable to find and repros are still more common for a ton of stuff. And “pristine condition”? There’s a reason the term “reenactor grade” exists when it comes to vintage militaria condition. Pristine stuff ends up in someone’s collection on a manikin, not getting beat up and dirty in the field.

        So far as black SS uniforms are concerned, I’ve yet to see them worn at a reenactment (excepting Panzer uniforms which is another thing altogether) as they were never worn in the field and, as such, are indicative not of a German soldier but of a card carrying Nazi. Many events will only allow Waffen SS (the fighting branch of the SS) uniforms anyway. It’s generally bad taste to show up in any uniform more representative of the NSDAP than the German military.

      • I understand your point about vintage items and wear and tear and I the value of the uniforms as I used to work in 1940s costume at one point and the damage done to shoes by cobbles or hats in the rain was horrendous but many of those who wear the SS uniforms are not actually reenactors they dont have the same mindset and wont be doing anything to get their uniforms dirty or torn.As you rightly say ,pristine stuff ends up in collections but these Neo Nazi collectors merely use the 1940s weekends as a chance to wear their collection and dress as their heroes ,many SS dressed people hang out together at events,one 40s weekend a pub was full of ss officers a gestapo officer,Himler and some ss women guards.I do appreciate several events banned German uniforms en mass ,,though that often did not stop ss dressed “re enactors” turning up.Haworth clearly requested that re enactors didnt wear German uniforms one year as we were hosting the Anne Frank Exhibition ,yet we had German officers turn up not just at the event but also to the Exhibition.I am suprised you have never seen a black SS uniform at events as they are a common sight at events in the North I have frequently seen people in Black SS uniforms and “gestapo ” uniforms.I cant do copy and paste unfortuantly on my current laptop but if you do a google image search for ss uniforms Haworth 1940s weekend ,or gestapo uniforms 1940s weekends plenty come up.I was also present in a shop when a couple in ordinary clothing were speaking to another person about the 1940s weekend and they lifted up their lapel to show a swastika badge while saying” we will be there ,are you going ?” I imagine the other person was part of whatever group they belonged to .

  5. Duncan Stoner says:

    First of all, I think this was a good article. However, as a reenactor, few to none of my fellow reenactors (at least the ones that I know) use either original gear or uniforms. This is because of the extreme cost of said original items, and the fragility of some 70+ year old cloths and fabrics. Most commonly you’ll see original weapons, helmets, knives, and vehicles (long-lasting sort of stuff), but rarely do you see original clothing. I reenact both German and American soldiers, and not a single bit of my clothing or field equipment is original. I have some original gear, but I would never dream of taking it to the field. That’s my two cents.

    • Hi thanks for your comment ,I am sorry its taken so long to add to the blog but I had to take some time off from keyboard use ,I agree about the cost and I do understand why the post probably upset a few re enactors ,but we had a lot of issues over German uniforms and “Germans” at re enactments ,The post was trying to explain why seeing the uniforms even if they are replicas is offensive to many and to discourage buying original items, but I hope it also made clear that most people in German uniforms are not neo nazis which tends to be the assumption when theres talk of banning German uniforms at re enactments.
      At the same time I do know there is a small darker faction of true neo nazis ,,usually in SS etc uniforms who use re enactments as an opportunity to wear their collections and meet under seemingly innocent circumstances and these people are always after originals.

  6. Juan Carlos Falcon says:

    Unlike the allies, The Germans had more resources availble? With this sentence alone, you’ve managed to neutralize the objective and serious you were going for, amd turned it into a risible and distorted diatribe of drivel. Plus, you’ve gone a step beyond by including images that have long been discredited for the context in which you’ve chosen to employ them with. I can confidently state, that given the skewed hyperbole found in this article, I have never been prouder to have modeled for the House of Hugo Boss in the ’80’s.

    • I stand by the comments and research,I have taken university courses on the Holocaust and had access to a wide range of sources ,I have infact left out some details which while almost certaintly true lack photographic or online archival evidence I f you would name specific images I can add further details but the images are all from reputable sources(though some are edited down to remove the more disturbing elements and I have only used archives or other primary sources for quotes or references ,the online site links were all current at the time of posting . Hugo Boss has acknowledged that it used camp labour in its own statement on its own company site and offical comments by company spokesmen about the subject are availble widely online eg to the BBC(Hugo Boss)”express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule”. while Hugo Boss was himself tried and fined for his invovlement with the Nazis after the war ,despite claiming he joined the party only to protect his interests unlike many who were effectivily forced to join the party or Hitler youth Boss joined in the early 1930s long before it was required.Recently siwss bank accounts in Bosses name surfaced from that time.
      Re German resources ,during the early years of the war they had access to many more resouces than Britain which as an Island was subecjt to Uboat blockades,we also lost much of our military equipment during the Dunkirk evacuatuions,likewsie we unlike the Germans didnt have access to looted money ,property,art and land which the Nazis had .A significant reason for Germanys defeat was Hitlers obssesion with eradicting the Jewish peoplewhich used up resources and manpower while also loosing him key intellectuals and scientists.

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