published Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

World War II party organizer apologizes for Nazi items at party

MINNEAPOLIS — The organizer of a World War II party that included Nazi flags and men in SS uniforms apologized Wednesday after a photo of the event in Minneapolis provoked outrage on the Internet.

Scott Steben had said earlier that the Jan. 20 dinner was a Christmas party and an exercise for period actors. But in an apology reported by the Star Tribune on Wednesday, Steben said his group understands that some items displayed at the dinner "have made people feel uncomfortable." He said, "That was not our intent."

"We are a historical re-enactment and professional actor society dedicated to promoting understanding of World War II. In no way are we or any of our members affiliated with groups that promote the subjugation of anyone," the statement read.

Steben didn't immediately respond to a phone message and email from The Associated Press.

The dinner featured men in SS and German Army uniforms, as well as Nazi banners hung on the walls of a German restaurant booked for the event. A photo from the party was first posted online by the alternative weekly City Pages.

The dinner was held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Steben said the party was held then only because the restaurant is closed Mondays.

Two Jewish groups issued a letter Tuesday expressing concern about the party.

"Glorification and/or celebration of Nazi Germany and its military would appear to be incongruous with the nature of a family restaurant and its surrounding neighborhood," Executive Director Steve Hunegs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas said in the letter. The Minnesota Rabbinical Association supported his comments.

Mario Pierzchalski, owner of Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit, the restaurant where the party was held, earlier told the Star Tribune he has hosted the party for six years but will not do so again. He defended the partygoers, who included men dressed as Italian soldiers and one as an American soldier.

"Those people are very peaceful people," Pierzchalski said of the partygoers. "They are not any politicians or any against politics or against the parties here. They are just actors."

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