WASHINGTON (JTA) — An Ohio Republican running for the U.S. Congress belonged to a group that staged full-dress reenactments of Nazi SS maneuvers.
Rich Iott, a Toledo-area Tea Party-backed candidate who is challenging incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur, belonged to "Wiking" from 2003-2007, The Atlantic reported on Friday night.
Iott, a businessman, told the magazine that the group did not subscribe to Nazism.
"It’s purely historical interest in World War II," he said of the group that recreates the battles of the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, which fought on the eastern front.
Iott, who is a military reservist, added: "I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that’s incredible."
Wiking troops were involved in the Hungarian Jewish death marches.
"Any kind of reenactment or glorification of Nazi Germany, to us, would be something unacceptable and certainly in poor taste, if not offensive," Rabbi Moshe Saks of Congregation B’nai Israel in Sylvania, a suburb of Toledo, told The Atlantic. "I think the reaction here will be very negative. And not just among the Jewish community, but the broader community."
In a statement posted late Saturday on his campaign website, Iott noted that he enjoyed a broad range of reenactments, including playing U.S. soldiers in the First and Second World Wars.
"Never, in any of my re-enacting of military history, have I meant any disrespect to anyone who served in our military or anyone who has been affected by the tragedy of war, especially the Jewish Community," Iott said. "I have immense respect for veterans who served our country valiantly, particularly those who fought to rid the world of tyranny and aggression by relegating Nazism to the trash heap of history. I also believe we need to ‘never forget’ what happened to Jews during that war. "