A living history day held on National Trust (NT) land has seen the trust criticised for making money from an event labelled as “fascist fetishism”, after Nazi items were reportedly on sale and an original Star of David fabric patch was displayed.
The NT said the displays were insensitive and unacceptable, and that it was seeing “what lessons can be learned” from the event – while emphasising that it was not itself directly involved in the event.
An attendee told The Sun newspaper how she had cried and felt “bewildered that nobody else seemed to be offended by what was going on”, describing displays as “fascist fetishism”.
The BBC and Jewish Chronicle reported that the same attendee described seeing two men wearing black SS uniforms at the Lacock at War event, which took place on NT-owned grounds on 18 and 19 August.
About 8,000 people attended the event, which was in its seventh year.
She told the Jewish Chronicle: “There were people who had stalls selling memorabilia. I came across a black SS beret with the skull in front.
“Then I saw in someone’s cabinet a Jewish Star of David on an armband, displayed next to other things like Nazi stationery. It was someone’s personal collection that they’d put on display.
“So I decided that we should leave. I was feeling very uneasy. As we left I saw two men strutting into the event in what appeared to be full black SS officer uniforms. That was the moment when I physically couldn’t stand up anymore and I had to sit on the floor.
“I burst into tears. These guys had this expression of complete smugness, and I got this real feeling about them, that they didn’t get to wear this very often but they were really loving the fact they were wearing it that day.
"I just don’t know what would possess someone to put that on and walk about with such a swagger.”
A National Trust spokesperson told Museums Journal: "We are aware of concerns raised over a living history event held at Lacock over the weekend and have contacted the organisers for an urgent explanation.
“The event was organised by the Military Vehicle Trust (MVT) and included uniforms and materials, which understandably caused distress and led to a complaint.
“We will make it very clear to the MVT that these displays were insensitive, unacceptable and should not be repeated. The event took place on the village playing field, which we lease to Lacock Parish Council. The Trust has no direct involvement in the event itself.
“Historical re-enactments can help raise awareness of important and difficult moments from the past and bring stories to life in an engaging way. We don’t therefore have an issue with re-enactments in themselves but do believe they should be done sensitively and in a way that genuinely helps people learn more about the historical context of the period.
“We’re looking into what happened at Lacock this weekend to see what lessons can be learned from it. We also recognise the organisers had no intention of upsetting anyone with their event.”
Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said: “Museums need to think carefully about which organisations they work in partnership with and what the public perception of those partnerships might be.
“The Museums Association’s Code of Ethics clearly states that museums should ‘avoid all private activities that could be construed as trading or dealing in cultural property’ and while the transactions in this case might have been conducted by third party organisations the reputation of the NT has been potentially brought into disrepute by association with the event.”
John Wardle, the secretary of MVT, told the BBC: "One of the traders was selling Nazi memorabilia. There's nothing illegal about selling Nazi memorabilia.
"There were no Nazis at the event – there were people dressed in German uniforms but they weren't Nazis."
Wardle also told the BBC that there had been no complaints in the past.