I was doing a book signing / presentation at the 2015 Dark History Con when I saw two men making the rounds. It was as if they had found a time warp, it was that realistic: one man, in his early twenties, was dressed in the uniform of a WWII American Occupational force soldier. His companion made me instantly angry; this guy was dressed as a Nazi officer, right down to the insignias.
I teach a class on Preventing Hate Crimes & Recognizing Hate Groups, so my first thought was, “how could a skinhead be allowed in here?” Then I wondered why someone would parade around dressed like a Nazi. I thought of one of my dearest friends, Esther Loeb, who spent her childhood in a Siberian forced labor camp during the Holocaust. Esther had devoted her life to teaching the evil of discrimination. How dare this guy come in here to throw it in my face!
The two men stopped to talk at the next table. I swallowed my anger to walk over and listen. I asked the WWII soldier, “Why would he choose to dress like that?”
Turns out these two men are members of the Champaign Urbana Edwardian Society, an organization focusing on “turn of the century (19th-20th) life for locals.” They also do reenactments and presentations on various periods in history. "Nazi" Dako Morfey is in his early 20s, has a wonderful wit and kindness, and knows as much history as many history professors I worked with.
Part of their mission is to teach, via the classroom, the history that did not make it into the history books. As we talked, Dako discussed the nutrition of the times, how many SS soldiers were “drafted’ into the military, many forced to follow the doctrine and wear the uniform of the SS despite their dislike of the regime. "I am the same age as many of the soldiers drafted," he said. Daniel Flora explained the impact of history – dress, food, literature, and values – on current times. The uniforms they wore included pieces worn by their actual ancestors, who fought on both sides. Besides WWI, they also study, teach, and reenact the Revolutionary War, Victorian times, WWII, and more.
As we parted ways, I had such admiration for these guys. As a professor and educator, I love they are teaching, making students think and imagine. As a history buff, I enjoy discussing how history has shaped us. And as a hate crimes prevention educator and Esther’s friend, I appreciated the fact Dako was brave enough, and smart enough, to tell a side of WWI not many people see or hear.
For myself, I re-learned a lesson I try to teach: educate yourself and learn before making judgments. Thank you, Dako and Daniel. You’re wonderful!
Learn more about my amazing friend, Esther Loeb, by CLICKING HERE
Why were they called “doughboys”? Learn by CLICKING HERE