The owner of the restaurant under fire for hosting a Nazi-themed party is defending the decision.
"They are like actors ... like Hollywood," Mario Pierzchalski, the owner of Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit, told KARE 11. "They are like movies. They are using props. They were using flags, uniforms hats and boots, you know. They are not a Nazi white supremacist."
The northeast Minneapolis establishment and the group of World War II re-enactors that organized and attended the January event were widely criticized after photos of the dinner – featuring men clad in Nazi SS uniform and flags with swastikas hanging from the rafters – circulated online.
Once the photos got out, a debate started: At what point does authentic historical re-enactment become an insensitive demonstration?
The Star Tribune spoke with one of the organizers, Scott Steben. He says the event was an exercise for actors who often take on the part of soldiers at fairs and in movies.
“By no means do we glorify the edicts of the Third Reich,” Steben tells the paper.
The group has screening measures in place to prevent people with a criminal history or neo-Nazis from joining, he adds. That's similar to sentiments noted by two other members of the group after the pictures came out.
Pierzchalski offered support for the group to the Star Tribune. He's hosted the party – held in January, and always on a Monday when the restaurant is closed – for six years now. While the photos don't show it, he says there were men dressed as Italian soldiers, and one American soldier too.
“Those people are very peaceful people,” he tells the paper. “They are not any politicians or any against politics or against the parties here. They are just actors.”
Jon Boorom, a member of the WWII Historical Re-enactment Society who says he was at the event, described it to CityPages as a Star Trek convention, but for WWII enthusiasts.
"If you wear a German uniform or a Nazi uniform, it's not like you're saying, 'I think Hitler was super cool' or 'I hate Jews' or 'I hate gays' or 'I hate democrats,'" he said. "You're not there because you believe in what Hitler stood for – you're there to educate people about history, and a lot of that is so people don't forget."
He said the dinner is an annual event during the group's slower season, held for 16 years now.
Now though, Pierzchalski is getting threats, he tells KARE. Some of them are scary.
"They want to burn my building down," he says.
He tells KARE he's not sure about renting the restaurant out for such a party again. According to the Star Tribune, he's leaning towards not hosting it again.
Steben was profiled by the Pioneer Press in 2011. He and about 20 others played German soldiers in a special combat unit as part of a WWII re-enactment on the Dakota County Fairgrounds in Farmington. He's been doing re-enactments for 15 years now, the paper reported, and has spent thousands of dollars to support the hobby.
Boorom, by the way, played a Soviet soldier in that particular re-enactment.
The WWII Historical Re-enactment Society, of which Boorom is a member, wrote a post on its Facebook page, saying it never "hosted, supported, or financed" a dinner or event at Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit.