Saturday, October 14, 2006

Polish firms carve out niche with Nazi uniforms

Andrzej Frankowski runs one of handful of companies in Poland that make copies of Nazi uniforms. Firm sells mainly to film companies and history buffs, but some fear uniforms he offers via internet may be falling into hands of far-right extremists

Andrzej Frankowski holds up a Nazi-era German army jacket and says the officer who wore it must have fought in the hot deserts of North Africa.

"You can tell by the thin fabric it has been made from," Frankowski says, running his hand over the faded olive green jacket.

It's an original that he uses as a model for the replicas meticulously crafted in his cramped workshop.

Frankowski runs one of a handful of companies in Poland that make copies of Nazi uniforms - for many Poles a surprising business in a country subjected to six years of brutal Nazi occupation that cost millions of lives during World War II.

His firm sells mainly to film companies and history buffs, although some people fear that uniforms he offers via the internet may be falling into the hands of far-right extremists.

On one recent day, a few women in his workshop in the western city of Poznan hovered over sewing machines making copies of the uniforms worn by Poland's despised wartime occupiers. They also make related paraphernalia, including armbands saying "Der Fuehrer."

"This is my idea for business and for offering jobs to people," said Frankowski, 36. "I could also make Chinese uniforms, no problem, if only there were a demand for them."

The German invasion of Poland in 1939 started World War II, during which Poland lost more than 6 million citizens - half of them Jews. Today, bitterness toward Germany still resonates in day-to-day politics and among older Poles.

Complete uniform sells for USD 820

Frankowski insists there is no ideology behind what he produces in his little work space, squeezed into an attic above a car repair shop that his family owns in a neighborhood of warehouses and empty lots.

He said the uniforms he makes - some 5,000 annually - include replicas of British, Polish, Russian and American army wear and are used in films and historical re-enactments, a popular activity for history buffs.

He says his clients come from Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and the Czech Republic. A complete uniform sells for about USD 820, he said.

Officially, there is no market in Germany since displaying Nazi regalia is illegal there, but Frankowski said he buys originals at armaments fairs in the German cities of Bremen, Stuttgart and Kassel.

Boguslaw Woloszanski, a popular script writer of state-produced TV documentaries about the war, said businesses like Frankowski's help reconstruct history faithfully.

"You could not make a historic film or a re-enactment scene without them," said Woloszanski, who has bought historical uniforms from

Hero Collection, another producer in Poznan.

Perhaps reflecting the sometimes strongly negative reaction to the work, Hero Collection declined to talk about its products. The company's Web sites says it has supplied uniforms for such movies as the Oscar-winning "The Pianist," the TV film "Hitler: The Rise of Evil" and the Italian movie "Karol, the Man Who Became the Pope."

To make uniforms requires great historic knowledge and accuracy, Woloszanski said.