German fashion house Hugo Boss, with stores in 110 countries around the world, is usually known for its high-end mens and womenswear: trendy, sometimes androgynous, typically classy. What it is less known for, and certainly less proud of, is its brown shirts. Yes, those brown shirts.
On Thursday, the fashion company issued a formal apology for its wartime record following the publication of a new book – one that they themselves commissioned-- which reveals new details of their Nazi past. The company wished to: "express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule,” they wrote on their web site.
The fashion house commissioned the book, explained Philipp Wolff, senior vice president of communications, after years during which they were periodically confronted with allegations and rumors suggesting their founder designed the Nazi uniform or was even Hitler’s personal tailor.
“We don’t want and have never wanted to hide anything, but rather want to bring clarity to the past. It’s our responsibility to the company, our employees, our customers and everyone interested in Hugo Boss and its history,” said Wolff in a statement.
It has long been known and documented that Boss, who founded his company in 1924, provided uniforms to the Nazis, and after the war he was fined for his dealings with the party. But he always maintained, until his death in 1948, that he had only joined up to protect his business.
But, according to the book, “Hugo Boss, 1924-1945:The History of a Clothing Factory During the Weimar Republic and Third Reich,” written by Roman Koester, an economic historian at the German Armed Forces University in Munich, the fashion house’s involvement with the Nazis went further, with the firm not only providing uniforms for the Waffen SS, but also taking advantage of the Nazi campaign by using forced labor in its factory.
According to Koester’s findings, a total of 140 Polish forced laborers, mostly women, as well as some 40 French prisoners of war, were made to work for Boss during the Holocaust. They were housed in a camp in one area of the factory, and lived in extremely poor conditions with "uncertain" food and hygiene levels.
Koester does note that Boss tried to improve the workers living conditions and their food situation in 1944, a year before the war ended. "We can only repeat that the behavior towards the forced laborers was at times harsh and involved coercion, but that concern for their welfare was also displayed, rendering simplistic characterizations impossible," he writes.
The author also notes that Boss was one of more than 15,000 German factories producing uniforms during that period. “There is no indication that the Hugo Boss company played any kind of leading role in [the uniform production] sector. Nor do the available sources indicate in any way that it was involved in designing uniforms.”
Hugo Boss is far from the only big company to apologize for it’s role during the war in recent times. The past year has seen companies such as Ikea and the French national railway SNCF both forced to admit unsavory roles played at the time.
Swedish billionaire Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of the Ikea furniture chain, who, according to a book published this year is said to have actively recruited people to the fascist Sweden's Socialist Union (SSS), admitted that involvement was youthful "stupidity", and the "greatest mistake" of his life.
Meanwhile, also this year, Guillaume Pepy, the SNCF chairman, made a formal public apology directly to Holocaust victims after American lawmakers, survivors and their descendants moved to block the company from winning contracts in the US if it did not acknowledge its role in the shipping of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps.
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