Along the Eastern Front
It is August 1944 and Soviet forces have smashed through the German lines near the Vistula River in Poland. Several German units have been cut off and are trying to get back to the main German lines before the counterattack can begin. Soviet forces are trying to hunt these groups down and find the new German lines. There are local Polish resistance units working in the area, but they have to be careful. The Germans will kill them, and the Soviets aren’t much better.
That was the scenario presented by Richard Tucker, a member of the Living History Association, when he invited me to witness a “tactical” reenactment in Stamford, Vt., last month.
When I arrived at the remote site near the Massachusetts border, Tucker greeted me dressed in the uniform of a Waffen-SS Untersturmführer, a Walther P38 pistol at his side. His appearance was disturbing, but he explained that he and his compatriots “go as immersive as possible” at such events.
While the Soviet impersonators sought historical accuracy, the dozen or so German soldiers seemed to take it a step further, banning sleeping bags, for example, in favor of wool blankets on straw. “German units are popular with veterans because the discipline is more like what they’re used to in the military,” said Tucker, an ex-Marine who served a tour of duty in Iraq.
Tucker and others said they were well aware of the sensitive nature of portraying soldiers of the Third Reich. “It’s all about preserving history and telling the story to the next generation so it doesn’t happen again,” Tucker said. “Your reenactors … aren’t skinheads or white supremacists. They don’t believe all that crap.”
For more information, visit www.festung.net, site of the group that portrays German second-line security soldiers, and www.3rdriflediv.org, site of the group that portrays members of a Russian rifle division.