This post is in partnership with Worldcrunch, a new global-news site that translates stories of note in foreign languages into English. The article below was originally published in Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The rumors that Hugo Ferdinand Boss designed uniforms for the Nazis, and was even Hitler's tailor, have circulated for years in the press inside and outside of Germany. And that was an image problem for the company he founded, now an international brand of men's and women's clothing with an annual turnover of nearly €2 billion.
So the Boss Group commissioned a report on the company's past from the University of Münster a study that was not published because, a company spokesperson said, it lacked "historical context." The firm then commissioned a second study that has just been published.
The German-language book, Hugo Boss, 1924-1945, sums up the company's role in Nazi Germany as follows: founded in 1924, the company made uniforms for the Wehrmacht (armed forces), the SS (paramilitary forces) and the Hitler Youth. According to Roman Köster, the Munich economic historian who wrote the book, the firm "derived demonstrable economic benefit" from National Socialism. Some 40 French prisoners of war and 140 forced laborers fabricated Nazi uniforms in Metzingen, Germany. Many of them were intimidated, Köster says, but Boss was not personally involved. There is however indication that Boss, who died in 1948, took action so that the laborers were given more food.
The book goes on to say that the Swabian entrepreneur was not Hitler's tailor, did not design the uniforms and was one of several manufacturers of Nazi uniforms, and not the leading producer. Much of what Köster writes already appeared in the unpublished first study, Hugo Ferdinand Boss (1885-1948) und die Firma Hugo Boss, which was posted on the Internet by its author, ethnologist Elisabeth Timm. She mentions a slightly higher number of forced laborers working at the factory.
Köster stresses that while the company Hugo Boss financed the book, it did not try to influence him. "My impression is that they are genuinely interested in working the issue through," he says. The company, whose majority share is owned by the British Permira group of financial investors, also apologizes for the past on its website. "Out of respect to everyone involved, the Group has published this new study with the aim of adding clarity and objectivity to the discussion. It also wishes to express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule."
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