The Liberty Gazette
June 19, 2018Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Carlos was hurrying through his sandwich so he could make his reserved time slot to fly a glider at the Soaring Club of Houston. He asked about our latest trip to Eastern Europe—which countries we visited, how we liked it, etc. I had noticed his t-shirt when he first walked in the clubhouse. I wondered if he knew much about the person whose name he sported: clothing designer, Hugo Boss. So I responded, “Interesting that you’re wearing that shirt. It’s relevant to our trip.”
Having taken the private military history tour on the island of Vis, off the Adriatic coast of Croatia, I knew who Hugo Boss was. So I told Carlos about how we crept inside the dark tunnels used by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Amid the billions of mosquito-looking bugs that didn’t bite but were thick as grease in the air, and the bats chasing them for a feast; amid the dank underground maze were remnants of the Cold War. A pair of shoes, left just as they were when Yugoslavia collapsed and everyone abandoned the nuclear hide-out. Also left, still resting on a hanger in an officer’s quarters, is a molding army uniform jacket.
Nano, our guide, pointed his flashlight toward the uniform and quizzed us. “What do you think that is? Doesn’t it look like a Nazi uniform?”
“But it’s not. It’s the uniform of the Yugoslavian army. Made by Hugo Boss. He made the Nazi uniforms too, so they look really similar.”
Carlos was immediately skeptical of my information and retrieved his phone from his pocket for quick research. “Yep. You’re right. Hugo Boss, designer of the Nazi military uniforms.” While he didn’t tell me his thoughts at that moment, his expression seemed to convey a bit of discomfort at the realization of the history represented on his shirt.
Mike: Hugo joined the Nazi party in 1931. After WWII he was stripped of his voting rights and could not own or operate a business in Germany. Years later, that decision was commuted when officials believed he was just a follower rather than an activist and beneficiary. But that probably meant little to Hugo, who had died in 1948. The Boss company ownership was passed to Hugo’s son-in-law and later taken over by grandsons who commissioned a study into the company’s past.
In 2010 the company issued a statement of regret and apologized for participating in the production of military uniforms for the Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s army of killers. But they also argued that their grandfather was not the designer. Rather, his company was one of fifteen thousand small manufacturers supplying the German army, possibly by force or threat.
Regardless who designed it, the tattered glob of fabric hanging in the dingy bunker on the island of Vis, a hundred and eighty feet below ground, does look similar to a Nazi uniform coat.
It is not for us to say what was in Hugo Boss’s heart and mind, but it’s a reminder to consider how we spend our money.