“That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”  --Flak88 (aka Marc Garlasco), wehrmacht-awards.com, 2005

“To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention” --HRW statement, September 8, 2009

On September 8, Omri Ceren (MereRhetoric) published a fully documented report clearly showing that Human Rights Watch’s “senior military expert” and coauthor of numerous reports condemning Israel, Marc Garlasco, is an avid collector of Nazi memorabilia.  This revelation follows NGO Monitor’s research report on HRW’s pattern of false and unsupported claims in relation to Israel, and lack of professionalism and anti-Israel activism among some HRW officials, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa division.

In the wake of the Garlasco revelations, HRW has issued several defenses [1]  which claim Garlasco is a “student of military history”; that he also collects US AirForce memorabilia;  and that the objects involved are “not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged.”  

HRW’s justifications of this deeply disturbing revelation ignores the core moral issues, particularly given Garlasco’s central role in HRW’s extensive condemnations of Israel (see list and links below), which exploit the values of universal human rights.  Garlasco is deeply immersed in the world of Nazi memorabilia, demonstrating HRW’s total insensitivity to the implications of relying on a “military expert” who flaunts Nazi symbolism to lead the demonization of Israel.

This issue adds to the other factors that demonstrate the urgent need for a detailed and independent investigation of HRW’s publications (particularly on Israel), employment practices, decision making process, agenda setting, methodologies, and bias.

Collecting Nazi Memorabilia Is Not an Innocuous Hobby

HRW’s defense seeks to justify Garlasco’s behavior by claiming, “many military historians including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from [the Nazi era].”  But the collecting of Nazi memorabilia is not simply an innocent hobby engaged in by “students of military history.” It is highly controversial and in many European countries, it is illegal.  Such trade is banned on many internet sites and from auction houses.  Christies’ Chairman has stated that Nazi memorabilia, is “the only thing we categorically will not sell.” Writer Susan Sontag likens its collection to pornography and the Simon Wiesenthal Center notes it “glorifies the horrors of Nazi Germany.”

Garlasco’s Hobby Borders on the Obsessive and Flaunts Nazi Symbolism

According to HRW’s response, “Garlasco’s own family’s experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides . . .” While Garlasco’s interest may have been a result of his family history, his hobby borders on the obsessive and is one-sided.  He has posted thousands of comments on Nazi memorabilia sites including Germancombatawards (981 posts) and Wehrmacht-awards (7735 posts).  In one post, he notes that he takes his collection of medals (many of which are swastika-adorned) out on a yearly basis to admire and photograph.  He has even gone so far as to say he would “kill” to obtain a piece. [2]  HRW claims Garlasco also collects US Airforce memorabilia.  Research conducted by NGO Monitor could not find any evidence that Garlasco’s interest in US military memorabilia approaches the level to which he is devoted to Nazi paraphernalia.

HRW’s defense also claims that Garlasco collects “German Air Force medals and other objects (not from the Nazi Party or the SS, as falsely alleged).”  Yet, Garlasco’s screen logo is a picture of a German badge with a swastika.  In a 2005 comment, responding to a posting of a photo of a leather SS jacket, Garlasco wrote, “That is so cool! The leather SS jacket makes my blood go cold it is so COOL!”  The jacket owner replies, “Great feedback mein Freund! . . . Gott mit uns [God is with us]!]. 

Most disturbingly, Garlasco’s screen moniker is Flak88.  While this is the name of a German anti-aircraft gun (alarming on its own), the number 88 is a code for “Heil Hitler” and is used by neo-Nazis to identify themselves.  The same screen name, Flak 88, was adopted by a poster at the white power website, stormfront.org.  It is reasonable to conclude that Garlasco would have been fully aware of this symbolism when he chose this name. He even uses it on his license plate (a practice which is banned in Germany) and as a screen name on websites unrelated to his Nazi collection. 

It is bizarre enough for a “human rights” activist to choose the name of a gun as an internet screen name and for his car license plate. Coupled with the neo-Nazi iconography, however, the adoption of “Flak88” as Garlasco’s alter ego is evidence at the very least of highly questionable moral judgment.

Garlasco’s “Monograph” is a 430-Page Tome on Swastika-adorned Nazi-era Medals

HRW explains that Garlasco “is the author of a monograph on the history  of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals.” [3]  In fact, his ‘monograph” is a 430-page tome on collecting Nazi-era medals – many adorned with swastikas.  The website of his publisher, B&D Publishing LLC, is named ironcross1939, a military badge reinstated by Hitler in 1939 and awarded to such infamous Nazis as Hermann Goring.  It is also a symbol adopted by the neo-Nazi movement.  Garlasco himself has posted photos of himself wearing a sweatshirt with an iron cross.  In response to the photo, a poster notes, “Love the sweatshirt Mark. Not one I could wear here in germany though (well I could but it would be a lot of hassle).” Garlasco responds, “Everyone thinks it is a biker shirt!” to which Skip answers, “Yeh, were [sic] you come from but imagine walking around in Berlin with ‘das Eisene Kreuz’ written across your cheat [sic]. Either you get beaten to pulp by a group of rampaging Turks or the police arrest you on suspicion of being a Nazi.”

The “Military History” alibi

Nazi memorabilia sites frequently use the cover of “military history”, invoke family histories, and claim that participants also collect Allied memorabilia. In a situation analogous to the Garlasco case, one poster on a related internet site suggests ways a fellow poster could overcome criticism of collecting Axis memorabilia:

…I decided that the best way to do it is to show that you are a "military historian" and in that fact show that you not only collect German and Japanese militaria, but American, British or anything generally related to World War II. That shows that you are interested in the conflict rather than "just the bad guys".

If you are like me, then you started collecting after receiving some individual pieces of militaria from a grandfather or vet. I think making a point of starting to research these artificats and hearing the vets stories is what got you interested in the hobby is also a very innocent and honest way to give a positive outlook to our collecting.

Regarding Garlasco’s 430-page opus, HRW defense declares that “in the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that ‘“the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.’”   Was this statement a calculated move precisely for this situation?  Indeed, prior to publishing, Garlasco used the site www.germancombatawards.com to post the following query:

Flak88: So I am trying to figure out what to do. My book is clsoe to done, but I am not sure if I should put my name on it. If folks at work found out I might very well lose my job. That is the reality, so don't dwell on it - ok? But this is a small group of people - should I worry? And shouldn't I stand up for myself? And if I use a psyeudonym isn't that worse, like I am trying to hide something?

A poster named “Skip” responds:

Skip:  Put your name on it and F**k ´em.

I don´t think theres much chance of anybody outside of this hobby just happening to pick such a book up. Of course, if they google you it will probably turn up but hey, like everybody said, its a reference book and not a political work.

Don´t forget in the foreword to mention how terrible war is and that your book is to remind people of this fact. Yes, WE all know this but a lot of non-historically minded people might not understand otherwise. [emphasis added]

The Websites Frequented by Garlasco and “Hate Speech”

In HRW’s version, Garlasco is “a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech).”    Yet, the threads on these sites focus on the trade of Nazi memorabilia, not historical research.  And the historical postings tend to glorify the German army, particularly the Nazi army.  Several of the posts within hours of Ceren’s exposeé in MereRhetoric on Garlasco express disturbing sentiments about Nazism, World War II, and Israel.

  • Even a quick search of this guys name "Omri Ceren" will reveal that he is a hard core Jewish extremist, hyper sensitive to any issue even remotely concerning the Jew state, its history & population.”
  • Garlasco’s publisher, Dietrich Maerz, posted the following: “Here we go! The next step in our hobby. History doesn't count. Research doesn't count. Seriousness doesn't count. What counts is: If you attack Israel even by word or by telling some uncomfortable truth one will dig and one will find that you are a 'Nazi’.”

Implications for HRW

HRW’s attempt to characterize Garlasco as a serious military historian and to delete the obvious moral implications regarding someone so closely involved in serial condemnations of Israel is offensive and intolerable. But HRW has a long history of totally distorting the qualifications of its senior “military expert”.  HRW lists Garlasco as an author or co-author of several reports that frequently invoke claims of “war crimes” and “violations of international law” – high complex issues in which Garlasco has no expertise.  And Garlasco’s reports and media interviews include numerous examples of technological assertions and opinions on forensic examination of battle scenes and corpses for which there is no evidence.   There is nothing in the record showing Garlasco received any training in forensics.

On this scale, HRW’s multiple condemnations of Israel based on Garlasco’s allegations have done even greater moral damage than the attempt to defend Garlasco’s Nazi fetish, which primarily reflects an extreme insensitivity. The use of Garlasco’s biased and false accusations of war crimes, based on claimed technical expertise and the ability to conduct scientific forensic examinations, is libelous.

HRW’s claims are an insult to the intelligence of its readers and intellectually dishonest.  The Board members and donors clearly have the obligation to initiate a high level independent professional investigation of HRW with the goal of a complete reorganization which will end the abuse and exploitation of universal human rights. 
 

Notes

[1] The following response from HRW was posted in the Comments sections of several blogs reporting on the Garlasco story:

Several blogs and others critical of Human Rights Watch have suggested that Marc Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s longtime senior military advisor, is a Nazi sympathizer because he collects German (as well as American) military memorabilia. This accusation is demonstrably false and fits into a campaign to deflect attention from Human Rights Watch’s rigorous and detailed reporting on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Israeli government. Garlasco has co-authored several of our reports on violations of the laws of war, including in Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iraq, as well as by Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

Garlasco has never held or expressed Nazi or anti-Semitic views.

Garlasco’s grandfather was conscripted into the German armed forces during the Second World War, like virtually all young German men at the time, and served as a radar operator on an anti-aircraft battery. He never joined the Nazi Party, and later became a dedicated pacifist. Meanwhile, Garlasco’s great-uncle was an American B-17 crewman, who survived many attacks by German anti-aircraft gunners.

Garlasco own family’s experience on both sides of the Second World War has led him to collect military items related to both sides, including American 8th Air Force memorabilia and German Air Force medals and other objects (Many military historians, and others with an academic interest in the Second World War, including former and active-duty US service members, collect memorabilia from that era.

Garlasco is the author of a monograph on the history of German Air Force and Army anti-aircraft medals and a contributor to websites that promote serious historical research into the Second World War (and which forbid hate speech). In the foreword he writes of telling his daughters that “the war was horrible and cruel, that Germany lost and for that we should be thankful.”

To imply that Garlasco’s collection is evidence of Nazi sympathies is not only absurd but an attempt to deflect attention from his deeply felt efforts to uphold the laws of war and minimize civilian suffering in wartime. These falsehoods are an affront to Garlasco and thousands of other serious military historians.

In response to inquiries by Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, HRW’s Director of Communications, Emma Daly, brushed off the accusations, claiming Garlasco is merely a “student of military history.”

[2] A fellow poster replied to Garlasco's comment, “Now now, HRW boy, don't go overboard!”

[3] Although HRW apparently considers Garlasco’s work to be of historical value, it has not mentioned this dimension on Garlasco’s bio on its website.

HRW report NGO Monitor criticism
Razing Rafah Special Report: “HRW’s Report on Gaza: Lacking Credibility” , October 18, 2004
Gaza Beach Incident (series of press releases) Gaza beach incident: Timeline of HRW involvement and activities June 9-21 2006, June 21, 2006
Why They Died (2nd Lebanon War) NGO campaigns in the Lebanon War 2006
Flooding South Lebanon (2nd Lebanon War) Human Rights Watch’s Cluster Munitions Report: Under the Façade, February 17, 2008
Gaza War (series of press releases and media interviews) NGO Monitor’s monograph: The NGO Front in the Gaza War: The Durban Strategy Continues, February 2009
Rain of Fire (white phosphorous) HRW’s “Rain of Fire”: Neither Thorough Nor Impartial, April 2, 2009
Precisely Wrong (drone attacks) Absolutely Wrong: Analysis of HRW report, “Precisely Wrong: Gaza Civilians Killed by Israeli Drone-Launched Missiles”, 30 June 2009, Aug. 6, 2009