The German defence ministry was forced to apologise on Wednesday after the military posted an image of Nazi-era uniform on social media as an example of “retro fashion”.
The uniform, complete with three swastikas, was posted on the armed forces’ Instagram account with a flashing colourful banner that read: “Retro”.
A second more detailed caption read: “Also #fashion is an aspect. To this day there are military-style elements in haute couture.”
The post was greeted with shock and anger in Germany. Gen Hans-Lothar Domröse, a former Nato commander, described it as “just plain tasteless”, while Florian Hahn, an MP from the Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU called it a “sorry post that should never have happened”.
“A uniform with swastikas is never just fashion or ‘retro’, but always a reminder of the crimes of the Nazi regime,” Cem Özdemir of the German Green party told Bild newspaper. “The Bundeswehr must now very quickly clarify how it came to be posted.”
The offending picture was swiftly deleted and a spokesman for the defence ministry apologised unreservedly for what he called an “unacceptable mistake”.
The uniform, which featured a Nazi eagle and swastika insignia as well as two Iron Crosses from the era both bearing swastikas, is reportedly a prop from the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie.
It was posted on Instagram by a civilian employee who claimed he had used the wrong photograph by mistake, the spokesman said, describing it as an “extremely annoying case of thoughtlessness”.
The incident was an embarrassment for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Angela Merkel’s heir apparent, who took over as German defence minister in the summer.
It comes after her predecessor, Ursula von der Leyen, launched a high-profile campaign to remove remaining Nazi insignia from barracks and other military sites.
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“I expect a comprehensive explanation from AKK of how the picture came to be on the Bundeswehr account,” Tobias Lindner of the Green party said, using a popular shortening of Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s name.
“Anyone who is so oblivious to history must not post for our Bundeswehr,” said Marcus Faber of the opposition Free Democrats (FDP).