[Important Update/Correction, May 29: “Hugo Boss did not design Nazi uniforms, he did manufacture them, was a war profiteering Nazi scumbag who used forced labor, but he did not design the uniforms,” writes Fake History Hunter (@fakehistoryhunt). More information here.]
When I was last in Beirut in 2019, I bought a pair of Hugo Boss jeans. I’m not in the habit of buying designer clothing — and these jeans were definitely counterfeit — and the only reason I did is they cost the equivalent of $7. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I discovered — someone told me recently, but I’m blanking on who — that Hugo Boss was an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler and designed uniforms for the SA, the SS, Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht.
It’s an incredible feat of corporate whitewashing that so few people know this. I’ll note that’s based on an unscientific survey of half a dozen friends, all whom were as shocked as me to find out that Hugo (1885-1948) thought Hitler was the boss.
In 2011, the company he founded published a book about Boss’s love affair with the Nazis. It was written by Roman Köster, an economic historian at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. Here’s a snippet from a story — click the link above — about how the book came to be and Boss’s Nazi past:
During World War II, the firm used 140 forced workers kidnapped by the Gestapo from Poland, as well as 40 French prisoners of war, in its production of Wehrmacht uniforms. Although this has been known since the de-Nazification court hearing of Hugo Boss himself after the war, the subject has only recently been studied by academics on request of the company…
Boss joined the Nazis and promptly received a contract to supply party uniforms. After the war Boss was to say that this was a specific deal into which he entered to save his company.“That may have been the case, but one may not interpret Hugo F. Boss’ remarks to mean that he was personally far from National Socialism. That was certainly not the case,” wrote Köster in his book.
Both Köster and Boss state that although his work was funded by the company, there was absolutely no editorial influence. By 1938 the firm was focussed on producing Wehrmacht uniforms. The company profited and grew during the Third Reich, but it did not become one of the industrial giants, nor did it as far as Köster could tell, play any part in designing uniforms. It was a typical mid-sized firm, he concludes.
The firm’s turnover rose until 1942, when Hugo Boss was put into a fixed-price system which gave companies which produced uniforms at the lowest prices, good conditions on the supply of raw materials – and workers. Hugo Boss used forced labourers, mostly women, and French prisoners of war from April 1940, after several textile firms in the region worked together to take workers from the Polish textile centre of Bielsko – with the help of the Gestapo. The report says the male forced labourers were kept in a barracks owned by the firm while the women were initially housed with local families while a camp was built for them.
Anyway, I’m just publishing this because I thought it was fascinating (and it’s Friday and I’m pretty fried, been another long week). It sounds like the author Köster did first-rate research, though it seems obvious that the company’s goal was to prevent negative PR in the event that an independent historian or journalist who was hostile to Boss were to write about his Nazi past. However, to its credit, the firm had disclosed Hugo Boss’s ties to the Nazis in 1997, 15 years before the book was published.
Have a good weekend and see you Monday.