NATO office at Texas Air Force Base removes imprint of notorious Nazi fighter pilot and plane
WASHINGTON (JTA) — After complaints from Jewish staffers, the headquarters of a U.S.-based training program for NATO pilots has removed from display a framed print glorifying a Nazi fighter and his plane , who wears the swastika insignia.
The Air Force Times, an independent news site, reported on Monday that German Air Force Colonel Stefan Kleinheyer, who is in charge of the joint Euro-NATO jet pilot training program, snagged in front of his office at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas a framed print of a World War II Messerschmitt 262 fighter plane, bearing a swastika on its tail.
The framed print features a cameo portrait of Wolfgang “Bombo” Schenck, a decorated Nazi fighter, and another square with Schenck’s signature.
Air Force base personnel, including a number of Jewish personnel, last week alerted an advocacy group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to the existence of the print and on Tuesday afternoon, an Air Force public affairs officer, First Lt. Daniel Lindstrom, informed the foundation that the frame with the print and the cameo and signature had been removed.
Schenck shot down nearly two dozen Allied aircraft and joined in the blitzkriegs of Norway, Poland, and France. He died in Germany in 2010.
Staff members told the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is headed by Jewish Air Force veteran Mikey Weinstein, that there are three other etchings elsewhere on the base that depict airplanes and Nazi hunters. Military personnel who complain of discrimination and religious coercion often go through Weinstein’s independent foundation in order to remain anonymous and avoid retaliation.
The foundation and Jewish Veterans of the United States asked the commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing, Colonel Brad Orgeron, to remove the other prints. The joint Euro-NATO project operates under the aegis of the 80th Flying Training Wing.
“With members who defeated the fascists in World War II, with members whose loved ones perished in action in World War II, with members who survived the Holocaust, and with members descended from survivors of the ‘Holocaust, the JWV sees no place for the image of a hero to the Nazis at a United States military installation,’ Jewish War Veterans said in its letter to Orgeron.
Weinstein, writing in the brutal manner for which he has become known, has called for an investigation.
“This ‘art’ triumphantly shows Nazi aircraft emblazoned with the despicable swastika on those planes for all to see,” he said in a statement. “The MRFF demands that these repugnant paintings be immediately and permanently removed from public display and that this whole sordid affair be investigated aggressively and swiftly.”
Weinstein also called for the removal of Kleinheyer, the German officer. It is unclear whether the Nazi aircraft and Nazi fighter fingerprints predate Kleinheyer’s installation as NATO training unit commander.
Lindstrom, the Air Force spokesman, said in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the four paintings would undergo a “review directed by the commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing,” Orgeron. He did not say whether the three prints elsewhere on the base had been removed.
Another spokesman, George Woodward, told the Air Force Times that there were no previous complaints about the prints. “No one in a leadership position at the 80th Flying Training Wing,” NATO training program “or Sheppard AFB endorses the Nazi swastika, or the ideology it represents,” said Woodward at the news site.
Schenck, despite his Nazi past, is celebrated in some aviation circles for his pioneering role in experimental techniques and aircraft. There is an online market for prints of Nazi aircraft and prints signed by Schenck and other prominent Nazi air fighters.