By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON — After complaints from Jewish staffers, the headquarters of a U.S.-based training program for NATO pilots removed from display a framed print glorifying a Nazi fighter and his aircraft, which bears the swastika insignia.
The Air Force Times, an independent news site, on Monday reported that German Air Force Col. Stefan Kleinheyer, who is in charge of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, has hanging outside his office in Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas a framed print of a World War II-era Messerschmitt 262 fighter jet, bearing a swastika on its tail.
The framed print includes a cameo portrait of Wolfgang “Bombo” Schenck, a decorated Nazi ace fighter, and another square with Schenck’s signature.
Staffers on the air force base, among them 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 the signature had been removed.
Schenck shot down close to two dozen allied aircraft and joined in the blitzkriegs of Norway, Poland and France. He died in Germany in 2010.
The staffers told the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is led by a Jewish Air Force veteran, Mikey Weinstein, that there are three other prints elsewhere on the base that depict Nazi aircraft and fighters. Military personnel with complaints about discrimination and religious coercion often go through Weinstein’s independent foundation in order to remain anonymous and avoid retaliation.
The foundation and the Jewish War Veterans of the United States called on the commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing, Col. Brad Orgeron, to remove the other prints. The Euro-NATO joint project operates under the aegis of the 80th Flying Training Wing.
“With members who vanquished the Fascists in World War Two, with members whose relatives perished in combat in World War Two, with members who survived the Holocaust, and with members descended from Holocaust survivors, the JWV sees no place for an image of a hero to Nazis in a military installation of the United States,” Jewish War Veterans said in its letter to Orgeron.
Weinstein, writing in the blunt manner for which he has become known, called for an investigation.
“This ‘art’ triumphantly shows Nazi aircraft emblazoned with the despicable swastika on these aircraft for all to see,” he said in a statement. “MRFF demands that these repulsive paintings be immediately and permanently removed from public display and that this entire sordid matter be aggressively and expeditiously investigated.”
Weinstein also called for the removal of Kleinheyer, the German officer. It is not clear whether the prints of the Nazi aircraft and of Nazi fighters predate Kleinheyer’s installation as commander of the NATO training unit.
Lindstrom, the Air Force spokesman, said in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the four paintings would be subject to a “review directed by the 80th Flying Training Wing commander,” 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 had been no previous complaints about the prints. “No one in a leadership position at the 80th Flying Training Wing,” the NATO training program “or Sheppard AFB endorses the Nazi swastika, nor the ideology it represents,” Woodward told the news site.
Schenck, despite his Nazi past, is celebrated in some aviation circles for his role in pioneering experimental techniques and aircraft. There is an online market of prints of Nazi aircraft and of prints signed by Schenck and other prominent Nazi air fighters.