MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The Iron Cross today’s youth likes to bear

EARL McRAE January 1 1967
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

The Iron Cross today’s youth likes to bear

EARL McRAE January 1 1967

The Iron Cross today’s youth likes to bear

It’s cheap, it annoys adults and it’s also illegal. But nobody cares

JOHN LEDDY is a 19-year-old resident of Yorkville, Toronto’s make-believe Bohemian village. Leddy, like many of his pals, wears a large black and silver Iron Cross around his neck. His girl friend bought it for him. “I tell people my old man carried it back from the war after swiping it from a Nazi,” says Leddy. “They believe me. But the real reason I wear it is to see how it bugs people. I got nothing against the Jews, but man, they give you dirty looks.”

Jews aren’t the only people offended by the Iron Cross fad. The West German embassy in Ottawa, conscious that the Iron Cross has been a German military decoration since 1813 and has little to do with the Third Reich, feels its country’s honor has been tarnished. Recently the embassy politely complained about the sale of Iron Crosses but was told that legislation in this field is “inadeqúate.”

Strictly speaking, however, the wearing (if not the sale) of fake Iron Crosses is illegal in this country under Section 362 of the Criminal Code. That section says it is a crime punishable on summary conviction to wear unearned military decorations—domestic or foreign.

It’s also a crime to wear “any mark or device or thing that is likely to be mistaken for any such mark, medal, ribbon, badge, chevron, decoration or order."

Hermann Holzheimer, a West German consul in Toronto, says there is no doubt at least some of the Iron Crosses — especially the most popular ones — "are likely to be mistaken” for the real thing. Rod Cormack, Ontario’s assistant to director of public prosecutions, thinks the chances of successful prosecution would be good if somebody wanted to lay charges against the Iron Cross faddists.

But Cormack, like the West German embassy, feels an amendment to the Criminal Code is needed to cover the manufacturing of the crosses. "The MP who brought an amendment to the Code up in the House would be a very smart member indeed,” he says.

John Beattie, the Canadian Nazi Party leader, has his own theory. "It’s a Jewish invention to ridicule Germany but it's backfiring,” says Beattie. "Just the other day I heard a boy with an Iron Cross snap ‘Heil Hitler' to a friend. Subconsciously he was satisfying his craving for a symbol related to a great era in history.”

The Canadian Jewish Congress has had numerous complaints about the crosses but plans no action. One Jewish businessman, 49-year-old Harold Fagan, says he has sold “thousands of crosses” in his downtown Toronto record bar. "I’m not trying to hurt the Germans or anything,” says Fagan. “It’s just a fad. You have to forget the past.”

There’s little doubt that teenagers, if not the West German embassy, equate the cross with the Nazis. They were first adopted a year ago by the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang in California to complement their jackboots and German helmets. Nicknamed "surfers’ crosses” by manufacturers, the ugly trinkets rolled across the continent on a wave of teenage rebellion. The crosses currently come in a dozen different sizes and designs and retail anywhere from one dollar to $20 for a sterling-silver version.

American psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers .says the Iron Cross has the

three basic ingredients of a successful fad. It (a) costs less than three dollars, (b) is repulsive to adults and (c) is repulsive to adults without being so to the user. Dr. Brothers says the Angels adopted the cross “as a crutch for the toughness and masculinity they lack.”

All this is small consolation to the West German embassy, which has given up trying to interest parliamentarians or police forces in enforcing what law Canada does have on the subject. There is some chance the Iron Cross may be banned under new laws recommended by the “hate propaganda” report presented to parliament last fall by a committee under McGill’s Dean Maxwell Cohen. That report is still being considered.

“We would not do this to a Canadian decoration in our country,” says Dr. Kurt Oppler, the West German ambassador. “Naturally we are upset, but we are afraid if we say too much we will only make the situation worse."

EARL McRAE