Saturday, June 23, 2007

Wisconsin farmer sets up Hitler memorial

MILLARD, Wisconsin (AP) — A retired farmer who says he served in the German army during World War II is building a memorial on his farm to a leader he says is woefully misunderstood - Adolf Hitler.

Ted Junker, 87, says his goal is to clear up inaccuracies about the war and Hitler’s role in it. He disputes that Hitler was to blame for starting the war in which 50 million people died, including roughly 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

“I like the U.S.,” Junker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a Wednesday story. “I can’t understand why people don’t know the truth. This is for understanding, not hate.”

But many residents and others are objecting to the memorial, a concrete structure nestled on the side of a tree-lined hill overlooking a pond, which Junker said cost $200,000 to build.

“I’d say he’s full of bull,” said the Rev. John Donnelly, a professor of history at Marquette University. “I’m sure he looks back and wants to say that he was not serving a super evil man, the most evil man in (the 20th century),” Donnelly said. “He’s looking for some kind of personal sense of redemption, and I don’t think he can be taken seriously at all.”

Kathy Heilbronner, assistant director of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations, described Junker as a classic Holocaust denier. “In making these assertions, he’s deliberately choosing to ignore the overwhelming volume of everything that supports every aspect of the Holocaust,” Heilbronner said.

Junker, who was born in Germany and lived in Romania during Hitler’s rise to power, said he volunteered to join the German Waffen SS in 1940 and served in Russia. He came to the United States in 1955 and worked as a janitor in Chicago. He bought his farm in Wisconsin’s Walworth County 43 years ago.

Michael Cotter, the county’s deputy corporation counsel and director of land use and resource management, said Junker had proposed an elaborate Hitler memorial and information center in 2001. That proposal called for 20 rooms, a 300-seat meeting hall and a radio station. But after visiting the site for the first time on Monday, Cotter said there is not much to see.

“I was expecting to see Lugers, uniforms, helmets and pictures - a museum. I don’t think it’s a museum, but I don’t think it’s a storage shed, either,” he said. Local officials are worried about the attention the memorial will draw.

“He’s just a mixed up old man,” said Sugar Creek Town Chairman Loren Waite. Waite, who is worried about the attention the memorial is attracting for the town, said Junker told local officials he was going to build a tractor shed, not a Hitler memorial, and he has not applied for a conditional-use permit he would need for the venture.

“As long as it was just on his (farm), that was one thing, but now that he’s gone public, we’re afraid of what’s going to happen here,” Waite said. The memorial is slated to the public on June 25.

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