What was he thinking?

After dressing up as a Nazi soldier, Prince Harry apologizes for his "poor choice of costume."

Published January 13, 2005 2:04PM (EST)

Britain's Clarence House Wednesday night was forced into a major damage limitation exercise after Prince Harry was pictured in Nazi uniform at a fancy dress party. The photograph, splashed across the front page of the Sun, showed the prince of Wales' youngest son enjoying a drink and a cigarette while dressed as a member of Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, complete with a prominent swastika armband. Prince Harry's latest embarrassment comes just two weeks before the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where more than a million Jews were murdered. On Jan. 27, Prince Harry's uncle, Prince Edward, is due to represent the queen at a memorial ceremony held at the death camp.

Prince Harry released a statement Wednesday night, in which he said: "I am very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize."

But Jewish groups in Britain reacted angrily to the prince's error. A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: "It's not a joke to dress up as a Nazi, especially as we come up to the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It is important that everybody remembers the evil that the Nazis were responsible for."

Labor peer Lord Janner, who chairs the Holocaust Education Trust, told the Daily Mail: "I hope that on reflection Prince Harry will regret what was an insensitive and tasteless act." Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a spokesman for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, was more forgiving. "The fact that the palace has issued an apology indicates that this was a mistake by the prince," he said. "But having been given, the apology should now be accepted."

According to the Sun, the photograph was taken a week ago when Prince Harry, 20, attended a birthday party in Wiltshire for his friend Harry Meades. His older brother, Prince William, is also thought to have been present, although he opted for a homemade lion and leopard outfit more in keeping with the party's "native and colonial" theme. But Prince Harry's outfit, which included a German Wehrmacht or defense force badge, attracted far more notice than his brother's.

"What on earth was Harry thinking of?" one fellow guest told the Sun. "A senior royal dressing up as a Nazi for a laugh? If that is his idea of a joke, it went down like a lead balloon with many. There are a lot of old soldiers out there who will look at these photos ... and be totally outraged." He added: "The Nazis were responsible for the deaths of millions. To turn that into a jokey idea for a fancy dress is an absolute disgrace."

The prince's sartorial misjudgment also prompted questions about his future in the armed forces. He is due to begin training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst later this year. Wednesday night a former armed forces minister said the prince should no longer be allowed to become a British army officer. "After the revelations this evening I don't think this young man is suitable for Sandhurst," said Doug Henderson, Labor M.P. for Newcastle-upon-Tyne North. "If it was anyone else the application wouldn't be considered. It should be withdrawn immediately."

But the Ministry of Defense, which said the photograph was a matter for Clarence House, brushed off questions about Prince Harry's conduct. "As far as we're concerned, a picture of him at a fancy dress party has nothing to do with his suitability for the army," a spokeswoman said.

The episode also served to stir ugly memories of the royal family's links with the Nazi regime. King Edward VIII, Harry's great-great uncle, was a Nazi sympathizer, while Princess Michael of Kent's father was a Nazi Party member. Some also raised concerns about the Prince of Wales' ability to control his children. Dickie Arbiter, a former Buckingham Palace spokesman, said Prince Charles lacked the "right discipline" over his sons. "If there were checks he wouldn't be allowed to go on like that," he said.

The queen is to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz by inviting survivors of the Nazi death camps to a reception at St. James' Palace. She will also attend the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in London on Jan. 27.

By Sam Jones


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