‘Completely Out of Context’: Alumni Recall Party Where Garthwait Photo Was Taken

The t-shirt from the 1979 Alpha Chi Rho "Four-in-One" party (L) and a close-up of the text (R) (Photo courtesy of Albert Fedalei '80)

The t-shirt from the 1979 Alpha Chi Rho “Four-in-One” party (L) and a close-up of the text (R) (Photo courtesy of Albert Fedalei ’80)

By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief

The now ubiquitous photo of former college trustee Bob Garthwait ’82 wearing a Nazi uniform was taken at a 1979 party held at the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity, an alumnus who provided a photo of the party’s official t-shirt said Thursday.

Dr. Albert Fedalei ’80, who was a member of Alpha Chi Rho, said that the photo was taken at his fraternity’s sixth annual “Four in One” party, in which each floor of the house hosted a simultaneous party with a different theme. That year, the themes were “Lord of the Rings,” “guardians of the dead,” punk rock, and the now well-known Stalag 13 “Hogan’s Heroes” theme in which Garthwait participated.

Fedalei said that the fraternity had Jewish brothers who were “fully supportive” and that “Hogan’s Heroes” was recognized as being “actually very anti-Nazi.”

“This whole affair is disgusting to me,” he said. “[This had] nothing to do with religious or racial prejudice.”

Dr. Steve Evans ’79, who estimates that he was among at least six or seven Jewish brothers living in the house at the time, said, “There were plenty of practicing Jews at the house that signed off on this.”

“If there was any thought back then that was would be viewed as anti-Semitic 40 years later, we wouldn’t have done it,” he added. “This hullabaloo is so incredibly out of context and unfair to this guy who is a champion of Gettysburg College.”

David Naser ’83 agreed that there was no anti-Semitic intent among those pictured in the photo.

“I truly cannot believe that he dressed in that costume to make an anti-Semitic statement, and I certainly cannot see him associating in any way with Neo-Nazi groups either at that time or today,” Naser said.

Evans said that Garthwait intended to depict the “bumbling” character from “Hogan’s Heroes,” Sergeant Schultz, whose most famous phrase from the show is “I see nothing! I know nothing!” He also said that, in 1979, the swastika was not a symbol of white supremacy, but “was a symbol of defeated Germany, of this horrible thing that happened that was crushed.”

Evans added that Alpha Chi Rho was a “real cross-section of campus” in terms of diversity, had brothers who were black, gay, and Jewish, and had a reputation for treating women with respect at house functions.

Patricia Steele Nielsen ’80 said that Alpha Chi Rho was among her favorite places to attend parties and that she was probably there at this particular party. In general, she said that Alpha Chi Rho was a popular house and that its parties tended to be fairly crowded.

“CROW had a reputation for having nice guys in it,” she said.

Nielsen does remember seeing the photo in the yearbook. She said it stuck with her, but she does not believe there was “any kind of hate speech or anything like that.”

“Like every other party, the drinking was pretty much the whole focus,” she said. “And, then everybody’s ‘focus’ got a little blurry.”

She said she has a limited recollection of Garthwait, but she recalls him as being “affable.”

Fedalei concurred with that recollection of Garthwait.

“Bob is a very generous, gracious, and tolerant person with no religious or racial prejudice whatsoever,” he said. “Unfortunately this photo was taken completely out of context.”

Evans said that he does not blame Hillel or the Judaic Studies faculty for its visceral reaction to seeing the photo, but that he blames the college for depriving Garthwait of any due process. He said that he is sure Garthwait decided to resign because he did not want to draw negative attention to the college and thought this would be how best to avoid it.

In an email sent to the campus community Thursday afternoon, President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 quoted Garthwait, who said, “Resigning reflects how seriously I understand this situation to be and it is important to me that our community see that through my action to resign.”

Evans said that Garthwait has been treated unfairly throughout the process.

“My biggest gripe is that here’s a guy who has gone out of his way to make the Gettysburg student experience better … and whose presence on the Board [of Trustees] is an amazingly positive influence,” Evans said. “He has been a champion that seeks to make Gettysburg College a better place.”

Moving forward, Evans said the college needs to turn this into a teaching moment by sponsoring a conversation about Garthwait’s legacy and impact on the campus.

“People’s lives can be devastated by artifacts of the past that do not reflect who they are in the present,” he said. “We need some communal acknowledgement of who he is … this photo does not reflect any Anti-Semitism or bigotry from his past.”

Naser added that Garthwait’s contributions to Gettysburg College in the years since the photo should speak louder than “an ill-judged photo.”

“The Garthwait Leadership Center was established to provide the opportunity for students of all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds to improve their leadership skills in order to be more prepared in their careers and to make our country a better place in which to live,” he said. “By failing to judge a person’s actions within the context of the time when they lived, we are attempting to rewrite history just for sensationalism.”

In Thursday afternoon’s email, Riggs said that the Board of Trustees would form an advisory group in the near future to facilitate ongoing conversation about this issue and develop recommendations for how to handle it and any similar situations in the future.

“On a personal note, I have known Bob Garthwait for 11 years,” she added. “I have found him to be one of the College’s most avid supporters, one whose primary goal is to enhance the student experience. I want to thank him for the gracious manner in which he has handled what we all recognize is a very difficult situation.”

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as editor-in-chief of The Gettysburgian. Previously, he served as a staff writer, event coverage coordinator, news editor, and managing news editor. During his tenure, he has written more than 150 articles, and he led the team that won first place in the 2017 Keystone Press Awards for ongoing news coverage of Robert Spencer's visit to Gettysburg College and co-wrote the package of editorials that won first place in the 2018 Keystone Press Awards. Ben is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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8 Comments

  1. So, are you telling me that the middle figure in the upper row isn’t a KKK figure? At the very least, the teachable moment would suggest that the artwork be obvious and less open to interpretation!

    Post a Reply
    • KKK figure……is that what you want it to be????
      Did you actually read the story? You are aware it was a themed party, with 4 different themes on each floor.
      And because the figure is in a robe, its supposed to represent a KKK member? Are they the only people that wear robes?
      I guess the coffin is for all of the black people they kill huh, cause thats what they would regularly do???
      Just stop, and maybe go read up on Smolletts attackers…bet they were KKK also!

      Post a Reply
    • Really Lovette? “At the very least” one should read/observe before making a comment. Each floor was a theme, that floor was a Tales from the Crypt type theme, thus obviously that is the grim reaper (the Crypt Keeper character didn’t come out until the late 80s). The typical depiction of the grim reaper is a dark robed/cloaked figure who’s face is hidden (because if you see his face, you die). With the monochromatic design on a dark shirt, well you kind of have to use a light color for the artwork.

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  2. I appreciate the reasonable portrayal of Eta Phi/AXP which describes the members as an inclusive group. It certainly was in the early 1960’s when a number of fraternities on campus were banned by national fraternity bylaws from having non-Christian and non-white members.
    Sadly President Riggs failed to take into account how context, satire and community standards change over time. She caved to the currently fashionable zero tolerance. And is now going to let a committee study her blunder. This is a very sad ending to her otherwise excellent tenure as President.

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  3. We need some help over here ,a trustee is underneath a bus on Carlisle St. “Oh hi Bob are you OK? Bet you didn’t see that coming! How did this happen? ….Really well at least it’s a teachable moment.”

    Post a Reply
    • Yes, this is a teachable moment. And we should fire our President, through Ms. Leibowitz out of school, and suspend the Jewish studies teacher who demanded that Bob have his generous donations returned to teach them a lesson. What a collection of abject morons. The show Hogan’s Heroes LAMPOONED the Nazis. Most of the actors on the show were JEWISH, including the character that Bob was dressed up like. Actor Robert Clary, who portrayed Corporal LeBeau on the show, had 11 siblings who were murdered in concentration camps by the Nazis. So what’s next, are we going after Civil War reenactors who dress up like Confederate soldiers at the battlefield?
      It’s about time that normal Americans stand up to modern day fascism that as packaged as political correctness. The proper response to Ms. Liebowtiz should have been: “Look, dear, it’s a little freaky that you’re scouring old yearbooks in an attempt to be offended. Obviously, Mr. Garthwait had no malicious intent; instead he was dressed up like a character on a sitcom that lampooned the Nazis. You really are too hypersensitive and perhaps you should consider counseling.”

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  4. Mr. Pontz, I think you may have unfairly characterized Pat Steele Nielsen’s (’80) opinion in your post above.

    Pat does not support Garthwait.

    Pat very clearly comments, in your post dated Feb 19, “I don’t have a problem with the College’s response, nor Mr. Garthwait’s resignation…. We all have to take responsibility for the things we have done. To me, the big difference is that he has been on the Board and is the face of our school. For that reason, I think the actions taken are appropriate.” Link provided below.

    Either you support Garthwait or you do not. Can’t have it both ways, Pat.

    I shall assume that Pat and her cronies are directing truth crusaders Cameron Sauers and Hannah Labovitz to marshal every possible resource (including their parents wallets) to RETURN EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR Garthwait has donated or raised for this school.

    You are not free to retroactively reject the man but yet keep the money. GIVE. IT. BACK.

    http://gettysburgian.com/2019/02/garthwait-resigns-from-board-of-trustees-after-photo-of-him-in-nazi-uniform-found-in-yearbook/

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  5. The President of Gettysburg College should resign–NOW. And the leftist idiot woman who started this non-sense should be punished. What a collection of morons. This is how you treat a generous alumus? The frat house was obviously dressing up like characters on the show Hogan’s Heroes, a popular sitcom that ran for 8 years up until the mid-70s. Of note, MOST OF THE ACTORS ON THE SHOW WERE JEWISH!!! Specifically, the actors who portrayed Nazis (e.g., Colonel Klink, Sgt. Schultz, Major Hochstetter) were JEWISH, and the actor who portrayed Cpl. LeBeau, Robert Clary, was a Holocaust survivor who had 11 siblings who died in concentration camps. The whole premise of Hogan’s Heroes was TO MAKE FUN OF THE NAZIS! Get it. The show lampooned the Nazis as bumbling idiots. So let me get this straight, Getttyburg College has tarnished and slandered a generous alumnus who was dressing up like an actor on a show that LAMPOONED THE NAZIS. Keep it classy and smart, Gettysburg!

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