In 1998, an Anne Frank exhibit was shown at the Civic Center in Bismarck. Anne Frank was the German-Dutch teenager who is known through the diary she kept while hiding from the Nazis. Her family was eventually discovered, and Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Several items from the North Dakota Heritage Center were shown along with the exhibit, including Nazi paraphernalia donated to the Historical Society by Veterans of World War II.
One of these items was a very rare Nazi Party uniform for an Ortsgruppenleiter, a local group leader of the Nazi party. The uniform of light brown wool featured blue piping on the jacket, hat, and armband.
The uniform had been donated by Axel Nelson, who was born on this date in 1918, near Timmer, North Dakota. This is the story of how he acquired the uniform.
Nelson was a Staff Sergeant traveling with the 86th Infantry Division, also known as the Black Hawk Division. It was spring of 1945, near the end of the war in Europe. Most Germans knew the war was ending. Soldiers were surrendering and Nazi Party members were removing their uniforms and melting into the civilian population.
Nelson was driving his jeep through a town in southern Germany when he came across a Nazi leader still in full uniform, showing contempt for the passing American soldiers. Nelson pulled his jeep over and demanded the man remove his uniform. “NEIN," replied the Nazi. Nelson leveled his carbine at the man's head and repeated the request. This time the man complied and Axel threw the uniform in his jeep, leaving the Nazi standing in his underwear, no longer looking so arrogant.
V-E day found Axel in Salzburg, Austria. From there he was sent to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. He was in transit when the war ended. He spent his remaining service in the Philippines and mustered out on Christmas Day, 1945.
After the war, Nelson donated the items he had acquired to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Besides the uniform, there were also long red, black and white Swastika banners that had hung
from the sides of buildings.
Axel Nelson passed away in 2012.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
From Scott: “I attended that Ann Frank Exhibit and was surprised that the
uniform on display had been donated by my uncle. I interviewed my uncle
and got the story of how he came into possession of the uniform.”