At the center of this week’s controversy were new additions to Polish toymaker COBI’s long-running Historical Collection that presented leaders and vehicles from Nazi Germany in building sets designed for kids ages 6 and up and collectors.
At the time, the Toy Book reached out to COBI requesting a formal comment on its new products and intentions, and received a statement that was published in full on Friday. Since that time, many toy industry leaders, including MGA Entertainment Founder and CEO Isaac Larian, Nikko Toys’ CEO Philip Redmond, Swerve PR CEO Andrew Wagar, and former Carrera of America President Ed Gershowitz have come forward to denounce the availability of toys that present problematic symbols of hate, which can easily be embraced by those who believe in such ideology. In fact, some of those products already have done so, and social media posts discovered within the past 48 hours have revealed a niche audience of COBI enthusiast customizers who have used COBI products to create dioramas depicting Nazi propaganda, U.S. troops with a Confederate flag, and other scenarios that have been reshared by COBI official accounts.
This weekend, Jazwares’ Executive Vice President and Partner Michael Rinzler reached out to COBI Toys Owner and President Robert Podles in an effort to begin an important conversation regarding COBI’s intentions and how its products are perceived in global markets outside of Europe.
“I would never tolerate anti-Semitism, but I believe this situation to be a cultural misunderstanding that can become a teachable moment for the toy industry moving forward,” says Rinzler, who also serves on The Toy Association’s Board of Directors. “This is a very serious topic and deserves our attention in holding companies accountable for their products and how they may be perceived.”
Since that time, Podles has issued a formal statement and a plan of action to do right moving forward. The statement can be read in full below:
My name is Robert Podles and I am the owner of COBI Toys.
I am the grandson of a soldier of the Polish Army who fought for his homeland in 1939. My grandfather was taken prisoner by the Soviets and escaped from there. Unlike so many, he survived the horrendous Nazi-Soviet occupation. My other grandfather was a prisoner of the Treblinka concentration camp. Until 1941, Poland was occupied by two invaders, German fascists, and Soviet communists. As a father myself, I made sure my boys at a young age knew of the horror and atrocities their ancestors and fellow man were subjected to. My intent was, and always will be, to educate, inform, and ensure that this would never again happen. I very much want future generations to know of these terrible times.
Years ago, I started a company that produced toy construction blocks. Over time we made sets with construction, police, farm, and space themes, to name a few. Gradually, we started making sets with a military theme. These military sets turned into designing replicas of authentic World War II tanks and armor. What we learned early on was that people, both young and old, enjoyed building these sets, and more importantly, wanted to educate themselves about whatever set they were building. That, in essence, is why we do what we do. We are attempting to cast a spotlight on historical conflicts that shaped the world, why they came to be and why knowing about the past can lead to a more equitable, positive, and inclusive future. I work to make sure of this, and that history survives in the minds of as many of us as possible. This is our goal and will continue to be our goal with COBI.
Unfortunately, we did not do a particularly good job of explaining this goal through our products and recent actions. I did not consider the vast difference in opinions and emotions from different parts of the world. For that, I apologize. A recent set of ours was posted on our social media sites and featured the names and likenesses of two German high officers. This was a first for us and will be the last. We realized some had taken offense to this portrayal and now fully understand the implications to some. We have already stopped the sale of these sets and we will not offer them in the future.
We have also realized that we are not doing a thorough job in reviewing the comments and third-party posts on our social media accounts. Certain people are changing, customizing our products, and posting content that is obviously offensive and repulsive. They should have been condemned and removed immediately. This is an error in staffing and training that we are fixing immediately. I am ashamed that it has taken us this long to address this problem.
The experiences of my family and my country during World War II shaped my desire to never allow history to repeat itself. I thought by encouraging conversations on this history through toys or replicas I was heading in the right direction. I still believe this is the case. At COBI we will continue to educate ourselves. However, one thing I will not change is my lifelong mission to make sure we never allow the fascists, authoritarians, and extremist groups to exert their hate in this world ever again.
I also believe in fighting anti-Semitism in all forms. To that end, COBI will be actively supporting the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations that support this cause around the world.
The Toy Book has confirmed that the sets at the center of Friday’s story have been removed from the COBI website and that their placeholder pages are now displaying 404 errors. Additionally, several Instagram and Facebook posts featuring COBI products and some fan creations have been deleted along with user comments that embrace hateful ideals.