What you need to know
Taiwan's Jewish leaders say the incident is 'a cause for great concern,' while some Taiwanese are defending the students.
While some Taiwanese are defending the group of high school students who donned Nazi uniforms for a school parade last week, local Jewish leaders say the event continues years of ignorance in Taiwan towards the holocaust.
Late last week, pictures emerged of a group of high school students from Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, who dressed up as Nazis and paraded in their school while holding swastika flags. The students had reportedly been asked to dress as historical figures as part of the school’s anniversary celebrations last Friday. The students involved and their teacher have expressed regret over the incident in a statement and the school’s principal has resigned in the wake of widespread public outrage.
The Presidential Office on Dec. 24 asked the Cabinet to make sure the high school in question reviews the incident and apologizes to related countries. The Ministry of Education is also looking at taking disciplinary actions against the school, CNA reports.
Not the first case
Taiwan is home to about 400 Jewish residents, and local community leaders have highlighted that ignorance towards the Nazi killing of Jewish people is not new in Taiwan. In recent years, images and symbols relating to Nazi Germany have been used in Taiwan for advertising, politics and even a restaurant theme.
In 1999, a Taiwanese company selling German-made heaters used a cartoon image of Adolf Hitler with his arm raised in the Nazi salute in billboard advertisements in the Taipei metro. The company said it used the image because Hitler would make a lasting impression and that people in Taiwan were not as sensitive about Hitler, according to reports at the time.
The now-ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) used Nazi propaganda footage in a 2001 television commercial. The 10-second-long footage showed Hitler doing the Nazi salute, and also included former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. The DPP later modified the commercial by superimposing the words “[His] authoritarian rule led to catastrophe” over the image of Hitler.
In 2003, Israel’s representative to Taiwan also expressed concern over a Taiwanese military song called “Brave Soldiers of Whampoa (黃埔健兒)” thought to be based on a Nazi military song, “Panzerlied” or “Tank Song,” composed in 1933.
A theme restaurant, Jail, co-owned by Taiwanese celebrity Jacky Wu (吳宗憲), used images of prisoners in Nazi death camps on its walls when it opened in 2000. The restaurant’s restrooms were labeled “gas chambers,” in reference to one of the methods of killing used by the Nazis at concentration camps.
“The previous use of Nazi imagery in Taiwan political party and corporate advertising is a sad memory for the Jewish people, however, the occurrence of this incident in the education system is cause for great concern,” Taipei Jewish Center Director Rabbi Shlomi Tabib and Chairman Ross Feingold say in a joint statement.
Rabbi Tabib and Feingold suggest local and central governments need to act “to avoid the ignorant use of this historical tragedy and enlarging the wound of the Jewish people.”
“These students do not understand the historical lessons learned from the murder of six million Jews by Nazis wearing these same uniforms, and are unaware that the humorous use of Nazi imagery disrespects Jewish and other victims of the Nazis,” they say.
Asked whether the school or educational authorities have contacted Taiwan's Jewish community to express their apology, Feingold said not as of yet.
A question of different standards?
The parade has drawn criticism from the Israeli and German representatives in Taiwan, who have complained to senior Taiwan government officials.
While most Taiwanese commenting on the issue online are likewise critical of the school and its teachers for failing to prevent the students from dressing up as Nazis, some suggest Taiwanese should not have to conform to “European taboos.”
One post on PTT, a popular Taiwanese Internet forum, asking why it is necessary for the students to apologize for dressing up as Nazis has drawn hundreds of responses. The post says that Israel is also "massacring Palestinians," and questions why it was wrong for the students to wear Nazi costumes when there are so many European and American movies depicting Nazis?
Another PTT user criticized the students’ actions, but also said that compared to Europeans, Taiwanese are not as aware of how taboo Nazi Germany is, so people should not be so hard on the students. The post asks, “Why is it that society suddenly decides to use European standards to judge this group of students when Taiwanese society never had the awareness to begin with?”
CNA reports that an anonymous Facebook post that appears to be written by students from the Hsinchu high school has said, “I only know I should graduate from high school, why should I have to know what I can and cannot say about Hitler?” The post also criticized Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for “helping Israel and Germany, but punishing Taiwanese students and citizens,” and called for the students to rally in support of the principal. The post has since been deleted.
Editor: Edward White