For most people educated in the basic history of the Second World War, a “Seig Heil” salute alone would cause great offense. In that light, the Nazi parade that took place in Taiwan on December 23rd, and was beamed across the world, was an affront to the senses. In Asia, however, this was not a solitary example of disregard of the atrocities of the Nazi party.
It is common for students around the world to hold parades and they are commonly afforded some creative license. Yet, nobody could have imagined how the idea of a Nazi parade complete with regalia, uniforms and even a cardboard German tank could have come to fruition.
The school described the event as a cosplay parade, in which students dress up as characters from popular culture. It resulted in the school’s principal resignation, as well as letters of protest to Taiwan from the diplomatic missions of both Israel and Germany.
Though deeply shocking, the parade is not the only recent event in Asia that appears to glorify Nazi symbolism.
A worrying trend
There have been a string of well publicized such acts in recent years. As recently as November, the Japanese band Keyakizaka46 performed on stage in costumes closely resembling Nazi uniforms. Sony Music blamed the incident on a “lack of understanding”.
In 2014 the South Korean pop group Pritz were also forced to apologise for appearing in music video wearing outfits resembling those of the Nazis. Indonesian pop star Amhad Dhani wore a costume similar to the SS in the same year. In both cases the excuse used was ignorance.
In Thailand in 2011, a school was lambasted for a parade similar to that seen in Taiwan. Furthermore, there is a prevalent trend of ‘Nazi Chic’ in Bangkok. Many tourists have reported clothes and other paraphernalia on sale which are adorned with Nazi symbolism or Hitler himself.
What are the reasons for this continued ignorance?
According to Elliot Brennan, Institute for Security and Development Policy Non-Resident Research Fellow, in Asian Countries Nazi Germany is not understood in the same way as those in the West.
“The outcry over the Nazi costumes in Taiwan, while obviously offensive to those educated on this terrible period in history, should remind us of the dangers of cultural relativism,” he said.
“For East Asian countries, World War II was not about the Nazis or Hitler but rather the Imperial Japanese forces. Comparatively little time is spent in Asian countries studying World War II Germany than in Europe or North America.”
Indeed, Taiwanese textbooks focus mainly on the fighting which took place in Asia during World War Two. This disparity in education is recognised by the Chabad Taipei Jewish Center.
“Certainly it’s not meant to be an act of anti-Semitism. Holocaust education is extremely limited here” said Chairman Ross Feinhold.
Moves to educate
In light of the controversy the school in question has promised to enlighten their students on the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Part of this will be to show them movies such as “Schindler’s List”.
Whether this be sufficient remains to be seen. Feinhold was not convinced: “A one-off showing of a movie is not a sustainable program. What is more sustainable is reaching out to the Jewish community that lives here in Taiwan, many of whom have relatives who died in or survived the Holocaust.”
While this may assist in changing the perspectives in Taiwan, it is certain that great action will be necessary to educate those on the wider continent. Taiwanese blogger Michael Turton holds that those in Asia are not alone in their idolisation of controversial historical figures. “It’s not like we don’t do that in our own culture — how many people have Che Guevara t-shirts or Mao Zedong hats?”