A prominent university in Thailand has apologized for some of its students depicting Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler as a “superhero” on a mural at its fine arts campus, alongside other comic book figures like Batman, Superman and the Incredible Hulk during graduation ceremonies. Officials at Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok expressed their "deep regret" over the painting, following complaints, including concerns raised by the Nazi-hunter group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"[We] would like to formally express our sincere apology for our students' superhero mural," the art school dean Suppakorn Disatapundhu said in a statement. "I can assure you we are taking this matter very seriously." The school said the students who created the mural were "unaware of [the] significance" of portraying Hitler in heroic terms and have been reprimanded. "I will explain to the students involved and this will be a lesson for others that this man caused tragedy in the world," added Disatapundhu, according to Agence France Presse. In an interview with Associated Press, the dean explained that "Hitler was supposed to serve as a conceptual paradox to the superheroes,” noting that Hitler was colored grey, in contrast to the other figures.
However, according to the Wiesenthal Center, the Thai university students went further than just painting an image of Der Fuehrer on a wall. A photograph published on the Wiesenthal website showed a young woman in graduation gown apparently delivering the Nazi "Sieg Heil" salute in front of the mural. “Hitler as a superhero? Is he an appropriate role model for Thailand's younger generation -- a genocidal hate-monger who mass murdered Jews and Gypsies and who considered people of color as racially inferior?” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center in a statement prior to the university’s apology. “[We are] outraged and disgusted by this public display at Thailand's leading school of higher education … We are outraged by those who created this travesty, at the young person posing using the Nazi 'Seig Heil' salute and appalled and disgusted by the total silence of the University's elite for the apparent failure of anyone demanding its removal.”
But removing an image of Hitler from a college wall will likely not eliminate what appears to be Thailand’s fascination with the Third Reich and Hitler. As in India, Hitler has a hold on the imagination of many Thais -- the former chancellor of Germany, the swastika and Nazi military symbols are depicted on numerous items in the country, including T-shirts, cups, teddy bears, bike helmets, even body tattoos, which are popular among teenagers. The Christian Science Monitor reported that students attending a parade in the northern city of Chang Mai recently dressed up as SS soldiers in a Nazi-themed pageant. Thai media has described the fashion phenomenon as “Hitler chic.”
Itzhak Shoham, Israel’s ambassador to Thailand, expressed his outrage over the popularity of Nazi memorabilia and said that it “hurts the feelings of every Jew and every civilized person.” But some Thais believe such anger is misplaced and attribute the popularity of the Nazis to the fact that Thai students are not taught about the horrors of World War II, since Nazi Germany did not really impact the Southeast Asian country. One blogger quipped: “Why is this different from the West’s obsession with Che Guevara?”
Varakorn Samakoses, president of Dhurakij Pundit University in Bangkok and a former deputy minister for education, said Thai students need a better grip of global history, even of events and people that are remote from them. “Kids are much more interested in the present and the future, they are not taught to appreciate or take seriously what happened in the past,” he said. “Even teachers are ignorant of these issues. This is something that should change. History should be one of the most important parts of the syllabus. [Children] should know what goes on because history always repeats itself.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.