The strange and enduring link between India and Nazi leader Adolph Hitler continues unabated, sometimes in the most unusual of ways.
Jews in India have condemned an Indian shopkeeper who christened his new clothing shop in Vastrapur, Gujarat as ‘Hitler’ (adorning it with swastikas) and demanded he pick a new name.
However, Rajesh Shah has insisted that he named the business after his partner’s grandfather who was known as ‘Hitler’ due to his strict and disciplined demeanor, not on the German dictator. He even claimed to know nothing about the former Chancellor.
“I didn’t know how much the name would disturb people,” Shah told Agence France Presse.
“It was only when the store opened I learnt Hitler had killed six million people.”
Shah has responded that he will change the store’s name only if someone compensates him for the £500 ($790) he paid for advertising and promotion.
Critics complain that Shah is simply exploiting the name of Hitler because he remains a popular figure among many Indians –his infamous tract ‘Mein Kampf’ is a perennial best-seller, particularly among Indian youth.
Shah can rightfully claim that using a swastika design has nothing to do with Nazis, since Hitler himself appropriated that symbol for ancient India.
Nikitin Contractor, a member of India’s Friends of Israel, told the Times of India newspaper: “How can anyone celebrate a person like Hitler who is known to have murdered millions of unarmed ordinary civilians? Youngsters need to be told of the atrocities that Hitler committed and the millions who were killed in gas chambers more than 70 years ago.”
India’s tiny Jewish community, along with an Israeli diplomat, have vowed to have the store’s name changed, according to Indian media.
“People use such names mostly out of ignorance,” Israel’s Mumbai Consul General Orna Sagiv told AFP.
However, the fact remains that Hitler (and the Nazis in general) have a powerful hold across India more than sixty-five years after the fall of the Third Reich.
During the 1930s and 1940s, many Indian Hindu nationalists sympathized with Hitler because they shared his views of the ‘superior Aryan race’ who swept into India thousands of years ago. Other Indians simply viewed Hitler and the Germans as an ally against the British Empire.
A significant number of Indians troops actually fought for Germany during the war, with a handful even joining the SS and other Nazi regiments.
This fascination with Hitler has never dissipated in India.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper of Britain noted that last year a comedy film called ‘Hero Hitler’ played to packed theaters; a political candidate named ‘Adolf Hitler’ easily won re-election to the state assembly in the eastern province of Meghalaya four years ago and remains a prominent lawmaker. (It is highly doubtful that anyone named ‘Adolf Hitler’ could enter government in the UK, Germany or US).
About six years ago, a Mumbai restaurant owners was forced to change the name of his business (“Hitler’s Cross”) after protests from the Israeli embassy, Germany and the U.S. Anti-Defamation League.
The right-wing government of Gujarat was criticized a few years back for issuing a schoolbook which praised Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.