When Rabbi Shlomi Tabib of the Chabad Taipei Jewish Center heard of the Nazi-themed parade staged by students of Hsinchu Kuang Fu High School in Hsinchu City last month, the first thought that crossed his mind was his 94-year old grandmother, a Holocaust survivor living in Israel.
“I can’t even imagine the kind of horror that this imagery would trigger in her,” Rabbi Shlomi tells the Taipei Times.
Though she never talks much about this part of her life, the rabbi says the details he knows are horrific enough. When she was a teenager, his grandmother and her family were taken from their home in the former Czechoslovakia and sent to work in a factory producing ammunition for Germany. She and her sister were later transferred to Auschwitz, where they spent the remainder of the war. One by one, her parents and siblings were murdered, the sister that was with her in Auschwitz shot dead by the Nazis in 1945 as the Allies closed in.
Though he talks to his grandmother on the phone every few days, Rabbi Shlomi says the decision to not tell her about the Nazi-themed parade was simple: “I didn’t want her to think that I live in a place that condones something like this.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NAZI IMAGERY USED BY TAIWANESE
This is not the first time that the use of Nazi imagery in Taiwan has stirred controversy. A home heater advertisement from 1999 featured an image of Hitler raising his right arm in salute. “Declare war on the cold front!” was the slogan. In 2000, a Nazi-themed restaurant in Taipei with photographs of concentration camps hanging on the walls and restrooms with signage that read “gas chambers,” was forced to shut down. In 2014, an Italian restaurant in New Taipei City drew criticism for offering a dish on the menu named “Long Live Nazi spaghetti.”
Speaking on behalf of Taipei’s Jewish community, the rabbi says that he’s had mostly positive interactions with Taiwanese during his five years living here and that he is mystified as to why such incidents have repeatedly occurred.
“Taiwanese have such a kind, accepting nature,” he says. “That’s why it’s shocking.”
Ross Feingold, founding chairman of the Chabad Taipei Jewish Center and longtime Taipei resident, says it’s a combination of ignorance and a failure in the education system to teach students about the gravity of the Holocaust.
“Students are unaware and educators are not teaching them that [Nazi] imagery is associated with the genocide of the Holocaust,” Feingold tells the Taipei Times.
Whereas young people these days might have greater exposure to Nazi imagery via the Internet, movies and video games, the primary perception is that the Nazis were part of an army that fought air, land and sea battles against the Allies in World War II.
“Unfortunately, the knowledge level often stops there, as such events were not close to home here in Taiwan,” Feingold says.
There’s less awareness of the human suffering, he adds, notably the extermination policies and concentration camps.
Rabbi Shlomi isn’t fully convinced. Instead, he frames the discussion around whether it is a “correct excuse.” Like Feingold, he believes that the parade wasn’t an act of anti-Semitism, nor was it meant as a snide to Taiwan’s Jewish community.
“But obviously, the flaw in the education system is much bigger than perceived,” Rabbi Shlomi says. “Teenagers were parading in Nazi uniforms thinking it was funny.”