Heil McHitler!


Tibor Krausz

CNN, February 2012


Cartoon pandas, Teletubbies, Ronald McDonald. At first glance they don’t seem to have much in common — beyond a certain childlike quality, that is.

But on some T-shirts they now have another trait they share: their resemblance to Adolf Hitler.

A young woman poses for her boyfriend with the trademark dummy of Seven Star, a shop at a high-end mall in Bangkok which sells popular caricatures of Adolf Hitler on T-shirts, jackets and cigarette boxes (photos: Tibor Krausz)

In Bangkok’s latest outbreak of Nazi chic, these popular icons have all metamorphosed into cutesy alter egos of the Fuhrer, who seems to exert a childlike fascination over many young Thais.

In one popular T-shirt design Hitler is transformed into a cartoonish Ronald McDonald, the fast-food chain’s clown mascot, sporting a bouffant cherry-red hairdo and a stern look.

On another T-shirt the Fuhrer is shown in a lovely panda costume with a Nazi armband. On yet another he appears as a pink Teletubby with doe eyes, jug ears and a pink swastika for an antenna. He pouts petulantly like a spoiled brat as he flashes the Nazi salute.

Some shirts, which cost from 200 baht to 370 baht ($7 to $12) apiece, come in matching outfits for couples. Adolf McDonald’s partner is a transvestite with fuchsia hair, lipstick, long lashes and a timid Mona Lisa smile. Panda Adolf’s manlier doppelganger sports a sickly brown Stormtrooper uniform.

“Some foreigners get upset [when they see my T-shirts on sale]. They come to my shop and complain,” laments the owner of Seven Star, a small clothing shop at Terminal 21, a new designer mall in central Bangkok.

A thirtyish fellow who identifies himself only by his nickname as “Hut,” he is a graduate of a local university’s arts program. He does brisk business selling his T-shirts, including his trademark McHitler designs alongside his caricatures of Michael Jackson, Che Guevera and Kim Jong-Il.

Outside his shop stands a large dummy of Hitler as Ronald with its motorized left arm going up and down in the Nazi salute. Thais shoppers, including soap opera starlets and other young celebrities, love posing gleefully with it.

“It’s not that I like Hitler,” Hut insists. “But he looks funny and the shirts are very popular with young people.”

Following a popular vote organized by a youth streetwear magazine last year, Hut’s clothing label was named one of Thailand’s Top 5 T-shirt brands.

Israel’s ambassador in Bangkok isn’t amused.

“You don’t want to see memories of the Nazi period trivialized in this manner,” stresses Ambassador Itzhak Shoham, whose embassy is right behind Terminal 21. “It hurts the feelings of every Jew and every civilized person.”

Shoham recently remonstrated with Hut. “I said to him, “I don’t mind the doll; just take the face off,’” he says.

Hut’s McHitler doll now has its face covered with a Lucha Libre wrestler’s mask.

Across town at another fashion mall, another small shop hawks its own cutesy caricatures of Hitler plastered on T-shirts. Panda Adolf takes pride of place among impressionistic Smurfs, pop stars and Japanese manga characters.

“Hitler shirts are very popular, especially with teenage boys,” notes the shop’s 30-year-old owner, whose family operates a clothing factory.

On Bangkok’s Khao San Road, a backpacker haven, other T-shirt designs boast images of Hitler, including Photoshopped prints of the Fuhrer sunbathing naked on a tropical beach.

A collection of cartoonish T-shirt designs with Hitler’s image on sale in Bangkok

Shoppers looking for Nazi flags, reproduction Third Reich propaganda posters, pennants with Iron Crosses and Nazi eagles, and faux SS helmets for motorcyclists can find them at the sprawling Chatuchak weekend market, where they’re on sale alongside Bob Marley portraits and Rastafarian accoutrements.

An infatuation with Hitler and Nazi-style regalia is nothing new in the Land of Smiles, of course. Last September in the northern town of Chiang Mai, a group of high school students showed up for sport day in homemade Nazi uniforms, complete with swastika armbands and toy guns.

Leading them was a teenage girl dressed in a replica of a brutal Nazi paramilitary unit’s uniform. She wore a fake Hitler mustache and wielded a cheerleader’s baton as she led her schoolmates around downtown on a parade.

Locals cheered the students merrily from the sidewalks as foreign tourists looked on aghast.

In 2007 hundreds of students at a government school in Bangkok staged a similar Nazi-themed costume parade.

On both occasions an international outcry ensued. Teachers at both schools later apologized, saying they had no idea the students had planned to dress up as Nazis for their costume parade.

Not to be outdone in its embrace of Nazi chic, two years ago a new waxworks museum in the seaside resort town of Pattaya advertised itself with a giant billboard featuring the Fuhrer with the words in Thai: “Hitler is not dead!”

Cue the hue and cry. The museum’s managers quickly pulled down the billboard, insisting they meant no offence.

Nor did members of a popular Thai pop group called Slur, whose video shows the four musicians each dressed up as Hitler. “The mohawk or the skinhead... is it hip?” the catchy refrain goes in a jejune song about fashion.

The Thai expression hit ler (meaning “is it a ‘hit’?”) is a homophone that rhymes with the dictator’s name. In their video, which is highly popular on YouTube with nearly 2 million hits and thousands of “likes,” the musicians prance about as they torment prisoners in striped pajamas.

“It’s a lack of exposure to history,” notes Harry Soicher, a Romanian who teaches at a Bangkok high school. “Young Thais are attracted by the pageantry of Nazi symbols and uniforms. If you don’t live in Thailand, you may find it hard to believe they mean no harm.”

In Thais’ defense, the Nazi chic phenomenon is hardly limited to their country. The misuse of Nazi symbols for fashion purposes has also been common from India to Japan.

Some years ago 7-Eleven stores in Taiwan sold dolls and key chains with Hitler’s likeness. In Hong Kong a clothing store chain once decorated a shop with Nazi flags and banners. In South Korea and Japan Nazi-style clothing is often a part of cosplay, which sees young people dress up as their favorite Japanese comic book characters.

Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles which monitors neo-Nazi activities worldwide, agrees that manifestations of Nazi chic in the region largely come down to sheer ignorance. Yet locals should do well to wise up about Hitler and his pernicious ideological legacy, he insists.

“If the Nazis had won the war, Hitler’s racist ideology would have eventually targeted all races he deemed inferior, including Asians,” Cooper notes.



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