TAIPEI — Taiwan’s president on Thursday urged educators to reflect deeply on human rights and pass on those lessons to young people after a Nazi-themed parade held by Taiwanese students before Christmas sparked international furor.
The principal of Kuang Fu High School in northern Hsinchu city apologized and stepped down after photos and videos circulated online of students wearing mock Nazi uniforms while holding swastika flags and banners, some laughing and dancing.
A teacher also joined in the procession and was seen giving a Nazi salute as he stood inside a tank made of paper cartons, according to local media.
As the students marched, a compere announced: “Here comes Hitler, salute to him students, or the tank will crush you later or you will be taken to the gas chamber,” according to a video posted on Apple Daily’s website.
“This is not the students’ fault, it is our fault as grownups,” President Tsai Ing-wen told a meeting of the presidential human rights advisory committee.
She said Taiwan needed to improve education on human rights after failing to teach students “the real lessons” they needed to know.
“Everyone of us should reflect and should not allow a similar incident to happen again,” a presidential statement quoted Tsai as saying.
“Our education will only be successful when… students can understand the pain other people have been through and respect other people’s rights and be willing to stand up to defend justice when necessary,” she said.
The incident sparked an angry reaction from Israel, with the country’s Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei condemning the parade as “tasteless” and “outrageous.”
“It is deplorable and shocking that seven decades only after the world had witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, a high school in Taiwan is supporting such an outrageous action,” it said in a Facebook post.
Germany’s de facto embassy in Taiwan expressed shock and regret in a statement, saying the students failed to understand that the Nazi symbol stands for human contempt and oppression.
Taiwan’s education minister has also apologized over the incident and demanded the school immediately improve students’ history education.
East Asian pop culture and commercial art has a long history of fascination with Hitler and the Nazis. Occasionally, Hitler turns up in Asian advertisement campaigns, and a pub called “Nazi Bar” briefly operated in Taipei in the 1990s.
In 2011, Taiwan’s 7-Eleven came under fire for selling key rings and magnets sporting a Hitler lookalike, but the convenience store chain denied the images were meant to represent the German dictator.