Such crass insensitivity threatens our reputation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 12:00am

The use of photographs from the Nazi era to adorn a Kowloon pub is the latest example of an insensitivity that is threatening to do lasting damage to Hong Kong's international reputation.


While the sight of young drinkers enjoying karaoke while surrounded by pictures of Adolf Hitler is shocking, it can no longer be viewed with surprise. Hong Kong has a sorry record of inappropriate and offensive references to the Nazi regime responsible for race hate and genocide in Europe in the 1930s and 40s.


Only last week fashion chain Izzue was forced to apologise for a display of Nazi-themed clothing, having decked out its stores with the regime's flags and swastikas. The reaction of the chain's marketing manager was: 'This is Hong Kong and Chinese people are not sensitive about Nazism.'


While the statement is no justification for using Nazi symbols for commercial purposes, it does go to the heart of the matter. Many people here are simply unaware of what the Nazi regime stood for and the strong emotions it continues to provoke. This is not true of all, of course, and among those who complained to this newspaper were many Chinese readers.


But what is most disturbing about the Hunghom bar's display of Nazi photographs is that they have been there for four years without anyone complaining. The images, including a huge picture of what appears to be a death-camp execution, were treated by its clientele with indifference.


Here are a few facts, then, that should be known about the Nazis. The party led by Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany in the 1930s. Racism was central to its ideology and this led to the systematic slaughter of six million Jews, many of them gassed in concentration camps. Hitler's invasion of Poland, an opening gambit in his quest for world domination, led Europe into a devastating war.


For all that, there are those who would say it is only to be expected that people living here in Hong Kong will not be sensitive to powerful feelings aroused by the Nazi era. These events, appalling as they were, happened thousands of miles away and more than 50 years ago. They have, it might be argued, little relevance to Hong Kong youth today.


But while this is an explanation, it cannot be an excuse. The crimes of the Nazis marked a defining moment in world history. A revulsion of them and a determination to ensure such horrors would not be repeated in the future were fundamental in the shaping of the post-war world. The images used by the Nazis are associated worldwide with crimes against humanity. Their occasional frivolous use in Hong Kong effectively glorifies genocide, and when this happens it is usually reported by the international media. It risks our being seen overseas as insensitive, shallow and ignorant.


But the potential damage to Hong Kong's reputation is only one reason why there is a need for greater awareness. Hitler committed suicide in 1945. But the obscene views he espoused live on. Neo-Nazi groups that revere the dictator still exist, and the targets of their racist venom include, among others, overseas Chinese. Being aware of what the Nazis did therefore, is not simply to take an interest in past events in distant lands, it is to gain insight into and understanding of problems that persist today.


The answer lies in education. The focus on Chinese history in our schools is understandable. Awareness of the Japanese atrocities in China is, for obvious reasons, much higher. But the teaching should be broad enough and have sufficient depth to make every student aware of what the holocaust in Europe meant. It does not necessarily have to provoke strong emotions but should at least ensure we are sensitive to the feelings of others.


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