Outrage erupts over student Nazi display in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- A private Hsinchu high school has come under fire after its students wore Nazi uniforms and brandished swastika banners in a school-sanctioned parade.

The Presidential Office Saturday apologised for the incident, with education authorities vowing to reduce funding to the school as punishment.

Private Kuang-Fu High School in Hsinchu also issued a statement apologising for the parade, but said it had not intended to condone Nazi atrocities.

The apologies came after Israel's representative office to Taiwan condemned the event.

"It is deplorable and shocking that only seven decades after the world witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust, a high school in Taiwan is supporting such an outrageous action," Israel's representative office said in a statement.

Israel called on Taiwan's government to initiate programs to teach students about the Holocaust, saying that schools should encourage tolerance and understanding among people.

Images of the high school's "Christmas and Thanksgiving Costume Parade" surfaced online Friday evening, showing students in a sophomore media and design class dressed in Nazi uniforms and marching with a cardboard tank displaying German army insignia. The students were giving the "Sieg Heil" salute.

In a statement issued in response to the incident, the Presidential Office said the march was "especially disrespectful to the Jewish people's suffering at the hands of war and represents ignorance toward modern history."

Apologizing for the incident, the government called for an investigation into responsible school officials and urged that education on such matters be strengthened.

The Ministry of Education expressed shock and regret over the parade, saying administrators and teachers at Kuang-Fu High School should have told the students that their march would hurt others.

"It is improper to demonstrate creativity using the wounds of history," said Education Minister Pan Wen-chung.

The ministry said it is considering punishing the school over the incident, including cutting government subsidies and revoking the "quality school" citation it had obtained from the ministry.

The latest incident is not the first time Holocaust-related imagery has stirred controversy in Taiwan. About two decades ago, the Israeli representative office condemned a company for featuring an image of Hilter in its promotional materials.

Kuang-Fu initially defended its decision to let the students dress as Nazis in the parade. The school called the decision a "demonstration of creativity" and said it was not intended to show support for Nazis.

School representatives said the parade was an annual event and that depicting Hitler was consistent with the event's "historical figure" theme.

But the school later backed down and issued an apology, reportedly under pressure from the Presidential Office.

"When reviewing the parade beforehand, we failed to closely consider the meaning of the historical facts," Kuang-Fu said in a statement. "It was the school's negligence, and we will determine responsibility and avoid a repeat of similar incidents."

But the school requested forgiveness for the students. "Please don't be harsh on the kids," the statement said.

DPP Legislator Su Chiao-hui said students must learn about the importance of human rights and transitional justice, and said Kuang-Fu High School had failed to teach its students about the atrocities represented by the Nazi flag.

DPP Legislator Lin Chun-hsien said it would be "unbearable" for the people of Taiwan if they had to watch reenactments of scenes from the Feb. 28 Incident during a carnival. In 1947, the Kuomintang (KMT)-led government killed thousands of people in crackdowns on riots, which have come to be known as the Feb. 28 Incident.

The students may have been ignorant about the Nazi war crimes, but their teachers should not have failed to understand the severity and consequences of Nazi costumes and insignia, Lin said.

Saturday's incident may also add fuel to discussions after Taiwan was ranked the third most "ignorant country in the world" behind India and China based on people's knowledge about their own nation, according to the 2016 Index of Ignorance conducted by Ipsos MORI.