Thai Hitler billboard causes diplomatic flap

Thai billboard with Hitl

A highway billboard using a saluting Adolf Hitler to advertise a Thai wax museum has been covered up after complaints from the Israeli and German ambassadors, the museum's manager said Sunday. "The idea came from a creative (advertising) agency, and we did not mean to cause any offense," said Somporn Naksuetrong, the manager of the Louis Tussaud's Waxworks in the seaside resort town of Pattaya. The billboard, which in Thai language said, "Hitler is not dead," had been up for several weeks on the main road from the capital Bangkok to Pattaya and was meant to promote the museum's planned opening next month. "We weren't showing his image to celebrate him," Somporn said in a telephone interview. "We think he is an important historical figure, but in a horrible way. We apologize for causing any offense which was not at all intended. We did not realize it would make people so angry." The use of Nazi imagery does not stir the same emotional reaction in Asia as in the West, and Thailand has had past instances where icons of the genocidal German regime have been used for advertising and entertainment. The Bangkok Post newspaper quoted German Ambassador Hanns Schumacher as saying he told officials in Pattaya, "this kind of utterly tasteless advertisement would hurt the feelings of many people" and asked that the billboard be taken down. Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Shoham also was quoted saying he requested the same. "It is totally unacceptable to have such a monster like Adolf Hitler on public display," he told the Post. "How this could happen is beyond my understanding and comprehension." Neither diplomat could be reached Sunday for comment. Two years ago, a Thai school apologized to an international Jewish human rights organization for its sponsorship of a celebration that involved a Nazi-themed parade for sports day. Photos from the event showed students with swastikas on their baseball caps behind a large sign with "NAZI" in shoulder-high letters. In 1998, a commercial for potato chips depicted Hitler giving a Nazi salute and then showed a woman who cast a spell on him as he ate the chips, hoping to change his evil ways. A Nazi swastika morphed into the product logo as the transformation was complete. The ad campaign by the Thai office of the US-based Leo Burnett agency was ended shortly after it began. Also, a "Nazi Bar" opened in downtown Bangkok in the late 1980s, featuring photos of Nazi storm troopers and waiters wearing swastika armbands. The bar's manager said the theme had a "powerful, catchy and emotive appeal." The bar changed its name to "No Name Bar" after bad publicity in Thailand and abroad.