In Taiwan, 7-Eleven stores have pulled products featuring a cartoon vampire that bears a striking resemblance to Adolf Hitler after receiving complaints from the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei (ISECO) for selling the items, according to several media reports.
The convenience store chain, whose 4,400 Taiwanese locations are owned by the President Chain Store Corp., has suspended sales of the key chains, USB drives and magnets sporting the apparent caricature of the Nazi dictator. Company officials originally denied that the cartoon was meant to depict Hitler, first calling the black square on the figure’s face a tooth, then a nose, rather than a mustache. But on Wednesday, the company acknowledged that many saw the image as offensive and said that it did not intend to be insensitive by selling the items.
“Because there are people with doubts, we've stopped selling the products for now,” a representative from 7-Eleven told the German Press Agency, according to an Israeli newspaper.
The ISECO, which is Israel’s de facto embassy to Taiwan, since China does not allow its diplomatic allies to have official ties with the island, says that while it does not think the products were meant to be a show of support for anti-Semitic ideology, the cartoon figure does signify a lack of understanding of the Nazi party’s history.
“We were appalled to see the Hitler lookalike image being used, again, as a marketing aid and sold in Taiwan's 7-Eleven stores,” ISECO representative Simona Halperin said in a statement Tuesday. “I find it tragic that once again people down the chain of marketing and promotion fail to recognize the meaning of the Dark Age in human history that the Nazi dictator represents.”
Taiwan has a history of Nazi imagery popping up in public as a result of commercial use.
In 1999, a local company used an image of Hitler to advertise space heaters made in Germany. Additionally, in 2000, a restaurant in Taipei called The Jail displayed images of Nazi concentration camps, while a bar in Taipei operated under the name “Nazi Bar” during the 1990s. Both businesses later removed the references.
The nation’s fascination with Nazi lore could stem from the fact that the party has become a symbol of courage because of poor education, which explains why an association created to explore Hitler’s achievements was able to garner interest from 1,000 people in 2005.
“They’re not anti-Semitic, just ignorant,” Lin Chong-pin, a professor of strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told the Christian Science Monitor after a photo surfaced on the Ministry of National Defense’s website of three students wearing Nazi uniforms at a military summer camp. “They think the Nazi uniforms look spirited, that the high hat looks very heroic,” he said. “Reading and understanding of history is very poor.”
Products featuring the cartoon figure, which was designed by blogger Mark Lee, are sold in other Taiwanese stores as well, according to 7-Eleven. Lee says that while the figure’s appearance was inspired by Hitler, the cartoon was not meant to endorse any of Hitler’s views. In addition to depicting the dictator’s famous mustache, the caricature also wears a red armband and, in one version, has its arm raised in the fashion of the iconic Nazi salute.
“I had hoped to use it to satirize some bosses,” Lee told Agence France-Presse. “In the eyes of disgruntled employees, many bosses are greedy and dictatorial and like vampires trying to suck money from them.”
Representatives for 7-Eleven declined to disclose how many of Lee’s products were purchased during their short run on the store’s shelves. The items went on sale Sunday and sold for $15 each, according to the San Diego Jewish World.