Not Another Nazi Ad Campaign in Korea …

Yes, I’m afraid it is. Hurry and see the video on this Naver page before it’s taken down. [Update: Brian, praise be unto him, made YouTube videos, which you can see on a previous post at his blog. Oddly enough, I looked for something about this on YouTube and didn’t find them, but it’s good to record these things for posterity.]


“Even Hitler didn’t unite the East and West.”

Isn’t fascism erotic? I wonder how long she would have lasted in Berlin in the early 40’s.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center forwards the text of a letter he sent to the President and Chairman of Coreana Cosmetics:

Your renowned company is all about beauty. In your own words you want to promote “Beauty, hope and happiness in your life”. It is therefore incomprehensible to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and its constituency of 400,000 families that you would launch a campaign using Nazi symbols and a reference to mass murderer Adolf Hitler in selling your product. Frankly put, these images and references are insult to the memory of the victims of the Nazi Holocaust, when 6 million innocent Jews were systematically murdered and the millions of other innocents who perished at the hands of the Nazi regime, its SS and military. Further, the survivors of those atrocities are outraged that their suffering at the hand of these racist murderers is being mocked by such a campaign. As you know, the Jewish and Korean people have much in common in their long histories, including the terrible tragedies experienced during the years of the second World War. We can only assume that such a campaign was mistakenly undertaken.

We therefore urge Coreana to immediately cancel this campaign and pull all advertising elements that use Nazi symbols and references to Hitler. Please advise us of your decision as soon is possible.

South Korea’s affinity for Hitler bars and baked goods and anti-Semitic comic books has been controversial outside of Korea — it recently earned South Korea an honorable mention in the State Department’s report on anti-Semitism — but this latest episode suggests that Koreans really don’t see the tastelessness of this. Korea even has its own Hitlerjugend wannabes. Those are pretty odd things for a country with an obsession with its own history of being occupied oppressed by Adolf Hitler’s fascist Japanese ally. On further thought, maybe that’s not so odd.

Korea’s conspicuous inability to grasp the idea that genocide offends the rest of Earth may provide some insight into why so few Koreans seem bent out of shape about concentration camps in North Korea whose cruelty is comparable to that of Mauthausen or Dachau.

This reminds me — when looking at old photos of Korea with my wife recently, I ran across a photo I took of another Nazi bar with a gigantic swastika, right near the train station in Cheonju, just before the World Cup. The Polish team played in Cheonju that year. I’ll try to scan and post it later.


  1. This may be a very dumb question, but why does the ROK have Hitler bars? With similar atrocities happening north of the border right now, should they realize it is not a laughing matter?

  2. Yes, I blogged on this two days ago. (C’mon, give a guy a ht where hts are due, haha).

    Anyway, fearing that the videos would be taken down, as they usually are on Naver, I saved them onto my computer and put them onto youtube.

    You’ll also see the very noticable Nazi mural I photographed in downtown Gyeongju.

  3. I think they see swastikas as signs of Buddhism and besides, Hitler was an unmarried vegetarian who loved animals…

    Frankly, I don’t have a clue. I think they just grab isolated bits of “Western stuff” and use it out of context…

    I never thought they hated Joos any more than they hated the rest of us round-eyed devils…

  4. I think Koreans are less sensitive to the offensiveness of using Hitler and Nazism for commercial purposes because their 20th century history, not surprisingly, focuses more on the Pacific war and Japan’s treatment of other Asian nations. Anne Frank and the Holocaust make a first appearance in US state curricula in fourth or fifth grade, and the topic is revisited in depth in middle and high school. The award-winning TV miniseries “Holocaust” drew a huge audience back in the late 70s.

    Before Prince Harry was a hero in Afghanistan, he caught flak for wearing an SS uniform to a party in a country where his grandparents and mother proudly and bravely faced down the threat of Hitler’s Blitz.

  5. Prince Harry’s adolescent sartorial statement is not indicative of the British public’s general ignorance and apathy when it comes to crimes against humanity, whereas the same cannot be said of South Koreans. As hard as one may try to explain away South Koreans’ indifference to freedom and genocide beyond their immediate borders–even in North Korea, of course–with their own traumatic suffering or preoccupation with amassing wealth in recent memory, it is a sad reality that most South Koreans have no idea what Kim Jong Il has done to their fellow minjok North Korean brothers and sisters.

    I hardly expect a South Korean athlete to take a political stand at the medal stand in Beijing this summer–on Tibet, Dafur, or North Korea. All the more reason to admire non-Koreans who sincerely care about the plight of the North Korean people, like most readers of this pathbreaking blog.

  6. Whew! Nobody caught my mistake about Prince Harry’s great-grandparents and grandmother staying put in London during the bombings.

    Wolmae, the fact that Prince Harry was roundly criticized for his stunt shows that British people do not take lightly Hitler and his crimes against humanity.

    Do you really think most South Koreans “have no idea what Kim Jong-il has done to their fellow minjok,” or perhaps are they choosing not to see or acknowledge the North’s atrocities? I think the left really is deluded, but despite the fact that the South Korean media self-censored stories about the North during the previous two regimes, I think enough information filtered through to the public. Koreans aren’t dumb about the North, but they might play dumb.

  7. And as for South Korean athletes taking a stand on the medal stand, recall what happened when five bold ladies gave a geography lesson to millions of Chinese in a language incomprehensible to most of them.

  8. Sonagi: I refrained from saying something like “I believe Princess Diana was born in the 1960s, long after Hitler lay down with the vilest worms to dwell” out of respect for you and the gravity of the issue at hand. 🙂

    Your point about Harry being panned by the British public is exactly my point.

    And, yes, sadly I do believe that the vast majority of South Koreans have no idea about the systemic crimes against humanity committed by Kim Jong Il. It is simply not an issue of public interest or imagination. Ask a South Korean college-educated man or woman if political prisoner concentration camps exist in North Korea, and you might get an unsure “probably,” as from this Columbia University professor of Korean history:

    Ask him or her to define its characteristics, and you’ll probably get a blank stare, or misguided comparisons to Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, as you might from an American liberal. Ask about the famine, now well into its second decade, and you’ll get not much beyond “floods” and “droughts,” as you will from the hodgepodge of American “experts” on Korea.

  9. Your point about Harry being panned by the British public is exactly my point.

    We were never in disagreement. When I mentioned how Prince Harry’s stunt angered many Britons, it was clear that I was not depicting as representative of British attitudes towards Hitler and Nazism.

    That transcript is several pages long, and I don’t care to wade through it. Could you post the part you want me to read?

  10. Sonagi: Here it is. Page 1, third paragraph (the interviewee’s third response).

    JAMIE RUBIN: In prison camps and slave labor? Is that real?

    CHARLES ARMSTRONG: There are probably prison camps in North Korea.

    Now, not to single this man out–for sadly, he is not alone, in the US or South Korea–but this kind of reluctant or hesitant or diffident or half-hearted reply, say, in the field of European history, to the query “Were there prison camps and slave labor in Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union?” would not get you very far. You will come across as either dumb or an individual of morally questionable character. However, in the undistinguished field of Korean studies in America, you can build a successful career on such a “relativist-skeptical” stance.

    The more frustrating thing about all this is that the same is sadly true of academics and politicians in South Korea, believe it or not.

  11. Thank you for posting the text. Charles Armstrong may be representative of American scholars of Korean Studies, a field that gets a lot of funding from Korea, but I don’t see how his views can be generalized to ordinary Koreans. If you can show me English or Korean-language text with either poll numbers or a sample of opinions from different Koreans that show that “the vast majority of South Koreans have no idea about the systemic crimes against humanity committed by Kim Jong Il,” then I’ll gladly concede the argument with a comment “Wolmae is right!”🙂

  12. I did not intend to mean that “the vast majority” etc. in SK had NEVER HEARD of human rights abuses in NK, but that they indeed have no idea what the essence of the problem is. Neither are they interested in inquiring, in the same vein that the vast majority of citizens in any industrialized country indeed has head of “internet” or “electricity,” but are uninterested in their cause and effect. Again, most people in SK cannot distinguish a gulag in NK from a penitentiary, prisoners in political prisoner concentration camps (in Kwanliso [관리소] with their entire family) from Samchung Kyoyukdae (삼청교육대) under Chun Doo Hwan in 1980 (52 deaths of political prisoners), between crimes against humanity and dictatorship in general. The differences are clearly defined by domestic and international law and should be apparent to anyone with a modicum of moral character or common sense if he or she invested just 5 minutes to reflect upon them. But, alas, people don’t bother, as my favorite blogger puts it, to distinguish “a fart in a crowded elevator from running a gas chamber.”

    Like this esteemed professor of Korean history, who, in response to Bush’s remark, “Kim Jong Il’s got a gulag the size of Houston!” [which is a fact], remarks, “Meanwhile we have a longstanding, never-ending gulag full of black men in our prisons, incarcerating upward of 25 percent of all black youths. This doesn’t excuse North Korea’s police state, but perhaps it suggests that Americans should do something about the pathologies of our inner cities—say, in Houston—before pointing the finger.”
    Bruce Cumings, North Korea: Another Country (New York: The New Press, 2004), 176.

    Polls, as you know, are susceptible to distortion, especially by how the questions are framed. Here’s a Yonhap News report from May 2007, a survey of just 250 college students in Seoul. The headline is “only 47.7% surveyed responded that unification is essential.” To me, what’s more telling is that 57.7% said that they had heard of the “political prisoner concentration camps” in NK. Granted that the 42.3% that has never heard of such a thing is nothing close to “vast majority,” but again, my admittedly hyperbolic comment was not about “hearing” of it but “knowing something” about its cause and effect. And imagine what the rate of ignorance might be for the rest of the South Korean population, especially non-college students.

    You might recall that in a survey of 800 South Korean adults conducted on January 5, 2004 by Research & Research, a South Korean polling board, 39 percent of those surveyed, in responding to the question, “Which country poses the greatest security threat to South Korea?” identified the U.S. 33 percent chose North Korea. The perception gap along the generational lines is even more telling, with about three times more people in their teens and twenties identifying the U.S. as the greatest threat than those who do North Korea (58 percent to 20 percent). The pattern extends into South Koreans in their thirties, with 47 percent to 22 percent, respectively. 59 percent of college students and 52 percent of “white collar” workers with college degrees surveyed identified the U.S. as the greatest threat. The Chosun Ilbo, January 12, 2004.

    This is another example of South Korean apathy and ignorance about the nature of the North Korean regime. Yes, this is early 2004, not even a year after the invasion of Iraq, when war paranoia was running high. Still, as far as I know, I don’t think any US president, from Truman down to GWB, ever threatened SK to make a ‘”sea of fire” of it or reduce it “ashes.”

  13. Interesting that the Roh administration squelched the publicizing of the poll results. Was it because they were disturbed by the results or because they were concerned that the Biggest Threat to Peace on the Korean Peninsula might “misunderstand”?

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