Hey, Indonesia, Hitler Wasn’t a Rebel
If during a study-abroad trip to Indonesia you stumble across an image of the Führer, don’t be surprised. Tourist stalls all over the country sell posters of Adolf Hitler, neatly displayed in between images of Kurt Cobain and European soccer teams. The swastika is also everywhere—on walls, cups, ashtrays, and T-shirts—and it’s not the Buddhist kind. The strangest thing about this phenomenon, however, is that the people selling and sporting the Nazi paraphernalia often aren’t confused, right-wing extremists like these guys but average locals who often have no idea who Hitler was.
To find out why so much merchandise carrying Nazi symbolism is sold on the streets of Indonesia, I got in touch with Dr. Wahid, a history professor at the Gadjah Mada University of Yogyakarta in Java.
According to Wahid, the people of Indonesia are anything but anti-Semitic: “The knowledge the people here have about Hitler comes from American films; there’s not much more to it. Contrary to their European peers, Indonesian students hardly receive any history lessons on World War II. They know nothing about the persecution of Jews, for example. They see Hitler as a revolutionary, similar to Che Guevara, not as someone who is responsible for the death of millions of Jews. Of course they condemn him for his deeds—if they are aware of them—but they’re attracted to emblems of Nazi Germany because they’ve become acquainted with these symbols through punk and hard-rock videos. In their view, these symbols are a representation of rebellion.”
This unawareness does not come as a surprise to Gene Netto, an English teacher from Jakarata. He once noticed that a student of his had put a swastika sticker on his mobile phone. “He had no idea what it stands for. I sat him down to explain who the Nazis were, and what they’ve done. After that, the boy immediately threw away the sticker.”