The Trendy Tyrant
By Kim Barker
24 December, 2006
-- When an Adolf Hitler-themed restaurant opened its doors in a suburb
of cosmopolitan Mumbai in August, many were horrified. The restaurant,
Hitlers' Cross, changed its name a week later to Cross Cafe, but it
is hardly the only example of how some Indians view Hitler and his legacy.
Hindu fundamentalist groups
praise Hitler's leadership skills. A college poll a few years ago showed
he was perceived as an ideal leader. Books and videos of him are top
sellers. Most patrons prefer to call Cross Cafe by its previous name.
Plates and cups still bear the Hitlers' Cross logo, with a Nazi swastika
in place of the "O."
"We call it `Hitler'
only," said Ashish Anant, 18, an aeronautics college student who
likes to come to the cafe with friends. "We say, `Let's go to Hitler.'
It's a trendy name. It's different."
It's not clear why Hitler
is popular in some circles. Some experts say it's because of a belief
that Indians were the original Aryan race. Others say it's because Hitler
used the traditional Hindu good-luck symbol of the swastika, rotating
it slightly. Those who believe strongly in the caste system of India
also may like Hitler's eugenics and race beliefs.
Any praise for Hitler is
not reflected in national policy. India has strong ties with Israel
and views it as an ally in the war on terror. And Jewish and non-Jewish
Indians were horrified by Hitlers' Cross. Daniel Zohar Zonshine, the
Israel consul general in Mumbai, looked visibly upset when talking about
the portrayal of Hitler in India, especially Hitlers' Cross. He said
he thinks the owners wanted the free publicity that comes with such
Educating the public
The consulate has tried to
educate Indians about Hitler, sending a Holocaust photograph exhibit
and education materials last year to the western state of Gujarat, where
government textbooks have praised Hitler. The Israeli Consulate will
bring a Holocaust survivor and artist to Mumbai to talk to Indian audiences
"It's not an Israeli
issue," said Zonshine, adding that World War II was not ingrained
in the DNA of India as it was in that of Europe or Israel. "It's
not a Jewish issue. It's a humanitarian issue."
Joshua Reuben, 29, who belongs
to India's small Jewish community, said he was offended by the restaurant
but did not blame the owners.
"They probably haven't
thought about hurting anybody's feelings," he said.
Interviews with many young
Indians indicated that they had little idea of what Hitler actually
did and that it did not really matter. They described Hitler as "cool"
or "trendy." They did not know details of the Holocaust.
"I don't know much,"
admitted Puneet Sabhlok, 22, one of the co-founders of Hitlers' Cross,
which serves only one marginally German item, German chocolate cake.
"He was a dictator,"
added co-founder Shakir Siddiqui, 27. "Gas chambers and all."
Hitler is glorified in other
ways. A poll of 400 students from the country's most prestigious colleges
by a leading Indian newspaper in 2002 found that Hitler was their third
most requested ideal leader of India, behind independence leader Mahatma
Gandhi and the country's then-Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
A pizza and cake chain in
New Delhi, A Slice of Italy, sells a cake called "one for the Hitler,"
featuring Hitler's face. Last year the cake was sold with a swastika
on the cap and was described as a children's cake over the phone. Last
month there was no swastika.
"It's not common, but
it's exciting, madam," a worker at the pizza chain told one woman
who asked about the cake in November. "Order it."
`Hitler, the Supremo'
In Gujarat, textbooks have
praised Hitler's leadership abilities, fascism and the Nazi movement.
Until recently, state social studies textbooks have featured chapters
on "Hitler, the Supremo" and "Internal Achievements of
Nazism." The textbooks have been changed slightly this year but
still barely mention the Holocaust.
This is the same state where
Hindu-led riots led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Muslims in the
spring of 2002. Several investigations blamed the state government,
led by a Hindu-right political party, for permitting the riots.
Bal Thackeray, the founder
of Shiv Sena, a Hindu fundamentalist party based in Mumbai, has openly
praised Hitler and said he was willing to wipe out troublemaking Muslims.
Shiv Sena's secretary, Anil Desai, said Thackeray liked Hitler's leadership
abilities, not his attempts to exterminate the Jews.
Thackeray likes "the
way Hitler pushed the things in his time," Desai said.
Hitler's autobiography, "Mein
Kampf," flies off the shelves of many bookstores. The Bandra branch
of Crossword, a major bookstore chain in the Mumbai area, sells 35 copies
At the Rhythm House in downtown
Mumbai, one of the city's oldest and most popular video stores, the
documentary "Hitler a Career" is sold in the video section
"Why are people buying
it? Because they like him," store clerk Maqbool Sayed said. "If
it was up to me, I would hide these. I wouldn't put them out at all."
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