BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand’s premier university has apologized for displaying Adolf Hitler on a banner alongside Superman and other superheroes, saying it was painted by ignorant students who didn’t realize Hitler’s image would offend anyone.
The huge banner was placed outside the art school at Chulalongkorn University as part of a tribute to this year’s graduating class.
It said “Congratulations” in bold white letters and showed Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute next to Batman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.
“[We] would like to formally express our sincere apology for our students’ ‘Superhero’ mural,” art school dean Suppakorn Disatapundhu said in a statement Monday. “I can assure you we are taking this matter very seriously.”
The banner was up for two days before being removed Saturday in response to criticism. Photos posted online showed graduating students in their robes, mimicking Hitler’s salute.
Suppakorn said freshman art students had painted the banner as part of a traditional sendoff to the graduating class, and it was one of dozens of banners and billboards across the campus during the university’s commencement period.
The artistic vision behind the picture was to show that good and bad people coexist in the world, Suppakorn said after summoning the students for an explanation.
“They told me the concept was to paint a picture of superheroes who protect the world,” the dean said in a telephone interview.
“Hitler was supposed to serve as a conceptual paradox to the superheroes,” he said, noting that the superheroes were painted in vivid colors, while Hitler’s image was in shades of gray. “This kind of thoughtless display will not happen again.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group, had criticized the banner before its removal.
“Hitler as a superhero? Is he an appropriate role model for Thailand’s younger generation — a genocidal hatemonger who mass murdered Jews and Gypsies and who considered people of color as racially inferior,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the center, said in a statement Friday.
The study of history in the Thai school system revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings. World history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust.