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Nazi Bar in Seoul Provokes Anger

March 7, 2000 GMT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Nazi flags emblazoned with swastikas hang from the ceiling and photographs of Adolf Hitler adorn the walls, along with Nazi propaganda posters and military insignia.

It is all part of the theme of a bar named ``Jae3JaeGuk,″ (pronounced J-sahm-J-cook), or The Third Reich, located in Shinchon, a busy commercial district in downtown Seoul.

There, young South Koreans frolic in dim light, sipping a rum cocktail named ``Adolf Hitler″ that is served by waiters and waitresses wearing mock black Nazi uniforms.

``There is nothing political about the bar. I only want to attract people’s attention for business,″ said Hyun sae-woog, who opened the place a year ago.

In an interview late Monday, Hyun said he does not support Hitler. His knowledge of the Nazi leader is limited to the ``killing of some Jews.″

But the presence of the bar _ which has provoked angry protests from Israeli officials and a Jewish group _ appears to be another indication of how little some Asians know about the scale of the atrocities the Nazis committed against Jews during World War II.

For example, in Taiwan, the owners of a restaurant that had decorated its walls with pictures of Nazi death camps removed them in January, shortly after The Associated Press reported that Jewish and German residents considered the decor offensive.

The owners of ``The Jail″ restaurant in Taipei said they did not realize the images might offend some customers.

In addition, a trading company selling German-made electric heaters designed a cartoon caricature of Hitler for ads in buses, store windows and subway stations throughout Taipei. The posters were immediately taken down last year after Jewish and German residents complained.

Like Taiwan, most South Koreans can describe in great detail the massacres and other atrocities committed by Japanese troops who controlled Taiwan, parts of China and the Korean peninsula during World War II. But many understand little about what happened in Europe during the war, including the Holocaust.

Only 1,500 Germans and fewer than 100 Israelis live in South Korea, and that might be one reason why The Third Reich bar has attracted little media attention.

Seoul also is filled with many bars, and the Third Reich isn’t the first one to arrange its decor according to a controversial theme.

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In 1987, a bar called ``Gestapo″ near a U.S. Army base in downtown Seoul changed its name after complaints by the German Embassy and pressure by the Seoul government.

But the Third Reich didn’t draw attention until last month, when the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a prominent Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles, said that it wanted the bar closed, calling it a ``virtual shrine to Adolf Hitler and Nazism.″

``The open existence of such an establishment mocks the memory of millions of victims of Nazism,″ the center said in a Feb. 28 letter to Lee Hong-koo, South Korea’s ambassador to the United States.

The Israeli Embassy in Seoul also sent a protest letter to the South Korean government in February. ``We are very disturbed. We would prefer if the bar used a better example of history as its theme,″ said First Secretary Ariel Shafransky at the Israeli Embassy.

Officials at the German Embassy in Seoul agreed.

``I would like to highlight how intolerable it is, not only for the German government but also for all the others, especially Israelis,″ said Oliver Schramm, a German Embassy counselor.

Officials at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment. However, Hyun said government officials visited him twice to try to persuade him to change the bar’s name and decorations.

He said he is considering ``making some changes,″ but does not understand why his bar is causing so much controversy.

Local government officials said there is no legal ground for them to crack down on the bar. The use of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, but not in South Korea.

``We went there twice and appealed to the owner to remove the Nazi flags and photos, saying it could cause a diplomatic problem. We got a positive response,″ said Yoo Myong-yeol, a local government official.

Customers’ reactions vary.

``This is a well-designed bar. The colors match, and the music is good. That’s all I care about,″ said Yo Sung-kwan, 25, a design student who was at the bar Monday night.

But Hyun admitted that some customers, especially Western students from nearby universities, occasionally come to protest.

``They’ve sometimes made scenes. So, I decided not to take foreign customers anymore,″ he said.