BANGKOK – Thailand’s most popular all-girl band, BNK48, which is an offshoot of Japanese girl group AKB48, has apologized after one of its members was seen wearing a shirt with a Nazi flag featuring a swastika during a TV appearance that drew “shock and dismay” from the Israeli Embassy on Saturday.
The incident involving the group occurred just two days ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked Sunday with somber ceremonies in other parts of the world to remember the 6 million Jews and others killed in Adolf Hitler’s death camps.
The performer, 19-year-old Pichayapa “Namsai” Natha, blamed her own ignorance for her actions as she delivered a tearful apology and asked for forgiveness. In the video apology, made on the stage where the group usually performs, she dropped to her knees as she finished her brief statement and was comforted by fellow band members. Her apology was also posted on her Instagram account.
Namsai had worn a red-and-black top featuring the swastika during the group’s televised rehearsal Friday.
Management of the group, noted more for its marketing prowess than its musical abilities, also apologized that they had “inadvertently caused dismay and distress to people affected” by the historical crime against humanity.
Images of Hitler, swastikas and other Nazi regalia are fairly commonplace on T-shirts and memorabilia in Thailand, a phenomenon blamed on lack of awareness about world history.
The deputy chief of mission of the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok took to Twitter to express “shock and dismay” at the outfit, noting the day of remembrance.
“Presenting Nazi symbols by the band’s singer hurt the feelings of millions around the world whose relatives were murdered by the Nazis,” said Smadar Shapira.
Georg Schmidt, Germany’s ambassador to Thailand, echoed Shapira’s dismay and also extended an invitation to the group.
“We invite members of #BNK8 to discuss the terror of the Nazi Dictatorship with us,” he tweeted Sunday.
On Saturday night, Namsai also apologized onstage during a concert.
“I want this to be an example for everyone, please forgive me,” she said, bursting into tears.
In an extended apology posted on her official Facebook page, Namsai later wrote: “Please give me advice so that I can grow up to be a good adult in the future.”
“I cannot fix the mistake but I promise I will not let it happen again,” she wrote in Thai.
Fans of BNK48 came to Namsai’s defense.
“I’m over 40 and I don’t know anything about this topic. When I saw the shirt, I didn’t think it would be a problem,” said fan Prasit Rudeekriengkrai.
Others blamed Thailand’s education system, which does not focus much on world history.
“What do you expect? When we were in school, they teach only about Thailand and Myanmar wars,” Samruay Kraspra said.
Incidents involving insensitive use of Nazi symbols occur from time to time in Thailand, where there is little awareness of the Holocaust and an inclination to use the motifs as design elements or comic props.
Past scandals have involved bars, restaurants, motels and clothing using swastikas and images of Hitler for decorative purposes. But on several occasions students at schools and colleges have mimicked Nazi regalia and rituals, including the infamous “Heil, Hitler” salute, in skits, artworks and ceremonies.
Thais are not alone among the peoples of Asia with little knowledge or sensitivity about the Holocaust. In what may be a mark of disinterest in history among the younger generation, several other youth-oriented music groups have been involved in similar scandals.
Late last year, management for the South Korean hit K-pop boy band BTS had to apologize for one of its members wearing a T-shirt depicting the explosion of an atomic bomb. In another case, a member was seen in a published photograph wearing a hat with a Nazi emblem. Band members previously flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika during a concert.
In 2016, the producer for a Japanese all-girl “idol” group similar to BNK48 joined Sony Music in apologizing after the popular act performed in outfits resembling Nazi-era German military uniforms.
Keyakizaka46, a group of about 20 mostly teenage girls who sing and dance in synch, appeared at a concert in black knee-length dresses that looked like military overcoats, and black capes and officer caps with a Nazi-like eagle emblem. The group’s label is Sony Music.