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Protests Prompt India to Rename 'Hitler' Store

  • Anjana Pasricha

A customer walks out of a garment store named 'Hitler' in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, September 4, 2012.

A customer walks out of a garment store named 'Hitler' in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, September 4, 2012.

In the western Indian city Ahmedabad, owners of a store named “Hitler” have agreed to drop the Nazi dictator’s name following strong protests spearheaded by India’s Jewish community.

When two Indian men opened the 400-square foot store to sell Western menswear in a posh area of the city three weeks ago, they did not realize the name they chose would trigger loud protests.

“Hitler” was boldly splashed across the signboard, complete with a swastika, which is also an auspicious Hindu sign.

Rajesh Shah, co-owner of the shop, says the name was meant as a tribute to the co-owner’s grandfather - a very strict man. Shah says he was unaware that the dictator was responsible for millions of deaths during World War II.

“At that time we don't know anything about Hitler," said Shah."We don’t know that Hitler kills people. We just wanted a catchy name in memory of my partner’s grandfather’s nickname, that was our idea, not for that Nazi Hitler.”

The owners say the name attracted customers and business was brisk. But it also attracted the ire of the small Jewish community in Ahmedabad, which asked them to drop the name. Organizations such as the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, joined the calls for renaming the store.

Although the owners resisted for some time, pressure grew. Israel’s Consul General in Mumbai raised the matter with the state government during a visit to Gujarat. Local officials warned the shop owners that their license could be revoked if they did not comply.

This week, Rajesh Shah and his partner agreed to change the name. But Shah ruefully points out that his customers never raised any objections.

“They liked this name," he insisted. "Our first customer just came into the store because of the name and they liked the name. No one customer asked to change the name. No one. All liked it.”

Esther David, a Jewish Indian writer who lives in Ahmedabad, is among the first who tried to persuade the owners to change the name. David is glad their “small voice” was heard because she says “we cannot afford to ignore history."

“I think that people are now forgetting," David said. "We have very short memories basically, and everything becomes like marketing and trade and commerce and we forget our history, and if we forget, it happens again. One has to be very careful.”

A similar controversy erupted six years ago in Mumbai when the owner of a café who called it “Hitler’s Cross” was forced to drop the name.

Last year the name of a soap opera being aired by an Indian television channel called “Hitler Didi” or “Hitler’s Sister” was changed in the United States to “General Didi” following objections raised by the Anti-Defamation League.

The television serial is based on a girl who is a strict disciplinarian. It continues to be aired as “Hitler Didi” in India.

But Shah in Ahmedabad is now in search of a new identity for his shop - he wants to name it after a historical personality who carries weight, but also a positive connotation.

“I will have to think a hundred times before I decide on a new name," Shah lamented. "How about Napoleon, would that also attract controversy?”