A police sergeant from the elite Special Tactical Squad caused serious diplomatic embarrassment for Hong Kong by comparing the situation of the city’s police force to that of Jews during the Nazi era.
He was speaking at a mass rally last Wednesday in support of the seven officers sentenced to two years in prison for assaulting an activist in 2014.
His comment provoked protests from the Israeli and German consulates. The Israeli consulate said the comment was inappropriate and regretful: “We wish no further comparison will be made to the Jewish Holocaust.”
The German consulate said the officer’s remark shows “a regrettably insufficient knowledge of historical facts. The Jewish population in Germany was persecuted by the State and all its organs during the Nazi dictatorship and millions lost their lives. Therefore, the comparison between the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and police officers convicted for an abuse of power is utterly inappropriate.”
In a Facebook post, the Hong Kong Holocaust & Tolerance Centre (HKHTC) said the comment “trivialized” the Holocaust.
To remind people of the history they should know, Ming Pao in its Sunday magazine on Feb. 26 carried a two-page story explaining the background and importance of the event.
It noted that secondary school textbooks approved by the Education Bureau contained only a single sentence about the Holocaust.
“If social opinion against certain people is based on ignorance and stupidity, it will result in sneering and hostility,” it said.
“It will not understand the response of the foreign media and the foreign diplomatic community. And we cannot have a sincere reflection toward history.”
It quoted Heinrich Heine, a German poet of the 19th century, as saying that when the residents of a place “burnt books, they would end up burning its people”.
Hong Kong leaders, including chief executive candidate John Tsang and former chief secretary Anson Chan, slammed the police officer’s comparison.
Police authorities sent representatives to the two consulates to explain that the sergeant did not represent the opinion of the police leadership and administration.
They accepted this, saying that it was just the view of a single officer, and that they would continue to support the police.
The story was reported by the media in Israel.
The incident has been an embarrassment for Hong Kong.
The city prides itself on being an international city, whose citizens and officials are supposed to be better informed and more sophisticated than their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions.
Hong Kong people are well educated and have free access to information, through the media, the internet, bookshops and libraries. There is no excuse for such ignorance.
For the state of Israel, remembering the Holocaust and educating the world about it is a national duty.
In 1953, just five years after the new state was established, it set up Yad Vashem as the official memorial to the victims.
It covers an area of 18 hectares on the western slope of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. It includes a research institute, publishing house and educational center.
It receives one million visitors a year, including foreign heads of state and government leaders, for whom it is an essential stop on their visit.
The HKHTC has a similar mission. It is dedicated to the promotion, across Asia, of education and awareness of the Holocaust, as an international resource center for scholars, teachers, students and the general public, through the creation and accessibility of locally relevant material in English, Chinese and other regional languages.
“It aims to use the lessons of history to prevent anti-Semitism, discrimination and genocide, as a way to advance tolerance and understanding among people, in order to make a positive contribution to our society and future generations,” according to its mission statement.
It organizes events to promote understanding of the event. At the beginning of this year, it arranged for Holocaust survivor Micha Gelber to address 11 schools and universities in Hong Kong.
Accompanied by HKHTC director of education Simon Li, he spoke about his experience of how he was kept alive by the Nazis to be used as a potential bargaining chip and managed to survive the Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen camps. He spoke to a total of 3,000 students, aged 12-22.
How unfortunate that the police sergeant had not attended one of these talks.
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