"We decided to use Hitler because as soon as you see him, you think of Germany. It leaves a deep impression," Yu-shan Shen, of the K.E. and Kingstone trading firm in Taipei, said Monday.
The company's 6-foot-tall subway ads in Taipei feature a smiling caricature of the Nazi leader in a khaki uniform and black jackboots, his right arm raised high in a salute. Above him is a white space heater and the slogan "Declare war on the cold front!"
There are no swastikas in the ad, but the Hitler figure wears a red band around his left arm with a white circle bearing the name of the heater's manufacturer, DBK, a company based in the southwest German city of Kandel.
Shen said she didn't think the ad campaign, which began this month, would offend Taiwanese consumers, who "are not that sensitive about Hitler" and wouldn't think about how he oversaw the deaths of millions of Jews and others during World War II.
Taiwanese companies have used Nazi symbols before to catch customers' eyes or emphasize that a product was made in Germany. Two years ago, a company sold swastika-adorned motorcycle helmets that were shaped like those worn by German soldiers in World War II. Another firm put swastikas on German-made sneakers.
Israeli and German trade officials in Taipei were appalled by the electric heater ad, and DBK said it would order an immediate halt to the campaign.
At DBK headquarters in Kandel, executive director Hans-Hermann Alfers said the company first heard about the ad on Friday. Alfers said managers were not immediately sure who was behind the ad, but they will order the campaign to stop immediately.
Uri Gutman of the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei said the advertisement was "unbelievable." He feared using Hitler's image in such ads would trivialize Nazi atrocities or make them seem less real.
"It supports the denial of the Holocaust," said Gutman, referring to fringe theories that the Nazis didn't kill Jews.
The ad was especially embarrassing to Germans in Taipei.
Johannes Goeth of the German Trade Office in Taipei said the advertisement didn't surprise them because he often encounters Taiwanese who admire Hitler and lack a deep understanding of European history.
"Taxi drivers will often tell me Hitler was a great man, very strong," Goeth said.
Most subway passengers paid little attention Monday to the space heater ad near the exit of the subway station near the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, one of Taipei's biggest tourist attractions. When asked if anything struck them about the poster, some of the Taiwanese just shrugged or laughed.