Sat Lo, Hitler and Chaplin in Cambodia

Cambodian sign depicting Adolf Hitler

‘Welder of Metal’

This painted Cambodian sign, advertising a ‘Welder of Metal’, is certainly one of the most curious I have come across so far. I first heard about it when it was advertised for sale, here on Khmer 440 Cambodian Forums. It has since resurfaced on the Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie Facebook page, once again for sale. If anyone is interested in buying it then please get in touch.

The sign clearly depicts Adolf Hitler and this is what makes it stand out, versus other more prosaic characters that appear on painted signs in Cambodia. In the original notice about the sign being for sale, the owner of the business said he had it commissioned to ‘teach the local children about history’. He also observed that many locals believe the character is Charlie Chaplin, rather than Hitler.

In previous discussions with Tom Kramer, a fellow enthusiast, he pointed out that the character may indeed by based on Charlie Chaplin, a popular figure in Cambodia following his 1936 tour of the country. (Read more about the enduring legacy of Chaplin in Cambodia in this 2002 Sarika article by Darryl Collins.) It was four years later in 1940 that Chaplin released The Great Dictator, a film in which he plays Henkil, clearly modeled on Adolf Hitler.

Poster for Charlie Chaplin in Le Dictateur (the Great Dictator)

The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin (Photo from Massive Magazine)

No doubt this film made its way to Cambodia given that it was Chaplins’s most commercially successful movie, and hence his depiction of Hitler would have been known in the country. This theory appears to hold some credibility in explaining the imagery of the sign, although the use of the swastika on the armband and the words of the shop owner contradict this. Nonetheless, Chaplin is clearly visible on other signs around Cambodia, and is often referred to as ‘Sat Lo’. (The popularity of silent films is understandable in a non-English speaking country and this endures with more contemporary productions such as Mr Bean and Tom & Jerry regularly played on TV and on buses.)

Charlie Chaplin figure on Cambodian sign promoting road safety

Sat Lo by Tom Kramer

Thank you to Tom Kramer and Ash Easton for sharing your pictures and notes. I hope this most curious sign finds a loving home.

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