How We Got Hitler-ized

What the Ubiquity of the Führer Says About Our Culture

By Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Published June 26, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It has been dismissed as a tempest in a teapot, but the recent brouhaha over JC Penney’s now-infamous Hitler teakettle may be more significant than it initially appears.


Click to enlarge/Kurt Hoffman illustration.

Far from being an isolated incident, it is merely the latest in a long series of news stories in recent years about the “discovery” of Hitler’s face in unusual objects.

Since 2011, the mainstream media has published sensationalistic reports about cats that look like Hitler, fish that look like Hitler, a stinkbug that looks like Hitler and even a house that looks like Hitler. Much of the attention has been tongue-in-cheek and featured on the back pages of tabloid newspapers in Europe and the United States. But established news organizations, such as CNN, have covered the phenomenon, too.

In attempting to explain the proliferation of Hitler “sightings,” journalists have invoked a range of theories. Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson invoked the idea of “pareidolia,” referring to the human tendency to perceive familiar shapes in abstract forms — for instance, bunnies in clouds. This phenomenon, which taps into the same tendencies measured by a Rorschach test, may partly explain the phenomenon. So, too, may the impulse toward anthropomorphism, which has been visible in everything from Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Renaissance-era vegetable portraiture to Jesus Christ sightings in grilled cheese sandwiches.

Yet this formalistic explanation begs a deeper question: Why is it Adolf Hitler, of all people, who keeps being spotted in random objects?

To answer this question, it helps to understand the wave of Hitler sightings in conjunction with the rise of what has been called the “Hitler meme.” Memes have become commonplace in Internet culture in recent years, having assumed myriad incarnations in the form of viral videos, images and catch phrases that have swiftly assumed iconic status. Prominent examples encompass everything from the film “KONY 2012” (about the brutal Ugandan guerilla leader Joseph Kony) to phrases such as LOL (“laughing out loud”) to emoticons.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.