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!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • 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.