Sacred and Profane History of Cherished Jewish Number 18

Neo-Nazis Also Revere Number — for Different Reason

Luckiest Number: What could be wrong with a German shoe store that emblazoned the number 18 on some sneakers? Maybe everything.
getty images
Luckiest Number: What could be wrong with a German shoe store that emblazoned the number 18 on some sneakers? Maybe everything.

By Gavriel Rosenfeld

Published November 06, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

Now that the offending sneaker has been withdrawn from the market, the controversy has blown over. But it raises a larger question about the Third Reich’s legacy for contemporary German life: Where should a liberal democracy draw the line between forbidden and acceptable symbols?

Few would deny that banning overt Nazi symbols is necessary for preventing the rehabilitation of a dangerous and discredited ideology. But there are more than a few gray areas. Should the ban extend — as it has for decades in Germany — to the use of certain letter combinations (SS, SA, NS, et cetera) on German license plates? And apart from the matter of outright bans, should Germans continue to engage in the kind of self-censorship that has been practiced in cities like Hamburg, which decided in 1973 to call its convention center a “Congress Centrum” (instead of the more logical German word, Kongresszentrum), because the latter abbreviation would have been “KZ” (a notorious shorthand term for “concentration camp”).

In the most charitable view, such moves may be seen as progressive gestures reflecting Germany’s commitment to a democratic, anti-Nazi worldview. But they have the corollary effect of impeding a sense of normalcy in German life.

Comments to this effect were voiced by many online critics of Tchibo’s decision to stop selling its sneakers. Among the many objections, some web users angrily noted that stigmatizing the number 18 would easily lead to countless reductio ad absurdum dilemmas. Should the number be removed from athletic jerseys? Should it be removed from street addresses? Calendars? Math books? Should other burdened numbers, such as 33 and 39, also be banned due to their own associations with the Nazis’ rise to power and the outbreak of World War II?

All of these objections reflect a growing sense of impatience with what many German critics have described as the paranoid absurdities of political correctness vis-à-vis the country’s Nazi past. They further illustrate a frustration with the country’s inability to finally emerge from under the shadow of Nazism and attain a relative sense of normality.

To a degree, one can sympathize with such comments and the yearnings that underlie them. Yet there is a price to be paid for normality, which reminds us of the benefits of stigmas.

A telling example was provided several years ago by none other than Tchibo itself. In promoting a new line of coffee drinks in 2009, the company employed the slogan “Jedem den Seinen” (“To each his own”) in its nationwide ad campaign. In doing so, however, the company neglected to realize that a nearly identical slogan, “Jedem das Seine,” had been used by the Nazis at the Buchenwald concentration camp, where it was affixed to the Lager’s iron entrance gates as a deceptive “welcome” message. Following a predictable outcry by various groups, such as the Central Council of Jews in Germany, about the company’s historical insensitivity and amnesia, Tchibo withdrew the ad.

The controversy revealed, however, that even in a nation committed to remembrance, forgetting remains a threat. The failure of Tchibo and its ad agency to recognize the phrase’s Nazi-era usage shows that some Germans have already arrived at a state of normalcy with regard to the Nazi past.


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!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • 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.