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It is precisely for this reason that other Germans insist on the need to preserve historically-grounded stigmas in daily life. Only by doing so, they believe, can the country remain on guard against any possible Nazi resurgence in the future.
At the same time, it is equally true that focusing on small symbolic disputes can be shortsighted. Not only does it allow people to fight over trivialities, it can distract them from addressing the larger social and economic problems that can foster neo-Nazi ideas.
There are no easy answers to these dilemmas, but in the final analysis, the Tchibo sneaker controversy may paradoxically signify Germany’s progress in atoning for the Third Reich’s crimes.
The fact that Germans today have the luxury to debate such seemingly insignificant matters as sneaker design and coffee advertisements is thanks to their success in dealing with the Nazi past in more substantive areas.
Given the country’s efforts in the last half-century to prosecute Nazi war criminals, pay reparations to Holocaust survivors, erect monuments and museums, and explore the Third Reich’s legacy in works of culture and scholarship, it makes sense that recent debates have taken place more in the realm of the symbolic than the tangible.
This is not to suggest that the Germans have somehow completed the task of dealing with the Nazi legacy. But the ongoing debate over what should and shouldn’t become normalized can itself be seen a sign of the Germans’ inexorable progress towards normality.
Gavriel Rosenfeld is Professor of History at Fairfield University. His new book, “Hi Hitler! Normalizing Nazism in the New Millennium,” will appear with Cambridge University Press in 2014.