Hitler shampoo? Hitler wine? Hitler clothing? All of these and more have been marketed to consumers recently in Turkey, Italy and India, respectively. In Dubai, a weight-loss gym ran an ad showing the railroad tracks leading up to Auschwitz, with the slogan: "Kiss your calories goodbye."
In India, a TV soap opera called "Hitler Didi" debuted in 2011. Its title, which translates as "Auntie Hitler," refers to the show's lead character—a dictatorial aunt who takes a no-nonsense attitude towards her family.
As for the shampoo, Hitler's name did not appear on the packaging. The TV ad for it, however, used newsreel footage of the Nazi dictator gesticulating wildly while making one of his signature speeches. Captions described the shampoo as being all-male and chastised men, "If you are not wearing a woman's dress, you should not use her shampoo, either."
Critics around the world, including the Anti-Defamation League in the U.S., have strenuously protested commercial references to Hitler and the Nazi era. In many but not all cases, companies have responded by removing products and suspending ad campaigns.
After the shampoo ad was pulled, Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL (and himself a Holocaust survivor), issued a statement that said in part, "It defies belief that someone would think that Hitler was an appropriate spokesman for shampoo."
Before the Dubai gym pulled its Auschwitz ad, Foxman expressed outrage that any business "could use this horrific tragedy as a gimmick to bring attention to promoting losing weight." To use Nazi-era imagery to sell goods and services, he said, was to trivialize unparalleled horrors and to desensitize the public to the Holocaust.
Notwithstanding protests, Italian wine maker Lunardelli continues to sell wines whose labels depict not just Hitler and other prominent Nazis (Goring, Himmler, Hess, even Eva Braun) but also Mussolini, Stalin and Franco. They are part of what the company calls its "Historical Series" of wines.
Referring to the series, the company's website says: "Thanks to this invention, the wine company Alesandro Lunardelli has obtained a lot of attention from the media all over the world both for the originality of the idea and for the quality of the wines. Today approximately half of the bottles of wine produced by the company are dedicated to the Historical Series, which by now amounts to over 50 different labels and has become a cult object among collectors." Other labels in the series depict FDR, Churchill, Marx and Che Guevara.
The ADL's Foxman tells ABC News that businesses' using Hitler's name to sell goods is nothing new. "It's been going on for a long time," he says. "What's new is that thanks to the Internet, we see it more. It travels. When an Indian restaurant names itself Hitler, now everybody knows. Ten years ago, that was not the case."
Most such lapses he attributes more to ignorance than hate. "There's an ignorance of history," he says. "To some young people today, Hitler might as well be Genghis Kahn. Time passes. Survivors pass. To the young, it's all ancient history." Plus, he allows, the bizarre and the macabre always exert a certain attraction.
"But to sell a fitness center using Auschwitz? Holy Toledo!" says the outraged director. "They know what Auschwitz is. Otherwise, they would not use this, in terms of weight loss." The ad, he says, constitutes gross insensitivity. "But is it anti-Semitism? Maybe not."