Today’s understatement: ‘Maybe we didn’t pay enough attention to the Hitler thing’

The question of the day in Switzerland: “Would you like your coffee with Hitler or without?”

A Swiss company, trying to feed the apparently voracious world of collectors of small foil-topped cups of coffee creamer, has during the last two years reprinted a series of historic cigar bands. Most are innocuous, including photos of U.S. President William Howard Taft and an unnamed Native American leader who is probably Wampage, the chief of the Siwanoy tribe in the 17th century and the alleged killer of the Puritan Anne Hutchinson.

But then there are the ones of Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini.

The company, Karo Versand, now is scrambling to recover from a public relations disaster on a continent for which 70 years is not long enough to forget the terror that the megalomaniacal fascists visited on the world.

Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain, Migros, immediately on learning what was on the creamer tops dumped Karo Versand from its supplier chain. The creamer cups never made it to the shelves for sale in their stores, but Migros already had distributed them to coffee shops and restaurants. And German newspapers and websites this week were filled with mocking and condemning stories about the matter.

Company president Peter Rothenbuehler tried to put the story in context, noting that the line had been out for two years and was now being discontinued. He also told German and Swiss media that the antagonists of World War II (and the architect of the Holocaust) “were only two of 30 designs.”

Still, he admitted, “Maybe we didn’t pay enough attention to the Hitler thing.”

The company only produced 1,200 of each of the fascist dictators. And Karo Versand’s managing director, Peter Waelchli, thought that too much was being made of a small thing. The creamer tops, after all, are about the size of a dollar coin. The Hitler top shows a photo of him, trademark mustache, and is labeled “ler” on the left side of the photo and “Hit” on the right.

“Of course, it was bad, what happened under Hitler, but you cannot ignore this part of history,” Waelchli noted, referring to Hitler’s systematic execution of 6 million Jews and his war, which led to more than 70 million deaths and left much of the continent in ruins for decades. “I have no problem with the images, but I can understand it concerns certain people.”