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Grapes of Wrath

August 16, 2012 By:
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Cindy and Matthew Hirsch's recent vacation to Northern Italy made international news when they complained about offensive wine bottles. Photo by Vincenzo Amato, L'Arena of Verona

A public prosecutor in Italy is investigating the sale of wine featuring pictures of Adolf Hit­ler after Wynnewood travelers Matthew and Cindy Hirsch complained to a regional newspaper about the bottles being offensive.

Italy made apologizing for fascism a crime in 1952. "At this point, though, it would be opportune to invent the crime of human stupidity," Verona prosecutor Mario Giulia Schinaia told the Italian news agency ANSA.

Matthew Hirsch, a 53-year-old immigration lawyer, said he had stopped at a market near his hotel in Garda last week when he saw a row of about 10 brightly colored bottles sporting images of Hitler in various poses. Taken aback, Hirsch said he brought one of the bottles to a store clerk to ask what it was. "He said, 'It's just history, it's like Mussolini, like Che Guevara,' " Hirsch recalled in a phone interview Tuesday after returning home from his trip.

The wines came from the Italian Lunardelli winery, which has been producing a "Line of History" since the mid-1990s. According to the company's website, the line now includes more than 50 labels depicting "celebrated personages of Italian and world political history" that have become cult objects among collectors. The "Der Fuhrer" subset alone contains 33 different labels. Other bottles feature Italy's fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Soviet chief Joseph Stalin and French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

His wife, Cindy, 51, is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Most of her father's immediate family perished at Auschwitz."I was absolutely astonished that this would be treated as a souvenir item," Hirsch said. "When you get to the point where you can put a picture of Hitler on a bottle of wine, it sort of indicates that people are losing their historical memory,"

Hirsch said he considered just letting it go, but instead put his rudimentary Italian to the test by calling the regional newspaper. Hirsch said he was hoping the paper would expose the issue so local residents could decide for themselves whether they wanted to patronize a place that would carry such a product.

The Verona newspaper, L'arena, sent an English-speaking reporter to interview the couple. Her initial article ended up generating a buzz that reached far beyond Italy. Italian integration minister Andrea Riccardi even decried the incident in Britain's Telegraph, saying he wanted to "reassure our American friends who visit our country that our Constitution and our culture rejects rac­ism, anti-Semitism and Nazi fascism. This offends the memory of millions of people."

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