While travelling through northern Italy on vacation with his wife, Michael Hirsch, an American lawyer from Philadelphia, stood in a local supermarket near his hotel with a look of utter disgust on his face, as he stared at wine bottles with pictures of Adolph Hitler in various poses.
"It is very shocking and startling to us," Hirsch, who brought the matter to the attention of the local media, told The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. "We would think of it as neo-Nazism. It makes you wonder about the sympathies of the local people."
One bottle features Hitler with his arm raised in the Nazi salute, another is labeled 'Mein Kampf," while others appear with the words "Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer" (one people, one empire, one Fuhrer), Hirsch said.
Local prosecutors said they have opened an inquiry into the sale of the wine bottles.
"I want to reassure our American friends who visit our country that our Constitution and our culture rejects racism, anti-Semitism and Nazi fascism," said Andrea Riccardi, the Italian integration minister. "This offends the memory of millions of people and risks compromising the image of Italy abroad."
Hirsch told The Daily Telegraph that a store employee responded to his complaint by saying, “It's just history, like Mussolini, like Che Guevara.”
“I put the bottle down on the counter and left the store," Hirsch said.
The father of Hirsch's wife, Cindy, was born in Czechoslovakia and survived Auschwitz. Her aunt, grandparents, and other family members perished there.
"I was shocked," Cindy Hirsch said. "It is not only an affront to Jews, even if my husband and I are Jewish. It is an affront to humanity as a whole".
Prosecutor Mario Giulio Schinaia told news agency ANSA that inquiries were under way.
"The only crime that could be currently attributable to this is that of apologising for fascism," Schinaia told ANSA. "At this point though it would be opportune to invent the crime of human stupidity".