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Updated: Fri, 11 Jul 2014 05:40:04 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Why Germany's World Cup soccer wins unleashed a flurry of Nazi tweets



Germany's Andre Schuerrle and Thomas Mueller (© L)

Germany's Andre Schuerrle and Thomas Mueller (L) celebrate after Schuerrle scored his second goal, the team's seventh, against Brazil during their 2014 World Cup semi-finals at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte July 8, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray (BRAZIL - Tags: SOCCER SPORT WORLD CUP) - RTR3XPCX REUTERS

When Germany trounced Brazil in the World Cup semifinal match, a flurry of Nazi-era references was unleashed on the internet. Not only did the term "Nazi" spike on Twitter, so too did related words like "Hitler" and "Blitzkrieg."

Boston.com reported that according to data compiled by the Boston-based social media analytics company Crimson Hexagon, July 7, the day before the match, there were 14,108 tweets that used the words "Nazi' or "Nazis" or "Nazi's."

The next day, the day of the game, the number of those Nazi references jumped to 95,669. Similar Nazi reference spikes were found during the Germany vs. United States game.

Then there was the slew of war-related jokes. New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum tweeted that the "Germans have stormed into a foreign country and taken charge. How unexpected." Comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted that "this won't be the first time that thousands of Germans will have to lie low in Brazil for a while for their own safety."

And then there was the Malaysian lawmaker, who, with no irony intended, tweeted “Well done. Bravo. Long live Hitler."

'On the face of it, it's irrational'

All of this suggests that 70 years after the end of the Second World War, Germany still finds it challenging to shake its Nazi past.

"On the face of it, it’s irrational, [coming] 70 years after the war with practically no one who had any personal responsibility during the Second World War still being alive or at an age or a mental stage where he can be reasonably linked to what he did," said Dr. Gunnar Beck, who teaches European law at the University of London. 

“So it’s patently irrational. On the other hand, as a sociological fact, I‘m not surprised.”

The flurry of Nazi references prompted the head of the U.S -based Anti-Defamation League to condemn the Twitter comments, who said they were "insulting to the German team and demeaning to Holocaust survivors and victims.”

“These tweets falsely and irresponsibly identify current, democratic Germany with the horrific past of the country, which the present German government and people have denounced and rejected,” said Abe Foxman, national director of the organization. “Germany has done so much to atone for its past, and to have this happen now is terribly hurtful.”

Juergen Belle, president of the German Canadian Club and German Canadian Football Club in London, Ont., said Nazi-type references do pop up every once in a while against his organization and that just recently, children from another soccer team called Belle’s club "a bunch of Nazis.”

'Still haters out there'

"There are still haters out there and you’ll never get rid of that. It will take many many generations to get rid of that stigma," Belle said.

When Britain plays Germany, for example, some British fans have been known to utter chants like "two world wars, one World Cup" and "10 German bombers" (a reference to the Royal Air Force shooting down German aircraft in the Battle of Britain)

David Art, associate professor of comparative politics at Tufts University, said some European states are still very quick to use Nazi-terms against Germany.

"The French and Italians they do this all the time in their political discourse. They have these little snipes that are directed against the Germans with the Nazi things."

But Germany's Nazi past is its Achilles heel that can be easily exploited by other countries, Beck said.

"As soon as a foreign statesman mentions the word Nazi or Second World War, German politicians begin to tremble and say ‘how much do you want?’ said Beck. "You wouldn’t have seen the euro rescue without the Second World War."

While these attitudes toward Germany may be part of a wider problem, it's a problem that is perpetuated  by the Germans, Beck said.

"If the Germans said 'Seventy years ago, it’s over now, let us just move on,' I think there would be many who would be quite willing.”

Easiest way to insult

Yet Andy Markovits, political science professor at the University of Michigan and author of Gaming the World: How Sports Are Reshaping Global Politics and Culture​, believes that the "Nazi" reference is really just the easiest way to insult the country.

"The invocation of the word is actually very simple. Nazi. Period. End of story," he said. "You don't have to be knowledgeable about history. With the Germans, it's very easy."

David Art said that quite often it's the first reference that comes to mind when it comes to discussing Germans.

"Sometimes the simplest answers are right. That's what's really what's driving it. There's a whole kind of unfamiliarity with Germans and I think the first thing that anybody in the world will think of is Germans and Nazis if you know very little about them."

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