The language of humor is hard for adults to understand, let alone a child who mimics what he hears around him without knowing the proper context.
A few weeks ago my son Cai was playing soccer with another boy, who I'll call Peter. More than a year younger than Cai and considerably shorter, Peter turned out to have a ferocious competitive streak not yet tempered by the "winning doesn't matter" ethos. He was bossy and shouted frequently, and finally Cai shrugged his shoulders and said, "You just can't deal with these Hitler people."
If you haven't already figured it out, Peter is German, we're Jewish, and the boys are pre-school classmates at the Jerusalem American International School. My husband came home and described what happened to me when Cai was out of earshot.
"He didn't say that," I insisted. "He didn't."
"He did," my husband assured me, adding that Peter's father had been standing nearby and heard every word.
Webster's dictionary defines mortification as "a sense of humiliation and shame caused by something that wounds one's pride or self-respect," and that's a fairly accurate description of what I felt at that moment. Like most things that have nothing to do with me, I quickly made the incident about myself.
"You can't make jokes about Hitler," I told Cai later that evening after I'd pulled myself together. "It makes people feel bad. Peter's father heard what you said and you might have hurt his feelings."