Synopses & Reviews
In Nazi Germany, telling jokes about Hitler could get you killed.
Is it permissible to laugh at Hitler? This is a question that is often debated in Germany today, where, in light of the dimension of the horrors committed in the name of its citizens, many people have difficulty taking a satiric look at the Third Reich. And whenever some do, accusations arise that they are downplaying or trivializing the Holocaust. But there is a long history of jokes about the Nazis.
In this groundbreaking volume, Rudolph Herzog shows that the image of the “ridiculous Führer” was by no means a post-war invention: In the early years of Nazi rule many Germans poked fun at Hitler and other high officials. It’s a fascinating and frightening history: from the suppression of the anti-Nazi cabaret scene of the 1930s, to jokes about Hitler and the Nazis told during WWII, to the collections of “whispered jokes” that were published in the immediate aftermath of the war, to the horrific accounts of Germans who were imprisoned and executed for telling jokes about Hitler and other Nazis.
Significantly, the jokes collected here also show that not all Germans were hypnotized by Nazi propaganda—or unaware of Hitler’s concentration camps, which were also the subject of jokes during the war. In collecting these quips, Herzog pushes back against the argument, advanced in aftermath of World War II, that people were unaware of Hitler’s demonic maneuvering. The truth, Herzog writes, is more troubling: Germans knew much about the actions of their government, joked about it occasionally . . . and failed to act.
"Perhaps in response to the events of September 11, and the subsequent decade of terror attacks and the media spectacles made out of them, we seem desperate now to laugh. Mainstream comedy films often demolish box office records while movies that delve into the more tenebrous realities of existence disappear quickly. Laughter is the more lucrative business. The so-called real world offers more than an abundance of opportunities for darker cosmological and philosophical musings, but we would prefer to laugh, to experience the transition from anxious restraint to giddy release. Strangely, however, our laughter is often provoked by humor that chafes against the darkness from which we are inclined to retreat." Monica Osborne, The New Republic
(Read the entire New Republic review
Is it permissible to laugh at Hitler? This is a question that is oft debated in Germany, where, in light, of the dimensions of the horrors committed in the name of its citizens, many people still have difficulty in taking a satiric look at the Third Reich. And whenever some others do precisely that, accusations arise that they are downplaying and trivializing the Holocaust. But there is a long history of jokes about the Nazis.
In this groundbreaking volume, Rudolph Herzog presents the first history of humor and jokes directed at the Nazis: from the anti-Nazi theatre scene of the nineteen-twenties and thirties, to the jokes about Hitler and Nazis told during WW II, to the cracks about Hitler in Germany today. Its'a fascinating and frightening history: Here we learn the tales of Germans-including many soldiers-who were imprisoned and executed for telling jokes about Hitler and other Nazi officials. Herzog also documents the surprising number of jokes in circulation during WW II and documents their not infrequent telling, as well as the regime's efforts to suppress them.
About the Author
As a director, Rudolph Herzog
is best known for the crime series The Heist
, which aired on Channel 4 (U.K.) and was called “riveting” by The Daily Telegraph
. His documentary on humor in the Third Reich, Laughing With Hitler
, scored top audience ratings on German Channel 1 and was also broadcast in English translation on the BBC. The son of the celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog, he lives in Berlin.
Jefferson Chase is one of the foremost translators of German history. He has translated Wolfgang Scivelbusch, Thomas Mann and Gotz Aly, among many others.