Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler's Germany [NOOK Book]


In Nazi Germany, telling jokes about Hitler could get you killed
Hitler and G?ring are standing on top of the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on the Berliners? faces. G?ring says, ?Why don?t you jump??
When a woman told this joke in Germany in 1943, she ...
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Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler's Germany

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In Nazi Germany, telling jokes about Hitler could get you killed
Hitler and Göring are standing on top of the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on the Berliners’ faces. Göring says, “Why don’t you jump?”
When a woman told this joke in Germany in 1943, she was arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to death by guillotine—it didn’t matter that her husband was a good German soldier who died in battle.
In this groundbreaking work of history, Rudolph Herzog takes up such stories to show how widespread humor was during the Third Reich. It’s a fascinating and frightening history: from the suppression of the anti-Nazi cabaret scene of the 1930s, to jokes made at the expense of the Nazis during WWII, to the collections of “whispered jokes” that were published in the immediate aftermath of the war.
Herzog argues that jokes provide a hitherto missing chapter of WWII history. The jokes show that not all Germans were hypnotized by Nazi propaganda, and, in taking on subjects like Nazi concentration camps, they record a public acutely aware of the horrors of the regime. Thus Dead Funny is a tale of terrible silence and cowardice, but also of occasional and inspiring bravery.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Dead Funny isn’t just a book of wildly off-limits humor. Rather, it’s a fascinating, heartbreaking look at power dynamics, propaganda, and the human hunger for catharsis.”
The Atlantic, Best Books of 2012

“You’ve never seen Nazi Germany like this.” The Stranger (Seattle)

“A concise, compelling book.”—The Independent
"Fascinating... Intriguing....Herzog, the son of the film-maker Werner Herzog, shares his father’s curious and mordant wit." The Financial Times
“Dead Funny’s real value lies in the way it situates anti-Nazi folk humor in the shifting historical context of this grim bygone era, and the fact that the author is able to resuscitate such obscure jokes verbatim is a phenomenal feat … [the] book’s strikingly original historical research sets it apart from the glut of dry tomes which are still being cranked out about Nazi history.”—Time Out (New York)
"Chilling....[Herzog] shows, in unadorned language, the process of propagandising and the psychological capitulation of many Germans to the Nazis’ will."—PopMatters

“Herzog’s thesis is that, during the Third Reich, Germans relished jokes about their leaders. Throughout Hitler's 12 years in power, there were plenty of caustic gags doing the roundsabout Dr Goebbels’ club foot, or Hitler's limp Nazi salute, which made him look like a waiter carrying a tray, or the widely held suspicion that Goering wore his medals in the bath.”  —The Guardian
“Herzog demolishes the idea that Germans didn’t know what the Nazis were up to: there were many, many concentration camp jokes. Germans under Hitler seemed to find it natural, and kind of funny, that ‘troublemakers’—including Jews and dissidents—should end up behind barbed wire.”—Macleans

Praise for the German Edition

"A thrilling book."
Der Spiegel

"The first comprehensive book on comedy and humor in the Third Reich. [...] The author brings together all manifestations of humor--wit, newspaper cartoons, cabaret, variety shows, entertainment, film, pop songs, and musicals... An important history."
—Suddeutsche Zeitung

The Barnes & Noble Review

"This one'll kill ya! I just flew into Dachau, and boy, are my arms tied!"

Pardon my ham-handed irreverence and punning, as I imitate a hypothetical Henny Youngman doing shtick in a Nazi-era comedy club. But after reading Rudolph Herzog's Dead Funny with mixed laughter and gasps, head-shaking incredulity and sagely nodding confirmation of the best and worst that humanity has to offer, I find myself channeling the Three Stooges in You Nazty Spy!, John Banner (Sgt. Schultz) in Hogan's Heroes, Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful, and John Cleese in that episode of Fawlty Towers known as "The Germans." In short, I'm trying to use all the familiar, non-German instances of humor about the Nazis to understand this book's revelations: a heretofore rare glimpse into the incredible pressure cooker of mortality and laughter that Herzog reveals Hitlerian Germany to have been.

The son of famed film director Werner Herzog, our scholarly yet intimately conversational author (abetted by a graceful translation from Jefferson Chase) begins by establishing the historical, albeit overlooked or distorted existence of a joking attitude in the general populace under the Nazis. He divides the period humor into various camps or stances, including supportive humor that sought to minimize or accommodate growing Nazi atrocities in plain view. This is not a book that lets Germany's wartime citizenry off the hook. "The majority of jokes about contemporary affairs were entirely harmless and without any political message. But there was also a plethora of jokes colored by National Socialist ideology, although after World War II nobody wanted to remember these." We soon learn that the nation did not consist solely of heroically subversive parodists, bold nightclub performers, and punchline-whispering partisans — although there were a fair number of these as well.

The second chapter provides a brief detour into the history of political humor, all the way back to the ancient Romans. Then Herzog embarks on a more or less chronological account of how jokes evolved to meet the burgeoning Nazi movement as it infiltrated every corner of the country's existence. From Hitler's ascension to power, through the Night of the Long Knives, to the full-bore establishment of the death camps, right up to Hitler's bunker suicide (curiously enough, the one incident about which no jokes were apparently crafted), German humor paralleled events as they arose and were perceived.

Herzog offers scores of transcribed jokes to illuminate every point of his thesis. Most of these, he admits, fall flat as humor some seven decades after the events that birthed them. A few remain funny. But all are potent distillations of the prevailing angst and pride, fears and hopes of a nation, each one carefully affixed by Herzog to the trends and events that inspired their creation. To supplement these jokes, he also offers some great biographies of seminal, representative figures, such as the comedian-director Kurt Gerron, who ultimately perished at Auschwitz, and the insubordinate priest Joseph Müller, who, for a single joke told in a bar, was tried and executed, his family then being presented with a bill for expenses relating to his beheading!

Appealing to the aficionados of the weird and exotic, Herzog digs up the most bizarre tidbits, at times lending his catalogue a Monty Python flavor. Who could conceive of a series of propaganda films devoted to two stock characters, Tran and Helle, which echoed Highlights magazine's Goofus and Gallant routines?

TRAN: And maybe I can tune in occasionally to foreign broadcasters. [Several dumb jokes elided]

HELLE: A good German doesn't do things like that.
Herzog also makes brief forays into contemporary humor directed against the Nazis, such as Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be. A section on fatalistic Jewish humor is particularly poignant, and suitably rounds out the study.

And although he never mentions it — Herzog's book first appeared in German in 2006, just on the eve of the birth of the phenomenon — the ultimate victory of humor over the Nazis must be awarded to the Internet meme of Downfall parodies, those short clips that warp Bruno Ganz's cinematic rant into an infinite number of absurdist themes. If only a time machine existed to ship these clips back to the suffering Germans, they would have taken heart and perhaps overthrown their vile masters posthaste.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935554936
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/26/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Rudolph Herzog is a historian and filmmaker. His documentary on humor in the Third Reich, Laughing With Hitler, scored top audience ratings on German Channel 1 and the BBC. The son of celebrated director 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 Götz Aly, among many others.
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Table of Contents

I Political Humor Under Hitler: An Inside Look at the Third Reich 1

II The Rise and Development of Political Humor 11

III The Nazi Seizure of Power 31

IV Humor and Persecution 81

V Humor and War 129

VI Humor and Annihilation 207

VII Laughing at Auschwitz? Humor and National Socialism after World War II 221

Notes 236

Works Cited 239

Index 244

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2011

    Brilliant. Disturbing. And even, sometimes, pretty funny.

    Herzog takes an unexpected angle to explore Germany's cultural past, and the results are eye-opening. The book is full of odd details that provide a whole new way to understand Nazi Germany. My favorite part involved the exiled Jewish actors and comedians who broadcast parodies of Hitler and patriotic Germans across Germany via the BBC.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012


    UUUHHHH..... wat is dis crap

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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