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.
|Publisher:||Melville House Publishing|
|Sold by:||Penguin Random House Publisher Services|
|File size:||5 MB|
About the Author
Jefferson Chase is one of the foremost translators of German history. He has translated Wolfgang Scivelbusch, Thomas Mann and Götz Aly, among many others.
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
Works Cited 239
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
There are some interesting things here, and Herzog makes his point that, by analyzing the humor of the Nazi period, it is apparent that the average German citizen cannot claim ignorance of the existence of concentration camps and the escalating mistreatment and eventual near-annihilation of Germany's Jewish population. Mostly, however, this is just an anecdotal history of the war as it affected a small part of German society--namely a handful of actors and comedians, most of them Jewish. The individual stories of how they coped, fled, or perished are interesting, but there is no real overarching thesis that ties the book together or delivers on its promise of being a real analysis of humor in Hitler's Germany. In fact, some of the more interesting parts have to do with humor about Nazi Germany that came after the fact, such as Mel Brooks' The Producres.
I wasn't sure what to expect out of this book, but I was impressed by it. The thesis is that you can prove just by the jokes floating around Nazi Germany that the German people knew perfectly well what that terrible things were going on. Maybe they didn't know exactly what was happening, but they had a pretty good idea. There are also mini-biographies of German comedians (which sounds like an oxymoron, I know) and filmmakers, and how they were affected by the Third Reich and censorship. I learned a lot from this book, including some nice jokes I'll be sure to try out on my friends.
A while back I read a book by Ben Lewis titled Hammer & Tickle, subtitled either "A History of Communism Told Through Communist Jokes" or "A Cultural History of Communism" depending on edition, which was a disappointment ¿ a magazine article stretched out to book length. Now, the good news is that Herzog's work (original German title: Heil Hitler, das Schwein ist tot!) is a better book than Lewis's. The bad news is that that's damning with faint praise, as it's still not that great of a book.It may be possible that part of the problem can be laid at the feet of the book's English publisher, Melville House, for choosing the subtitle "Humor in Hitler's Germany", as only part of the book concentrates on that subject. (Also given brief chapters: political humour in Imperial and Weimar Germany; German cabaret in exile; the Hollywood films The Great Dictator and To Be or Not to Be; post-war humour about Hitler and the Nazis: Mel Brook's original The Producers, Benigni's La vita è bella, and the comic "Hitler the German Sow".) The structure itself makes sense, as the work was originally a German television documentary, but it does lead to a bit of a feeling of having been sold a false bill of goods.The origins are also apparent in the structure of the individual chapters, as they mostly follow similar lines: an example of jokes, an interpretation of what they said about the citizens' relationship with the government, and a more in depth discussion of a particular example of someone who told those jokes. In the case of the Nazi-era chapters, these are generally someone who either got in trouble for telling them or someone who told uncritical Nazi jokes.Now, there are some interesting and informative bits in the work: for instance, Herzog observes that the majority of joke tellers weren't arrested, and those who were usually had a number of black-marks already on their record. In other words, the jokes were the excuse for getting rid of who the regime already considered troublemakers, rather than as a means of identifying them. On the other hand, the documentary origins means that other claims are presented with a degree of certainty they may not necessarily warrant ¿ Herzog's frequent observation that many of the jokes show that the majority of the public were aware of the exact nature of Nazi crimes in the east ¿ or without any amount of critical examination. (The result of the post-Anschluss referendum is presented without mention of the actions taken before the vote to suppress opposition that lead the 99% number to be suspect as a representation of the actual public division on the matter.)Overall, an interesting book but one that could have merited a less wide-ranging focus and a more rigorous examination of conclusions.A final note: the translation, by Jefferson Chase, is worth mentioning as humour, particularly ones based as heavily on wordplay and puns as the examples included, is difficult to translate. Chase, in my opinion, does a noteworthy job of explaining the joke's original nature, noting where it relies on the double-meaning or similar sounds of a particular German word, without changing the original beyond recognition. The translated jokes may not be funny, but then translated jokes so rarely are, but the representations at least leave one with an understanding of what the original was. (A complaint made against the Italian translation of the book, for instance.)
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