Holocaust Humor: It’s okay to laugh.

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Holocaust humor is a very sensitive topic, rightfully so. Many people are appalled by its existence, and this is a legitimate position.

But many people, more than you may think, find it rather humorous. They often won’t admit this publicly or in forums with unfamiliar people. But when the subject is carefully breached, and a smile comes across their faces, they know they’ve found good company.

Whether the infamous “Survivor” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a recent video about Hitler and the Dallas Cowboys, or Anne Frank jokes, Holocaust humor exists. And people laugh at it.

A year after I visited Poland as part of a teen pilgrimage, I stumbled across the article (originally published in Moment magazine) which chronicles the movement of Holocaust humor. It argues that humor is a legitimate coping mechanism and a means of dealing with the incomprehensible tragedies of the Shoah, particularly for second generation survivors. Say Rabbi Moshe Waldocks, co-editor of The Big Book Of Jewish Humor:

In every joke is the hint of the hidden horror. This is not laughter through tears, it is laughter despite tears. Humor also punctures, wounds, shocks, and reveals. If they’re doing the job right, the prophet and the jester have similar roles. Both are making the comfortable uncomfortable. (MORE)

Thus, as the grandchild of survivors, I have come to understand that I can both laugh at the jokes and respectfully remember the legacy of those who died in two separate veins.

In this respect, I am eager to read a new book by cartoonist Sam Gross–We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons.

The title says it all.

He says in an article in the Jewish Week that he wasn’t trying to offend people. He wanted to “demystify” the symbol. “There is no message other than this is a symbol and symbols really can’t hurt you.”

Judging by a few of the cartoons I’ve seen, this will be a hilarious read for those of us who enjoy this genre.

I’ve pre-ordered my copy. Have you?

Posted on February 15, 2008

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3 thoughts on “Holocaust Humor: It’s okay to laugh.

  1. DianaGrace

    Hi…I found this entry very interesting!

    I’d love to tell you about a show we wrote which is a musical comedy about Margot Frank, Anne Frank’s sister. People hear “Anne Frank” and “musical comedy” in the same sentence and freak…but this has a lot of heart and a great message.


  2. Odysseus

    I also think that this is an interesting article. As an African-American male, I am curious. Does the Holocaust survivor community and their decendents wish to emulate the African-American community’s acceptance of negative self introjects, (rampant usage of the “N” word, NWA, Naughty By Nature, Public Enemy?) One could say yes because they are taking a negative and are turning it around and making it into a positive. Others may say no. Your thoughts?

  3. Meredith Kesner Lewis Post author

    Odysseus, I think it’s a very different case. Rather than trying to embrace a negative event, people who use Holocaust humor are often trying to deflect intense feelings about the incomprehensible and the absurdity of the travesty with a different kind of absurdity.

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