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Underground Humour in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945

Hillenbrand, Underground Humour in Nazi Germany, — London: Routledge, ; reprinted in paperback , pp. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, , pp. Karen L. Recent empirical research into humour and memory attests to the fact that people remember better when they perceive a word, phrase or image to be humorous. Such is the case with the recent publications on humour discussed here. Although they vary widely by topic and time period, all focus on how power struggles, oppression and violence are represented by means of humour and satire, as well as by the not necessarily jocular but nevertheless related genres of comics and the graphic novel.

In these texts the authors spotlight how the primary source creators commented on historical events, incorporated historical artefacts in their works and generated countercultural memories that fill gaps in historical narratives from other sources.

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It moves forward to the successively more extensive treatments of jokes, satire and humour in Nazi Germany by F. In his three substantial collections of political cartoons culled from a vast array of European and US newspapers and illustrated magazines, Roy Douglas chose to highlight the power plays that have taken place in Western and Eastern Europe from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Schmidt and Alan R.

London: MacMillan and Green Integer, , Satire serves to point out matters that are not right, that are inhumane or contemptuous of mankind. It points out sore spots in society, so that people reflect on them. Satire alone cannot improve the situation.

They had not been aware of that before. Although political caricatures initially gained prominence in French periodicals in the sixteenth century, research into the subject of caricatures and political cartoons has only been conducted for around years.


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Coupe, by contrast, collected satires solely from Germany from the Reformation to the end of the Second World War and Christian Delporte focused on the role of caricatures and other images in twentieth-century French politics. For the most part Douglas selected cartoons depicting various leaders of the Great Powers of France, England, Germany, Italy and Russia wrangling with each other for hegemony in already or soon-to-be conquered parts of the world.

When Politics is a Laughing Matter | Hoover Institution

He begins each chapter by outlining the context in which a group of cartoons appeared, before explaining how each one, paired with its caption, fits into this context. The strength of his approach is also its weakness: by incorporating over two hundred cartoons into each book, he covers a wide swath of history, but keeps his descriptions brief.

Thus, his analyses of the iconography, allegorical meanings, symbols and so forth in the cartoons remain terse at best and are often absent. They do, however, broaden our views of how colonialism, imperialist wars and the lead-up to the First and Second World 4 See Champfleury, Histoire de la caricature antique Paris: E. Les Crayons de la propagande. In a Simplicissimus cartoon from , the grotesquely enlarged figures of King Edward VII and a wounded British soldier trample a mass of tiny people trapped in a walled camp, effectively conveying the horror of British oppression of the Boers and black Africans, over 26, of whom perished in such camps.

In the first frame, the Germans are shown having taught alligators to heel and giraffes to march in step, indicating their ability to organise even the most uncivilised residents of conquered territories.

French colonisers flirt with local women in the third frame while the local men look on, playing into stereotypes of the French as romantic seducers. Such images express the callousness of the coloniser and the suffering of the colonised in ways that pack a powerful emotional punch. Whereas Douglas pulled together cartoons depicting the Third Reich from external, international perspectives in his first book, The World War, —, scholars have also been working for decades on exposing how humour functioned inside this regime. Hillenbrand, who lived in Germany during the Third Reich, embeds the jokes in a series of short narratives.

These narratives are arranged chronologically to illustrate how the jokes comment on political leaders like Paul von Hindenburg, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels. Institutions such as the military, the Hitler Youth and concentration camps, everyday life in Nazi Germany and its immediate aftermath and international perspectives on Nazi politics are also featured subjects.

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Underground humour in Nazi Germany, 1933-1945

Because they neglected to research the validity of their claims, however, they propagated the conscience-assuaging myth that such jokes provide concrete evidence for widespread German opposition to Nazi totalitarian rule. When younger German historians became curious about finding the facts, rather than just preserving lived memories, they turned their attention to archived government and print media records. Der politische Witz in Deutschland. Both continue to support this misconception see Merziger, Nationalsozialistische Satire, 13 and fn 18; 11 and fn 9.

Her research reveals who created and told politically critical jokes in the Nazi regime, the contexts in which such jokes were told and how the official Nazi legal apparatus responded to their telling. Nazi leaders even told such jokes to each other. She determined in this way that two-thirds of the jokes were either harmless or cautiously ambiguous and only two were openly critical. An example of a crass joke told in November that is openly critical of Adolf Hitler and for which the joke-teller was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, goes like this: The participants at a medical conference are casually sharing their medical achievements with each other.

At this point, the German doctors were asked about their handicraft. We found an arsehole on the Austrian border and made it into the Reich Chancellor. Just because he is attacked as a scoundrel does not mean that he should not be Chancellor; after all, the doctors are bragging about having performed a successful operation.