“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.” — from The Atlantic’s Best Books of 2012
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, in fact, 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.
Jokes recorded during the Third Reich:
Two Jews are waiting to face a firing squad, when the news arrives that they are to be hanged instead. One turns to the other and says: “You see—they’ve run out of ammunition!”
Hitler visits a lunatic asylum. The patients give the Hitler salute. As he passes down the line he comes across a man who isn’t saluting. “Why aren’t you saluting like the others?” Hitler barks. “Mein Fuhrer, I’m the nurse,” comes the answer. “I’m not crazy!”
A poster for the Winter Assistance Organization reads: “No one should be allowed to go hungry or suffer from the cold.” A laborer says to a co-worker: “So now we’re not even allowed to do that.”
The telephone rings, and a man says: “Hello, can I speak to Müller?” “Who?” “Müller. Is Müller there?” “No, my name is Schmidt.” “Oh, I’m sorry, I must have dialed the wrong person.” “No big deal, we all did that in the last election.”
“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
“Subtle but scathing.” —The New Republic
“Slim and powerful … Herzog is to be commended for tackling so complicated and evasive a subject.” —The National
“A fascinating window to the German psyche and acts as a serious and powerful chronicle of the rise and fall of Hitler’s reign.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A conscise, compelling book” —The Independent (UK)
“Herzog, the son of the film-maker Werner Herzog, shares his father’s curious and mordant wit.” —The Financial Times
“A thrilling book” —Der Spiegel
“The first comprehensive book on comedy and humor on 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
“Lots of the jokes were unfunny. But the book is terrific.” — The Standard