In Nazi Germany, telling jokes about Hitler could get you killed.
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 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.
About the Author
Jana Hensel was born in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1976. She is currently a freelance journalist living in Berlin. "After the Wall," published in German under the title "Zonenkinder," was a major bestseller in Germany. Jefferson Chase has previously translated "The Culture of Defeat" by Wolfgang Schivelbusch and "Death in Venice and Other Stories" by Thomas Mann. A journalist and writer, he lives in Berlin.
“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
“A concise, compelling book.”
"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."
“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 rounds—about 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.”
“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.”
Praise for the German Edition
"A thrilling book."
"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."