Hitler jokes throw light on Third Reich

Hitler may have been a fascist, but Germans living under his iron fist made full use of humour as a stress buster, says a new book. Here is a sample of "Nazi humour" from German film director and screenplay writer Rudolph Herzog’s "Heil Hitler, The Pig is Dead"—the punch-line to another Hitler joke—that releases this month: "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 Füehrer, I’m the nurse, I’m not crazy!’ comes the answer. "Jokes reflect what really affects, amuses and angers people. They provide an inner view of the Third Reich that possesses an authenticity one usually misses when reviewing other literary texts," German news magazine Der Speigel’s English-language website quoted Herzog, 33, as saying.

That joke about Hitler’s asylum visit, like many other jokes about the Fuehrer and his henchmen could be told openly in the early years of the Third Reich, according to the book.

However, by the end of the World War II, a joke could be a matter of life and death. The book recalls a Berlin worker, identified only as Marianne Elise K., who was convicted of undermining the war effort "through spiteful remarks" and executed in 1944 for telling this one: "Hitler and Göring are standing on top of Berlin’s radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to cheer up the people of Berlin. ‘Why don’t you just jump?’ suggests Göring." "Political jokes weren’t a form of active resistance but valves for pent up public anger. They were told in pubs, on the street to let off steam with a laugh. This suited the Nazi regime, which was deeply humourless," the author said.

The book, based on contemporary literature, diaries and interviews with 20 people who lived through the Third Reich, concludes that Germans from an early stage were well aware of their government’s brutality.

The country was neither possessed by "evil spirits" nor was it hypnotised by the Nazis’ propaganda, Herzog noted, adding that hypnotised people do not crack jokes. "The Germans were by no means powerless victims of propaganda. Many saw through the games played by Goebbels and his consorts. This didn’t change the fact that the country was sucked down into a whirlpool of crime in the space of just a few years." This joke about the Dachau concentration camp, opened in 1933, shows people knew early on they could be imprisoned on a whim for expressing an opinion: "Two men meet. ‘Nice to see you’re free again. How was the concentration camp?’ "Great! Breakfast in bed, a choice of coffee or chocolate, and for lunch we got soup, meat and dessert. And we played games in the afternoon before getting coffee and cakes. Then a little snooze and we watched movies after dinner." The man was astonished: ‘That’s great! I recently spoke to Meyer, who was also locked up there. He told me a different story.’ The other man nods gravely and says: ‘Yes, well that’s why they’ve picked him up again’." Herzog’s work is seen as just the latest indication of a fundamental shift in Germany’s treatment of its Nazi history in recent years. As the wartime generation dies out, the children and grandchildren are taking a more detached view of the past, and a number of taboos have been broken as a result.

"Each new generation of Germans has to get to grips with the past. Taboos have been broken. With the distance of time you see the ridiculous side of this regime, but without forgetting its evil. We’re still too close to it for that," said Herzog. — IANS