- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2006

BERLIN — The author of a book of jokes told during the Nazi era that was published this week indicates that many Germans poked fun at Adolf Hitler and were not hypnotized by his propaganda.

“Heil Hitler, The Pig is Dead,” by film director and screenwriter Rudolph Herzog, argues that many Germans openly told jokes about the Nazi top brass and got away with it in the early years of the Third Reich despite laws banning criticism of the regime.

Court cases usually resulted in a warning or a fine, and alcohol was taken as a mitigating factor. Mr. Herzog said that looking at jokes told at the time provided a fresh perspective for analyzing ordinary people’s attitudes and may paint a truer picture than other historical documents.

“Historians of the 1950s suggested that the Germans were hypnotized by the demon Hitler with his magical new propaganda. The jokes show they saw through it. It poses new questions about how things could get as far as they did,” said Mr. Herzog, 33.

“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 humorless. People who released their frustration through jokes didn’t go out on the street and demonstrate,” he said.

In one joke told during the 1930s, 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. “Aren’t you like the others?” he barks. “Mein Fuhrer, I’m the nurse, I’m not crazy!” comes the answer.

In the early years after Hitler took power in 1933, many Germans were angry about Nazi fat cats getting top jobs in the government and industry. The vanity of the top brass also was the butt of many jokes.

Mr. Herzog based his book on interviews with 20 persons who had lived through the Third Reich as well as contemporary literature and compilations of jokes published after the war.

Many Germans found the Heil Hitler salute with the outstretched arm ridiculous. A circus director in the western city of Paderborn trained his chimpanzees to raise their right arm whenever they saw a uniform, and they even took to saluting the postman. The circus director was denounced and received an official notice forbidding the chimpanzees from making the salute and threatening “slaughter.”

But by the end of the war, a joke could get you killed. A Berlin munitions worker was executed for telling this one: Hitler and Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering are standing atop Berlin’s radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to cheer up the people of the city. “Why don’t you just jump?” Goering suggests.

A fellow worker overheard the woman telling the joke and reported her to the authorities.

Bitter sarcasm marked the final years. “What will you do after the war? I’ll finally go on a holiday and will take a trip round Greater Germany!”

“And what will you do in the afternoon?” came the punchline.

The book also contains jokes told by Jews as their persecution worsened. Mr. Herzog said humor was a way for them to encourage one another and to say: “I’m laughing, so I’m still alive.”

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