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Playing the Holocaust

  • Ruth Liberman
Chapter

Abstract

Humour not only seems unsuited for the representation of an event of such cataclysmic dimensions as the Holocaust, but also inappropriate for the realization of the two most persistent demands regarding Holocaust representation: to document objective historical truth or facts and to honour and preserve in appropriately solemn fashion the memory of the Holocaust. Representations involving some form of humour tend to subvert this task through intentional distortion, ambiguity, or false appearance. Humour partakes in deliberately veiled language and in some form of deception or play.

Keywords

Concentration Camp Holocaust Survivor Jewish Federation Colouring Book Unpleasurable Affect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    This is especially the case in cinema. I am thinking of films like Das schreckliche Mädchen (The Nasty Girl, Germany, 1990) and Mutters Courage (My Mother’s Courage, Germany, 1995) by Michael Verhoeven, Agnieszka Holland’s Europa, Europa (1991).Google Scholar
  2. Francince Zuckerman, Punch me in the Stomach (Canada and New Zealand, 1995).Google Scholar
  3. Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1998).Google Scholar
  4. Peter Kassovitz, Jakob the Liar (France, Hungary, 1999, in English!).Google Scholar
  5. Radu Mihaileanu, Train de vie (Train of Life, France, 1999).Google Scholar
  6. and Yossi Godard, The King and the Jester (Israel, 1999).Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Humorous works by survivors include Tadeusz Borowski’s short stories, originally published in Poland in 1948, compiled in English as This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, trans. Barbara Vedder (New York: Penguin, 1976) and Jurek Becker, Jakob der Lügner (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1969).Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    Benigni interviewed by Adrian Wootton, The Guardian (7 November 1998).Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    In light of comparison of those films with Life is Beautiful, see David Roskies, who points out that the ‘conscious lies’ in Jakob der Lügner ‘save one from despair but not from death’, a thought pursued by Sander Gilman who compares Jakob der Lügner with Life is Beautiful and notes that in the latter the humour actually saves a life. David G. Roskies, Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p.192.Google Scholar
  10. and Sander Gilman, ‘Is Life Beautiful? Can the Shoah Be Funny? Some Thoughts on Recent and Older Films’, Critical Inquiry, vol.26, no.2 (Winter 2000): 279–308. I have argued that the success of Life is Beautiful might indicate a desire to accept history, if one that feels good.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. See Ruth Liberman, ‘Benigni’s Beast’, Clio’s Psyche vol.6, no.1 (June 1999): 12–14.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘Recollection, Repetition and Working Through’ (1914), trans. Joan Riviere, Sigmund Freud: Collected Papers, vol.2 (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1959), p.369.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Dominick LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust: History, Theory, Trauma (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), p.205.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Sigmund Freud, ‘Humour’, International Journal of Psychoanalysis 9 (1928): 2.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1963), pp.233–4.Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    Dundes, Alan, and Thomas Hauschild. ‘Auschwitz Jokes.’ Western Folklore 42, no.4 (October 1983): 249–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 33.
    Stephen C. Feinstein, ‘Zbigniew Libera’s Lego Concentration Camp: Iconoclasm in Conceptual Art About the Shoah’, Other Voices, v.2, n.1 (December 1999): 6.Google Scholar
  18. 34.
    Stephen C. Feinstein, ed., Absence Presence: The Artistic Memory of the Holocaust and Genocide, (Minneapolis: Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, 1999), p.44.Google Scholar
  19. 38.
    Jaye Berman Montresor, ‘Parodic Laughter and the Holocaust’, Studies in American Jewish literature 12 (1993): 126.Google Scholar
  20. 39.
    Terrence Des Pres, ‘Holocaust Laughter?’, Writing and the Holocaust, ed. Berel Lang (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1988), p.220.Google Scholar
  21. 40.
    Margaret A. Rose, Ancient, Modern and Post-Modern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruth Liberman

There are no affiliations available

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