Playing the Holocaust

  • Ruth Liberman


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.


Concentration Camp Holocaust Survivor Jewish Federation Colouring Book Unpleasurable Affect 
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  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
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  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
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    Benigni interviewed by Adrian Wootton, The Guardian (7 November 1998).Google Scholar
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    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
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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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