Clashing Views from Clashing Jews
Holocaust Jokes: When a Joke Crosses the Line By Dahlia Zail
I am a Jew, and I have always worn the identity with pride. I went to Hebrew school from first grade to my freshman year. I had a Bat Mitzvah, travelled to Israel twice, and have gone to Jewish sleep away camp for five years. I spent my whole life oblivious to modern-day anti-semitism. We learned about the Holocaust at synagogue or at school, so I knew anti-semitism existed. But to me, it was always in a far away place, and I was safe from it.
Unfortunately, recent events have forced me to take a reality check. Ever since president Trump was elected, anti-semitic views seem to be on the rise in America.
Either way, I have noticed a change in the way anti-semitism is present in the world. In high school, it has taken a new, crude form: Holocaust jokes.
You may be thinking, “how can something like the holocaust be made into a joke?” Well, I wondered that too. But trust me, I’ve heard lots. It is now at the point where 9 out of every 10 times I walk up to a group of guys, someone heils at me, or spits out some shameful joke about jews being killed in the holocaust. I’ve had kids try to make my 9 year old brother heil Hitler at a basketball game. People try to grab my arms and force me to heil. They’ve drawn swastikas on foggy car windows just to egg me on.
And the worst part is, they don’t even see why it’s wrong. This part, no matter how true, is hard for me to stomach. I recently visited the Tolerance Museum in Los Angeles, where they have a one hour interactive exhibit about the Holocaust. It was chocked full with maps, videos, narration, and photographs. As I watched and listened to blatant hate towards my people, my blood began to boil. I watched horrifying videos of these people, skinny as skeletons, shot or marched into gas chambers. As I sat there, feeling like I was going to be sick, all I could think was, “How could any of this be funny? How could 6 million innocent people dying possibly be funny?” Over and over in my head. I’ve heard the idiotic excuses for the jokes. “It happened a long time ago,” people say. Or they just fail to admit that what they are doing is in fact wrong. I don’t think these kids understand what really happened, and how strong the hate that inspired the holocaust was. I don’t think they can comprehend the magnitude of the issue. So what do they do? They joke. But all this does is incite more hate in the world. However, I do think that along with their inability to understand, there is a popular attitude of “Well, if it doesn’t affect me, then why should I care?” This is a somewhat common belief in our culture, and makes it easier for anti semitic tragedies like the holocaust to be taken less seriously than they should be.
I’m writing this article attempting to help explain what it is you are joking about when you heil hitler. You are mocking the death of 1.5 million innocent children. You are mocking the unimaginable pain and suffering experienced by families living in the horrible conditions of the ghettos and the concentration camps. You are commending the belief that one race is superior to another, and should therefore be eradicated.
So I ask every single one of you, do you want to marginalize and support this deep seeded hatred in the world?
Holocaust Jokes: The Healing Process By Milo Levine
I’m not exactly Jewish… per se. Judaism is a religion that I do not practice, however I do have extensive Jewish heritage, family members, and cultural influence. I attended Hebrew School for many years against my will, eventually had a Bar Mitzvah, and publicly denounced God on the same day.
That said, I don’t take the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, or discrimination lightly. Many ancestors of mine died in the Holocaust, which makes the whole thing hit home quite hard. I am familiar with the nature of the genocide and the atrocities it inflicted on millions of people. This kind of hatred is still alive today and certainly won’t go away anytime soon, unless the world as a whole makes an active effort to confront prejudicial terror. In this ideological war against discrimination, one thing is very important: know your enemy.
The enemy of the Jewish people and persecuted groups everywhere is not comedy, in any way, shape, or form. Especially in this day and age, there is a severe societal sensitivity to any humorous cracks made about difficult subjects. This includes the Holocaust. Too many people take jokes too seriously, and often misinterpret them as genuine statements.
The dictionary definition of a joke is: something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement. The definition is not: something said or done to be taken literally or as an endorsement of everything wrong with the world.
A joke made about the Holocaust can definitely be over the top and in poor taste, but almost every time, it certainly isn’t condoning Nazi theology. Instead, I find it to be a lighthearted way to catalyze a conversation revolving around a very difficult and important topic. Not everyone can confront such a daunting subject right off the bat. Jokes help remove social barriers and open up a dialogue when there normally wouldn’t be one.
Don’t get me wrong, I really dislike having to publically defend making fun of the Holocaust, but I do it so a more intense focus can be put on combatting real anti semitism and bigotry of all kinds. Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman once said, “Jews, black people – any people who are hated or who have suffered, either as individuals or as a people – use humor. It is a survival skill.”
By virtue of being Jew-ish, I have a bit more of a leg to stand on, with regards to Holocaust jokes, but I would like to see a society that is more accepting of comedy across the board. I will not speak for other groups of people, and I am well aware that many in my own demographic disagree with my stance on humor, but the world would be a much better place if we could all make fun of each other and laugh about it together. Who are we to take ourselves so seriously?
Sadly, jokes are sometimes used as a thinly veiled way of delivering an insult, which is totally unacceptable. There is a fine line between humor and bullying, as comedian Bill Maher said, “I’m a guy who always defends jokes, right up to the point where they pointlessly hurt people.”
All things considered, the notion that comedy is dangerous is just absurd, and serves no purpose other than to distract people from the storm of racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, that is politically and systemically woven into societies around the globe.
I completely understand how it can be annoying when a kid in your class asks you what the difference between a Jew and a pizza is, but don’t let anyone tell you that it is the root of all evil, because that is a perilous and grossly misguided presumption. Long live freedom, humor, and their ability to coincide in a harmonious world.