University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Laughing with Traumas: Humor about the Holocaust in Contemporary German and Israeli Popular Culture

Laughing with Traumas: Humor about the Holocaust in Contemporary German and Israeli Popular Culture

A Talk by Ofer Ashkenazi, Ph.D.
Wednesday, October 19
Room 1210 Heller Hall

The talk examines comic references to the Holocaust in contemporary Israeli and German mainstream culture. Ashkenazi will argue that during the last two decades, Holocaust-related humor has been often used as a means to criticize the fundamental premises of the political discourse in these countries.

In blurring the boundaries between the sacred and the mundane, it provided an alternative language for the discussion of the return of the past as a culturally mediated trauma. The endeavor to represent the Holocaust, and to display its 'meaning,' has been an essential element in post-1945 Western culture.

In numerous works dedicated to this effort scholars have documented and analyzed its role in the formation of current 'trauma-cultures,' in which mediated traumas have become key components of collective identities (as well as popular commodities). For various reasons, these studies tend to focus on somber - often melodramatic -images and narratives, which aim to envisage Holocaust reality "as it was," or could have been. Such inquiries have a particular importance in the examination of popular culture in Israel and Germany, where the memory of the Holocaust still determines not only the national self-perception but also the national and international politics.

A close look at the mainstream culture of these countries since the early 1990s, however, reveals a flood of humorous references to the Holocaust and its iconography (in television shows, films, popular magazines, and file-sharing Internet-sites). In analyzing this phenomenon, Ashkenazi will argue that rather than ridiculing or denying the horrors of the Holocaust, these references often work to expose the (political) implications of the current trauma-culture and warn against its exploitation.

Sponsored by the History Department, University of Minnesota