To keep the mood nice and light. And that’s obviously something that people have done with jokes since they were invented. In fact there were even jokes during Hitler’s time in power in Germany. Obviously telling such jokes was a huge act of defiance in some ways, but even the authorities realised that it was important for people to let off steam.
Here are some of the jokes from that time:
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.
“Why aren’t you saluting like the others?” Hitler barks.
“Mein Führer, I’m the nurse,” comes the answer. “I’m not crazy!”
Hitler and Göring are standing on top of Berlin’s radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to cheer up the people of Berlin. “Why don’t you just jump?” suggests Göring.
“A senior Nazi visits a factory and asks the manager whether he still has Social Democrats among his workforce.
“Yes, 80 percent,” comes the reply.
“Do you also have members of the Catholic Center Party?” “Yes, 20 percent,” the manager responds.
“Don’t you have any National Socialists?”
“Yes we’re all Nazis now!”
“Göring has attached an arrow to the row of medals on his tunic. It reads ‘continued on the back.'”
The German army HQ receives news that Mussolini’s Italy has joined the war.
“We’ll have to put up 10 divisions to counter him!” says one general.
“No, he’s on our side,” says another.
“Oh, in that case we’ll need 20 divisions.”
“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?”
And what of the Jewish people who were being persecuted?
A Jewish joke from the time:
“Two Jews are about to be shot. Suddenly the order comes to hang them instead. One says to the other “You see, they’re running out of bullets.”
Two men meet. “Nice to see you’re free again. How was the concentration camp?”
“Great! Breakfast in bed, a choice of coffee or chocolate, and for lunch we got soup, meat and dessert. And we played games in the afternoon before getting coffee and cakes. Then a little snooze and we watched movies after dinner.”
The man was astonished: “That’s great! I recently spoke to Meyer, who was also locked up there. He told me a different story.”
The other man nods gravely and says: “Yes, well that’s why they’ve picked him up again.”
The thing about these jokes is that it really personalises the horror of Hitler’s Germany. And also points to the idea that the German people really didn’t become brainwashed zombies. They became frightened of speaking out against their undemocratic leaders. The same thing that happened in Stalin’s Russia. “I was just following orders” is obviously never an excuse. But being able to see the human side of the opposition is always important.
All of these jokes and many more are featured in a new book called “Heil Hitler, The pig is dead”. There’s an article about it here