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They [the jokes] give a rare glimpse of what was going on in the Germans' hearts and minds during this darkest chapter of their history. Whereas other documents from the Third Reich are poisoned by propaganda or tainted by other forms of spin, these testimonies ring true. By describing how and why people laughed during the Third Reich, I examined the sensibilities of the German people, and all of the changes to which those sensibilities were subject, during the 12 years of Nazi dictatorship. Among other things, what becomes clear is that the Third Reich was not nearly as monolithic as the makers of contemporary newsreels liked to depict it. Nazi society remained heterogeneous, influenced by very diverse interests, frustrations, worries and fears, all of which were reflected in the humor of the time.
Contrary to a common myth, targeting Hitler using quips and jokes didn't undermine the regime. Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was ultimately in the interests of the Nazi leadership. Consequently, the Führer and his henchmen rarely cracked down on joke-tellers and if they did, the punishments were mild - mostly resulting in a small fine.
In the last phase of the war when the regime felt threatened by "dissenters," though, this changed. A handful of death sentences were handed down to joke-tellers, though the true reason for this was rarely their actual "crime." The jokes were taken as a pretext to remove blacklisted individuals - people the Nazis feared or detested because of who they were rather than because of what they had done. Among others, these included Jews, left-wing artists, and Catholic priests. As I show in my book, a staunch party member could walk free after telling a joke, whereas a known "dissenter" was executed for exactly the same quip.
1 - Hitler visits a lunatic asylum, where the patients all dutifully perform the German greeting. Suddenly, Hitler sees one man whose arm is not raised. "Why don't you greet me the same way as everyone else," he hisses at the man. The man answers: "My Führer, I'm an orderly. I'm not crazy!"
One of the first measures implemented by the Nazis was making the "Hitler salute" mandatory in public buildings. Many citizens didn't feel comfortable with the bizarre gesture and this is reflected in numerous jokes.
2 - The true Aryan is as blond as Hitler, as slim as Göring and as tall as Goebbels.
Many contemporary jokes center on the vanity and human weaknesses of the top brass, not on the fact that they were brutal killers.
3 - An adjutant bursts into Görings office: "The Reichstag is on fire!!". Göring checks his watch and says: "What, already?"
There was a widespread suspicion that the Nazis themselves had set fire to the Reichstag parliament in order to be able to blame it on their opponents.
4 - Two men encounter one another on the street, and the first one says: "Nice to see you out again. How was in the concentration camp?"
The second men replies; "It was great. Mornings we got breakfast in bed, with our choice of freshly ground coffee or cocoa. We did some sports, and then there was a three-course lunch with soup, meat and dessert. After that we played some board games and took a nap. And after dinner, they showed movies."
The first man can't believe his ears. "Wow! And the lies they spread about the place. Recently I was talking to Meyer, who also spent some time there. He told me horror stories."
The second man nods seriously and says: "That's why he got sent back."
Contrary what most Germans claimed after the war, many knew about the concentration camps as this widespread joke proves.
5 - [Hitler and Göring are standing atop the Berlin radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to put a smile on Berliners' faces. So Göring says: "Why don't you jump?"
A factory worker, Marianne K., was executed for telling this joke. Her husband had been killed in Stalingrad.
6 - If Hitler, Göring and Goebbels were on a ship in a storm and the ship would sink, who would be saved? Answer: Germany.
In the end, many Germans wished death to their leadership. Yet in this and other jokes it interestingly isn't a revolution that rids the people of the oppressors, but the forces of nature.
7 - What has gold in its mouth, silver in its hair and lead in its bones? A member of the Volkssturm.
On September 25, 1944, Hitler was forced to call up a "Volkssturm," or "popular offensive." This pathetic militia consisted of Hitler Youths and of men up to sixty who had previous been deemed unfit for military service.
As the [above] samples show, the "ridiculous Führer," stripped of his imperial posturing, was by no means a post-war innovation. Enough caricatures exist from the early years of Nazism that depict Hitler as loudmouth buffoon and a tin-pot dictator. The many disrespectful jokes about the Nazi Party leadership that circulated during the Third Reich also support the conclusion that Germans were by no means unwilling victims of propaganda. Great numbers of people back then saw through the swindles cooked up by Goebbels and consorts. Sadly, that did nothing to alter the fact that, in the course of a few years, Germany was thoroughly drawn into the terrible whirlpool of Nazi crimes.