History Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler's Germany By Rudolph Herzog Melville House Pounds 18.99
Peter Watson's recent The German Genius, a primer of Teutonic talent overlooked by a nation (ours) obsessed with National Socialism, was a thoughtful reminder of just how much German Kultur gave to the modern world, from abstract concepts to reassuringly solid engineering. Humour, though, barely appears.
The disconnect between German ghastliness and German brilliance doesn't allow room for it. After all, when John Cleese exploded in Fawlty Towers, it was the concussed Basil's guests who pleaded that there was nothing funny about the war, "not for us, not for any German".
Yet jokes were not simply abolished in the Third Reich, as Rudolph Herzog, son of the film-maker Werner, makes clear in this concise, compelling book. Although some died for their quips, their fates had already been decided from above. The actor and indiscreet raconteur Robert Dorsay, already hounded from employment, made one last splash as lurid posters announced his judicial murder. By contrast, the cabaret artist Werner Finck somehow managed to navigate his way through the era, daringly evading arrest by signing up. Postwar, he became a living symbol of a lost age.
Stripped of historical context, few of the gags in this book are actually funny, the author concedes. But he never lets mild satire pass as heroic opposition. Drinkers entering a bar and …