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A laughing matter?: the role of humor in Holocaust narrative

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Approaches to Holocaust representation often take their cues from both academic and public discourse. General opinion demands serious engagement that depicts the full range of the brutality and inhumanity of

Approaches to Holocaust representation often take their cues from both academic and public discourse. General opinion demands serious engagement that depicts the full range of the brutality and inhumanity of the genocide and the victimization of targeted groups perpetrated by the National Socialists. Such a treatment is considered necessary to adequately represent the Holocaust for generations to come. The analysis of four texts will show that humor is not only appropriate but is also an important addition to Holocaust discourse. This study argues that humor plays an important role as a stylistic tool for discussing the Holocaust as well as for its remembrance and representation. Jurek Becker's novel Jakob der Lügner and Ruth Klüger's autobiography Weiter Leben: Eine Jugend are witness-texts by Jewish authors. Humor in these two works helps the authors engage and work their experiences. Klüger's autobiography also utilizes humor to critically engage in the discussion of Holocaust representation. This study also analyzes two non-witness Jewish texts: the stage play Mein Kampf by George Tabori and the feature film Mein Führer, die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler by Dani Levy. These two works utilize overt humor to challenge established Holocaust representations. Drawing on ideas from Mikhail M. Bakhtin, Julia Kristeva, Giorgio Agamben, the core argument of this study demonstrates humor performs two main functions in the Holocaust literature and film chosen for this investigation. First, it restores a potential loss of dignity and helps victims endure the incomprehensible. Second, it challenges the prevailing truth and the established order.

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  • 2013