Jewish Comics Yes! Farcical Holocaust Tragedians No!
Published: 1996-07-01

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Doubtless you've seen the stories: the French Olympic "synchronized swimming" team in Atlanta, goose-stepping poolside to themes from Schindler's List, then diving in for their arrival at the death camps, the selection by Dr. Mengele and company, and the last march to the showers (or was it the bath tubs?).

No, this one wasn't going to play, not in Peoria, not in Jerusalem (even if the routine did secure the European Cup for France in May, even if there was a swimming pool at Auschwitz). As Haim Musicant, executive director of the Council of Jewish Institutions in France, modestly put it: "There are certain subjects you just cannot deal with in a swimming pool."

But are there? And if so, who would most likely go ahead and deal with them anyway?

We have a theory. Our theory proceeds from the premise that the French team's program was a cruel and underhanded satire on the gas-chamber extermination story itself. Remember, Schindler's List itself depicted a shower room, not a "gassing!” We may be on to something here.

Is this a new "alternative” movement among Holocaust aficionados? A radicalization of sentiment and intellect among young and marginal culture mongers? Does this movement have a history?

We recall the satirization of synchronized swimming as a sport on Saturday Night Live (Lorne Michaels: producer) some years ago; we remember the culmination of the outrageous "Inquisition" scene in Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I, in which a bevy of nuns, costumed and choreographed a la Busby Berkely, dives into a swimming pool to dunk and otherwise harass floundering, hapless Orthodox Jews; we note that a couple of years ago the TV sitcom Seinfeld did a hilarious send-up of Schindler's List (complete with a hyper-altruistic Gentile sprinkling water on Jerry Seinfeld's parents as they enter the jetway to board a plane for Miami); and last but not least, we recall an endless number of parodies of Jews and Nazis and Nazis and Jews from Mad magazine (Bill Gaines).

What do each of these auteurs have in common? Have you figured it out? Jewish humor! And who else would have the chutzpah and the kopf to come up with the like?

"The routine is ridiculous. It's tactless and in poor taste," according to Henri Hajdenberg, the chief of Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations.

True enough—but these are among the hallmarks of Jewish humor, from the Three Stooges to Woody Allen. At the same time, could anything be more ridiculous, tactless, and tasteless than the solemn “visions” of the Elie Wiesels and their like?

SR says: “Two thumbs up to the Jewish comedians—a handful of thumbs down to would-be Holocaust tragedians who so often are only capable of farce.”


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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: Jewish Comics Yes! Farcical Holocaust Tragedians No!
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 34, July 1996, p. 7
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Published: 1996-07-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 26, 2015, 5:57 a.m.
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