They killed Russian prisoners of war, communists, Jehovah’s witnesses, gypsies, homosexuals, Serbs, cripples, the mentally Ill, beggars and they killed Jews, an estimated six million Jews....
is, of course, a comedy, but it also has teeth in the form of scenes that are legitimately terrifying. When Hynkel delivers a radio address against the Jews, his face becomes so distorted with rage, that even though he’s speaking in a gibberish-laden fake German, it’s frightening. The biggest shock, however, is when the barber, dressed for a date in his finest clothes — that just so happen to make him look like the Little Tramp — is grabbed by stormtroopers and thrown down to receive a savage beating (which is, thankfully, stopped before harm can come to the barber). It’s this scene that lays bare the anger that Chaplin had toward the — he literally shows a scene where Nazis are going to brutally murder a beloved character of comedy films representing cleverness and sweetness. (This is based in real life — the Nazis used the Little Tramp character as an example of what was wrong with the , despite the fact that neither the character nor Chaplin himself were actually Jewish.)
Sabotage and other acts of resistance often had a humorous dimension. When the Nazis rolled into many cities, they found street signs and traffic warning signs switched around. Cooks pressed into service by the invaders sometimes stirred laxatives into the food for the German troops. Pavel Fantl, a physician forced to work in Gestapo headquarters in Czechoslovakia, sabotaged the files and smuggled food to Jews being held by the secret police. In 1942 he was sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he produced several paintings depicting Hitler in a clown’s costume along with gawky, goose-stepping German soldiers.
HUMOR AND THE JEWISH SPIRIT
According to a tale in the Talmud, the prophet Elijah said that there will be reward in the next world for those who bring laughter to others in this one. Now during the Holocaust, Jewish humor was somewhat different from earlier times. Traditional comic figures like the schnorrer (beggar), the schlmazl (fallguy), and the shlmiel (klutz), for example, were missing. But the functions of humor were much the same as in earlier history: it was a vehicle for critical thinking, it promoted group solidarity, and it helped people survive in a hostile world.