The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 4, No 4 (2016)

Is it OK to laugh about it yet? Hitler Rants YouTube parodies in Hebrew

Liat Steir-Livny


The Holocaust was and remains a central trauma in Israel’s collective memory. For many years, the perception was that a humorous approach to the Holocaust might threaten the sanctity of its memory. Official agents of the Holocaust memory continue to believe in this approach, but since the 1990s, a new unofficial path of memory began taking shape in tandem with it. It is an alternative and subversive path that seeks to remember – but differently. In the last decade, YouTube has become a major cultural field including new humorous representations and images of the Holocaust. The article analyses a virtual phenomenon – “Hitler Rants” (or “Hitler Reacts”) parodies in Hebrew. These are internet memes in which surfers take a scene from the German film Downfall (Oliver Hirschbiegel 2004), showing Hitler ranting at his staff as the end of WWII approaches, and they add parodic subtitles in which Hitler rants about completely different things – current affairs and pesky little details. The incompatibilities between the visuals, the German screaming, and the subtitles turn Hitler into a ludicrous individual. The article objects to the notion that views the parodies as “cheapening” the Holocaust, and rather claims that they underscore humour’s role as a defence mechanism. Israelis, who live in a society in which the Holocaust memory is intensive and creates constant anxiety, seek to lessen reactions of tension and anxiety, even for a few minutes, and they do so through humour.


Andreas, H. (2001). ‘Of mice and mimesis: Reading Spiegelman with Adorno’, in Zelizer, B. (ed.), Visual Culture and the Holocaust, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 28–44.

Avisar, I. (1991). ‘Tiud veitzuv shel todaa historit besirtey taamula’ [Documentation and visualisation of historic awareness in propaganda films], Zmnaim, 39–40, pp. 38–47.

Bakhtin, M. (1993). Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Baron, L. (2005). Projecting the Holocaust into the Present: The Changing Focus of Contemporary Holocaust Cinema. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Bar-Tal, D. (2007). Lihyot im hasichsuch [Living with the Conflict]. Haifa: Carmel.

Ben-Ari, G. (2010), ‘Hitler matza hanaya’ [Hitler found a parking space]. Yediot Aharonot, 26.2.2010. Retrieved March 30, 2014 from

Ben-Dat, A. (2015). Bein humour letrauma bein etica leestetica [Between Humour and Trauma, Between Ethics and Aesthetics]. Tel Aviv: Resling.

Bondi, R. (2002). Shorashim Akurim [Displaced Roots]. Jerusalem: Yad vaShem.

Boskin, J. & Dorinson, J. (1985). ‘Ethnic humour: Subversion and survival’. American Quarterly. Special Issue: American Humour 37 (1), pp. 81–97.

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Caril, A., Shif, E. & Shavit, A. (2001). ‘Zohakim miTahat laSfam: Humour haShoah mehaHamishia Hakamerit vead Eretz Nehedered’ [Holocaust humour: From the Hahamishia Hacamerit until Eretz Nehederet]. Walla, 2.5.2011. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from

Cohen, A. (1994). Haim bizhok [Living Life with Laughter]. Haifa: Amazia.

Dolev, I. (2010), ‘Ma Pitom Hitler’ [Why Hitler?]. Haaretz, Musaf Haaretz, 9.4.2010, pp. 36–38.

Dubs, J. & Brad. (2013). ‘Downfall / Hitler Reacts’, Know your Meme. Retrieved September 7, 2014 from

Ethnologue: Languages of the World. (2015). 18th edition.

Figley, C. R. (1995). ‘Compassion fatigue as secondary traumatic stress disorder: An overview’, in Figley, C. R. (ed.), Compassion Fatigue: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatised, New York: Brunner-Routledge, pp. 1–20.

Fiske, J. (1987). Television Culture. London: Routledge.

Freud, S. (1988). Hatipul ha-psichoanaliti [Psychoanalysis Treatment]. Tel Aviv: Am Oved.

Gilbert, C. J. (2013). ‘Playing with Hitler: Downfall and its ludic uptake’. Critical Studies in Media Communication 30 (5), pp. 407–424.

Goldberg, A. (2000), ‘Introduction’, in LaCapra, D. (ed.), Writing History, Writing Trauma, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 7–28.

Gonshak, H. (2015). Hollywood and the Holocaust, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Herman, J. L. (1994). Trauma ve hachlama [Trauma and Recovery]. Tel Aviv: Am Oved.

Jenkins S. R. & Baird S. (2002). ‘Secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma: A validation study’. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, pp. 423–432.

Kaplan, L. (2003). ‘“It will get a terrific laugh”: On the problematic pleasures and politics of Holocaust humour’, in Jenkins, H., Shattuc, J. & McPherson, T. (eds.), Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture, Durham: Duke University Press Books, pp. 343–356.

Kerner, A. (2011). Film and the Holocaust: New Perspectives on Dramas, Documentaries and Experimental Films, New York: Continuum Books.

LaCapra, D. (2000). Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2007). ‘Online memes, affinities, and cultural production’, in Lankshear, C., Knobel, M., Bigum, C. & Peters, M. (eds.), A New Literacies Sampler, New York: Peter Lang, 199-227.

Levin, I. (2004). Mibaad la-dmaot [Through the Tears: Jewish Humour under the Nazi Regime]. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.

Life is Beautiful, dir. Roberto Benigni, 1997.

Lipman, S. (1991). Laughter in Hell: The Use of Humour During the Holocaust. NJ: Jason Aronson.

Lipman, S. (2008). ‘Can a swastika be funny?’. The Jewish Week, 13.2.2008. Retrieved February 20, 2014 from

Loshitzky, Y. (2001). ‘Hybrid victims: Second-generation Israelis screen the Holocaust’, in Barbie, Z. (ed.), Visual Culture and the Holocaust, New York: Rutgers, pp. 152–178.

Lynch, O. H. (2002) ‘Humorous communication: Finding a place for humour in communication research’. Communication Theory 12 (4), pp. 423–445.

Meyer, J. (2000). ‘Humour as a double-edged sword: Four functions of humour in communication’. Communication Theory 10 (3), pp. 310–333.

Meyers, O., Neiger, M., & Zandberg, E. (2014). Communicating Awe: Media Memory and Holocaust Commemoration. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Milner, I. (2004). Kirey avar [A Torn Past]. Tel Aviv: Chaim Weizmann Institute for the Study of Zionism and Israel, Tel Aviv University/Am Oved.

Morreall, J. (2011). ‘Humour in the Holocaust: Its critical, cohesive, and coping functions’. Holocaust TRC, November 22. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from

Ne’eman Arad, G. (2003). ‘Israel and the Shoah: A tale of multifarious taboos’. New German Critique 90, pp. 5–26.

Ofer, D. (2013). ‘We Israelis remember, but how? The memory of the Holocaust and the Israeli experience’. Israel Studies 18 (2), pp. 70–85.

Ostrover, H. (2009). Lelo humour hainu mitabdim [If Not for Humour, We Would Have Committed Suicide]. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem.

Pinchevski, A. & Brand, R. (2007). ‘Holocaust perversions: The Stalags pulp fiction and the Eichmann Trial’. Critical Studies in Media Communication 24 (5), pp. 387–407.

Pinchevski, A. & Liebes, T. (2010). ‘Severed voices: Radio and the mediation of trauma in the Eichmann Trial’. Public Culture 22 (2), pp. 265–291.

Porat, D. (2011). Café ha’boker ba’rayach ashan: mifgashim shel ha’yishuv va’ha’hevra ha’yisraelit im ha’shoah va’nitzoleha [The Smoke-Scented Coffee: The Encounter of the Yishuv and Israeli Society with the Holocaust and its Survivors]. Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem: Yad vaShem & Am Oved.

Rheingold, H. (2008), ‘Using participatory media and public voice to encourage public participation’, in Bennet, L. (ed.), Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth, Cambridge: MIT press, pp. 97–118.

Rohrer, F. (2010). ‘The rise, rise and rise of the Downfall Hitler parody’. BBC News Magazine, 13.4.2010. Retrieved May 2, 2013 from

Rosenfeld, G. D. (2015). Hi Hitler: How the Nazi Past Is Being Normalised in Contemporary Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schwabach, A. (2012). ‘Reclaiming copyright from the outside in: What the Downfall Hitler meme means for transformative works, fair use, and Parody’. Buffalo Intellectual Property Law Journal. Retrieved January 5, 2017 from

Shifman, L. (2008). Haars, Hafreha ve-haima hapolaniya [Televised Humour and Social Cleavages in Israel, 1968–2000]. Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press.

Shifman, L. (2013). Memes in Digital Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Sliwa, J. (2011). ‘Jewish humour as a source of research on Polish-Jewish relations’, in Greenspoon, L. J. (ed.), Jews and Humour, West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, pp. 67–82.

Solomon, Z. (2007). ‘Hashpaot beindoriot shel hshoah beri hamechkar beisrael’ [Transgenerational influences of the Holocaust in Israeli research], in Solomon, Z. & Chaitin, J. (eds.), Yaldut bezel haShoah [Childhood in the Shadow of the Holocaust], Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuhad, pp. 304–336.

Sover, A. (2009). Bedarco shel haadam hazohek [The Pathway to Human Laughter]. Jerusalem: Carmel.

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Pantheon Books.

Steir-Livny, L. (2009). Shtei Panim baMaraah [Two faces in the mirror]. Jerusalem: Eshkolot-Magness.

Steir-Livny, L. (2014). Har hazikaron yizkor bimkomi [Let the Memorial Hill Remember]. Tel Aviv: Resling.

Steir-Livny, L. (2015). ‘Holocaust humour, satire, and parody on Israeli television’. Jewish Film and New Media 3 (2), pp. 193–219.

The Great Dictator, dir. Charlie Chaplin, 1940.

The Producers, dir. Mel Brooks, 1968.

Triumph of the Will, dir. Leni Riefenstahl, 1934.

Wisse, R. (2013). No Joke: Making Jewish humour. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Yablonka, H. (2001). Medinat Israel neged Adolf Eichmann [The State of Israel against Adolf Eichmann]. Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot.

Zandberg, E. (2006). ‘Critical laughter: Humour, popular culture and Israeli Holocaust commemoration’. Media, Culture & Society 28 (4), pp. 561–579.

Zandberg, E. (2015). ‘“Ketchup is the Auschwitz of tomatoes”: Humour and the collective memory of traumatic events’. Communication, Culture & Critique 8 (1), pp. 108–123.

Ziv, A. (1998). ‘Psycho-social aspects of Jewish humour in Israel and in the diaspora’, in Ziv, A. (ed.), Jewish Humour, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 47–76.

‘The web does delicacies of Netanyahu, Hitler and the Mufti’. Haaretz, 21 October 2015. Retrieved January 7, 2017 from