Making light of the greatest crime in history

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried plays Adolf Hitler in Historical Roasts.

IS there nothing sacred anymore? asks Dvir Abramovich.

Clearly not if you’re Netflix and a host of vulgar Jewish performers who during an episode of Historical Roasts, before millions of viewers, insulted, humiliated and verbally lynched an actress playing Anne Frank. 

Host Jeff Ross wore a yellow Star of David armband and complained about how expensive a bottle of water is in the Anne Frank Museum, ending with “Never Again”.

Gilbert Gottfried who plays Hitler says, “Everyone knows you as a hero and a best-selling author, but to me you’ll always be little number 825060,” and “Of all the accounts that I’ve read, Anne, your book is by far the most flammable.” 

He then quips about hanging out with Mengele in Brazil, where they had, “a great time just drinking pina coladas and gluing midgets together”.

When Ross asks Hitler how he is, Gottfried replies, “I think I left the oven on”, and later, when talking about climate change, says, “If we only had some kind of solution. Maybe a final one.”

There are even disgusting lines dragged from the sexual gutter hurled at Anne Frank, and lewd references to body parts.

As I watched this pathetic and mean-spirited publicity stunt, and the morons making light of the greatest crime in history, all I could think of were the survivors, my heroes, who I knew would be profoundly hurt.

They inspire and empower me to take on the antisemites, and I will not tolerate any debasement of their dignity, grief and stories.

It took me days to regain my composure.

The sickening one-liners on Historical Roasts were not just flat-out immoral, or stunningly insensitive, they were in fact the act of a bully.

There is nothing brave, creative, cutting-edge or imaginative about degrading and mocking those who cannot defend themselves or hit back.

And a decent human being would never use the death of millions just to get a laugh.

I wonder, did Jeff Ross, Gilbert Gottfried, Rachel Feinstein, Jon Lovitz and Mindy Rickles ever pause to reflect on the ghettos, the deportation cattle trains, the mobile killing units, the death camps, the gas chambers, the deep grooves left by the clawing of the suffocated, the bodies burned at the crematorium, the 1.5 million children who were murdered, the piles of shoes and glasses, the indescribable grief of the families?

If they did, maybe they would have thought twice about appearing on this stupid production whose sole aim was to wring chuckles from the audience and provoke shock for ratings.

But I guess that their life in Hollywood is far removed from the hellish conditions of Auschwitz and the other killing centres.

Somebody emailed me the famous dictum that, “Tragedy plus time equals comedy.”

Well, it is not time, and it will never be, because the passage of the years will never erase the terrors or the pain.

The wounds of the past will never heal, and no amount of time can ever make the Shoah, Hitler, and his war of extermination the subject of humour.

Today, the Holocaust is fair game, the butt of punchlines and comedy sketches that are permeating much of popular culture. 

This certainly is not the first time “artists” have exploited the Shoah to generate cheap giggles at the expense of the victims.

A few years ago Larry David did a monologue on Saturday Night Live which included the following: “I’ve always been obsessed with women, and I’ve always wondered: If I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp? I think I would. Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes.'”

If the Holocaust is not so horrible, if we can laugh about it, if it becomes material for stand-up routines, then we have failed to heed the lessons of the past.

That I have to explain this speaks volumes about the low point we have reached.

We live in a time when the hatred that Hitler spewed and spread is raging, as neo-Nazis and far-right extremists march in our streets, when antisemitism is on the rise across our nation, and when harassment and trolling by white supremacists are proliferating online. 

Apart from the deniers, relativisation and ignorance (A 2018 CNN poll found that a third of Europeans said they knew just a little or nothing at all about the Holocaust), we are also seeing a diminution and a rewriting of the historical record. 

Two years ago there was no reference to Jews in President Trump’s statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, while Canada’s new National Holocaust Monument initially neglected to mention Jews or antisemitism in the inscription.

The stakes could not be higher.

As we move further away from the horrific events, and as the number of eye-witnesses dwindles, we need to ensure that the full truth of this unprecedented tragedy is made visible, and that future generations understand that the reality was profoundly different to what the entertainment industry is presenting.

In the end, will anyone remember who Hitler and the Nazis really were? Elie Wiesel’s advice given nearly 30 years ago, is still relevant and timely, “Study the Holocaust, educate yourself about its horrors. Listen to the survivors and respect their wounded sensibility. Open yourselves to their scarred memory, and mingle your tears with theirs. And stop insulting the dead.”

For those telling me to lighten up and to not be so sensitive, I say: “Imagine your parents, children, siblings, grandfathers, aunts, friends pushed onto trains, starved, hair shorn off, names replaced by tattooed numbers, tortured, experimented on, beaten, shot, or forced into the gas chambers.”

Not funny any more, right?

Dr Dvir Abramovich is Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission and the Israel Kipen Director of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society at The University of Melbourne.