Hitler spoof makes light of kashrut concerns, but is it funny?

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A spoof video which depicts Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein as Adolf Hitler has been doing the rounds on social media. Though it’s intended to be funny, it raises questions about whether it’s ever appropriate to compare anyone – least of all the spiritual leader of the South African Jewish community – to the man responsible for the Holocaust.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Nov 19, 2020

The video, which surfaced in the same week as the anniversary of Kristallnacht, was created by local Jewish community members on the platform captiongenerator.com. The platform enables people to create memes using humorous foreign language or silent movie scenes using unique English subtitles.

The video is in response to the recent furore in the community over the cost of kosher food and kashrut certification fees. The public outcry was sparked by the scrapping of local manufacturer Honeyfield’s kashrut license for alleged non-compliance and non-payment of heavily increased kashrut fees, which opened a can of worms. It followed several weeks of intense scrutiny of the financial affairs of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) and the office of the chief rabbi. It also led to the UOS re-examining its services, and making changes to improve the situation.

In a bid to make light of the serious communal issue, the spoof portrays the chief rabbi as the leader of the Third Reich and what appears to be members of the UOS and the kashrut department as his Nazi generals. The movie clip has been used before, and is intended to create humour from a serious situation.

But is it funny?

Goldstein chose not to comment on the video. Neither did Tali Nates, the director of the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, nor Heather Blumenthal, the executive director of the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

In this instance, the creator of the video used a clip from the 2004 German-language movie Der Untergang (The Downfall) showing an exasperated Hitler having a total meltdown in front of his subservient and cowering generals.

The spoof comes at the same time as the Democratic Alliance was heavily criticised for comparing the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to Nazi brownshirts on the anniversary of Kristallnacht following the EFF’s clash with residents in Brackenfell. In addition, CNN international anchor Christiane Amanpour this week said she regretted recently comparing the Trump presidency to the Nazi’s Kristallnacht, admitting she “shouldn’t have juxtaposed” Hitler’s evils with the United States president.

The satirical clip shows Nazi generals sheepishly engaging with an enraged Hitler with newly created English subtitles which are unconnected to the original movie script. The generals explain to Hitler that they have had to remove the kashrut license of yet another manufacturer because the certification costs too much. Hitler hears this information and seethes with rage saying, “for a vershtunkende kashrut license, suddenly nobody will pay?!”

In an absolute froth, he complains that one complaint by manufacturer Honeyfields has resulted in everything “going to the dogs”.

David Saks, an expert on antisemitism and the associate director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), explained that the video originated with a community member as comment on internal issues in the Jewish community.

“It’s meant to be humorous. I find it quite funny, actually. Hitler and his cohorts are made to look so ridiculous, that it can’t be regarded as Nazi propaganda. Nor can the equation of the chief rabbi with Hitler while his cowering cohorts are likened to quivering members of the UOS be seen as anything more than a bit of cheeky satire.”

In April, the same video was posted showing Hitler ranting to his generals about not being able to get a coffee from local Johannesburg coffee shop Loof in Norwood during lockdown.

Speaking to the SA Jewish Report at the time on condition of anonymity, the creators said, “It was just a way to bring some humour and light-heartedness to these stressful lockdown times. We certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone in our community deliberately.”

It’s unknown whether the same people were involved in this latest spoof.

Saks said of the two videos, “Not offensive – shows Hitler as a ranting madman and his supporters as cowed humiliated sheep.”

Mary Kluk, the director of the Durban Holocaust & Genocide Centre and president of the SAJBD, told the SA Jewish Report, “It’s clear that the intention of the video is satire. There are, however, many in our community for whom any kind of humour associated with the Holocaust can never be funny. After all, these images represent the most shameful period in the story of mankind. The fact that in this case, the chief rabbi was the object of the joke, may have caused further offense for many in the community”.

Milton Shain, a local antisemitism expert and emeritus professor of history at the University of Cape Town, said he recalled April’s similar show with Hitler on another topic.

“I fully recognise that even though it’s a satire, anything with Hitler is too close to the bone – and, of course, the subject matter is raw. It’s commonly believed – rightly or wrongly – that Jews can satirise or make jokes about Jews. I doubt that’s an open invitation to say what one likes, but it may be a factor in this complex debate.”

In response to the Loof video earlier this year, Shain said, “Satire can be fine, and I think the [video] clip is meant in that sense. I doubt it’s driven by antisemitism of any sort. But it’s insensitive insofar as Hitler still evokes – understandably and correctly – horror, and arguably shouldn’t be parodied in this way. There are still many people directly affected by Hitler’s actions. Survivors especially wouldn’t take kindly to this, and should be respected.”

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