A disclaimer: Honestly, I have no clue what my own feelings on the Der Spiegel article I’m about to tell you about are. It has something to do with a topic I’ve already posted in this blog several times about: the role of comedy in culture and art. But I have so very many multitudinous confusing feelings about the comedy discussed in this article, that this posting is less of me taking a stand and more of me working through some artistic and personal muck. So heeeeeeeere we go –
A question or two: Is it okay to laugh about the Holocaust? Was it okay? IS it okay? Is it EVER okay? And the sixty-four thousand dollar question: Is it okay if you’re a non-Jewish German?
Well, we’re all pretty liberal and open people here on this DramaLit blog, so I’m going to guess that more than a few people would answer “yes” to these questions. 35-year-old Jewish German and stand-up comedian Oliver Polak would agree with you. He’s one of several noteworthy “young German artists” (profiled in this Der Spiegel article I recently found through ArtsJournal.com) who are, as the article’s title says, “boldly defining the ‘new Jew’.” Though it feels as if a bit of it is lost in its translation from German, the article is a fascinating cultural and philosophical read. The artists featured, Polak included, are all German Jews who have been seeking to define themselves as Jews without use of the past (specifically, WWII and the Holocaust). Or, if the young artists ARE using the Holocaust to define themselves, they’re doing so in a way that engages German Gentiles through laughter and open discussion rather than fear and embarassment. Comedian Oliver Polak falls into this latter category of artist. The parts of this article about his standup are, personally, bewildering: Polak playing Adolf Hitler in an Adidas tracksuit, Polak “making fun of his mother, his foreskin, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany,” and his German audiences erupting into terrified laughter.
My confusion at the previous questions – Oliver Polak’s standup comedy aside – is that I have always vehemently answered them with “no.” No, it is not okay for non-Jewish Germans to laugh at Jews, at WWII, at the Holocaust, at ANY of that! Well, when I say non-Jewish Germans, I’m almost exclusively referring to myself. This is a rule that I, a German Gentile, have always vehemently stuck to. For a bunch of reasons having to do with my deep-seated guilt complex (which we could talk about FOREVER, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve spent my entire life running away from that part of me that is German. I’ve spent my entire life ashamed of it.
So now I’ve been completely thrown off balance by Oliver Polak and this Der Spiegel article! Because as an artist-in-training, I think it’s f*cking awesome that these people are taking their culture identities into their own hands and redefining those identities through art. But as a cosmically guilty German, I feel like running away from this artistic trailblazing because I should still feel awful about the stuff these young Jewish artists are now laughing at.
I know, I know, I’ve not got any reason to feel the German guilt I do. I know, I know, I shouldn’t worry about it the way I do, and should join in Oliver Polak’s self-deprication and reclaiming of the past. I think it’ll take a while longer for me to put this cultural shame behind me. But for now, I want to know what other people think about these questions. Is Oliver Polak doing a good thing? A thing that needs to happen? And is it okay for non-Jewish Germans to laugh at him while he does? No matter what, for now, as a young artist, I’m somehow thankful for the confusion this article has caused me.