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"Arbeit Macht Frei" Sign Stolen
December 18, 2009 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Poland has declared a state of emergency, after the infamous bronze sign reading "Arbeit Macht Frei" at former Konzentrationslager (concentration camp) Auschwitz was stolen yesterday.

In Brussels, European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek, a former Polish prime minister, appealed to the thieves to return the sign: "Give it back out of respect for the suffering of over a million victims, murdered in this Nazi camp, the biggest cemetery of humankind," Buzek said.

According to the Auschwitz Memorial / Muzeum Auschwitz Facebook page, "the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum with approval of Minister of Culture and National Heritage Bogdan Zdrojewski has promised a reward of 100,000 zlotys (around $34,000)" for information about the theft leading to the sign's safe return.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the Museum has replaced the original with a temporary duplicate.
posted by zarq (170 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Whoa.
posted by lumensimus at 12:14 PM on December 18, 2009


That should read "Arbeit Macht Frei".
posted by dunkadunc at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2009


Arbeit Macht Frei = Works Makes You Free

In case you weren't familiar with the phrase.
posted by Babblesort at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah dude, stealing that is pretty fucked up. Hopefully they recover it before someone turns it into scrap.
posted by elder18 at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2009


Wow, I'm really annoyed that I read the whole BBC article and it did not translate the sign.
posted by m0nm0n at 12:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Arrgh - Work Makes You Free
posted by Babblesort at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2009


Dammit. I made the same typo twice. :(

If any mod happens to see this and feels like correcting it, I'd be grateful.
posted by zarq at 12:20 PM on December 18, 2009


All I'm saying is it looks awesome hanging in my frat house basement.
posted by sourwookie at 12:22 PM on December 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


I hope the perpetrators are caught and dealt with appropriately.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2009


All I'm saying is it looks awesome hanging in my frat house basement.

I think you should put it in the attic.
posted by graventy at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


I made the same typo twice.

Work at Mach 3!
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2009


I think a more meaningful translation is 'Work will set [you] free'.
posted by Catfry at 12:25 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


ten bucks says it was the teabaggers.

seriously though, fuck. that's pretty messed up.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2009


It's a shame that so much of our human heritage is now in the hands of rich sycophants who have purchased our property from high priced fences aka as agents.
posted by Xurando at 12:29 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I once came within a mouse-click of hacking a former employer's intranet sight to replace the daily message of inspiration on the homepage with the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei!"

At the last minute, I realized the hoax would be in inexcusably bad taste and that the risks of getting caught were too great despite my employer's technological backwardness.

Considering the sign's even worse-than-empty promise of freedom in exchange for the labors of those who toiled in the camp only to be put to death anyway, it's a powerful and perverse symbol of just how low the human race can go. I'm not sure what to make of its theft.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:33 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, the NPR link says that the sign is made of steel. The Guardian says it was made of bronze. The BBC says it was wrought iron. So if anyone knows for sure what it was made of and would like to weigh in, by all means, do so.
posted by zarq at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought the sign meant "Work for Free"
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:34 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


All I'm saying is it looks awesome hanging in my frat house basement.

The Polish branch of Skull & Bones?
posted by GuyZero at 12:37 PM on December 18, 2009


Gigantic high fives to everyone who made a joke about this! You are totally edgy!

there's been a couple memorial plaques stolen in brooklyn, presumably to be sold for scrap metal, although who knows where they end up, really.
posted by dubold at 12:38 PM on December 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


I really hope there's some explanation for this crazier than just Nazi sympathizers or people out for money. I want this to have been part of a disastrously mismanaged promotional campaign for the new Miley Cyrus single, and now her PR team has the unenviable task of trying to return the sign without getting noticed or blamed.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:39 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I thought the sign meant "Work for Free"

Seriously? Har har death camp victims.

I had to go look up the translation. Along the way I learned that it is believed the prisoners turned the letter B in the sign upside down without getting caught, thus leaving behind a tiny banner to resistance and the human spirit in the face of evil.
posted by Babblesort at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Gigantic high fives to everyone who made a joke about this! You are totally edgy!

The comparison to the American fraternity who is rumoured to have disinterred a famous historical person and now allegedly houses their remains in their frat house seems fair apt to me. We're all just supposed to be all outraged and discuss how shitty people are?

Damnit, now I'm depressed. Fucking people.
posted by GuyZero at 12:41 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gigantic high fives to everyone who made a joke about this! You are totally edgy!

Enh, some acts of evil are facially absurd, even when they are also plainly evil.

Anyway, I would love to know who these thieves are. The idea that someone would steal that sign just for the money from scrap metal sounds bizarre to me. As loathsome as those people stealing the plaques from churches are, there's a world of difference between stealing a plaque from a church and one of the most famous parts of the single most famous death camp on the planet. Seems like you would only steal it to make some sort of point, or on behalf of a wealthy lunatic who wants that thing in their house.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:43 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


there's been a couple memorial plaques stolen in brooklyn,

Huh. Last night I passed by a stone granite monument with it's plaque missing and a explanation I didn't have time to read saying something how it has gone missing. I didn't think much of it, but yeah... that's messed up.
posted by yeti at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2009


Interpol released a sketch of the suspect this afternoon.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


Meanwhile, the NPR link says that the sign is made of steel. The Guardian says it was made of bronze. The BBC says it was wrought iron. So if anyone knows for sure what it was made of and would like to weigh in, by all means, do so.

This yahoo link corrected the material from iron to steel, so i'm guessing that's right.
posted by symbollocks at 12:47 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I fail to see the humor.
posted by tkchrist at 12:49 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow. You have to be a major-league dipshit to do this.

There was widespread speculation over who might have been behind the robbery, with investigators looking into suggestions that it could have been anyone from scrap metal dealers to Holocaust deniers, from rightwing collectors of Nazi memorabilia to pre-Christmas pranksters.

Collectors were my first thought. Although are collectors of Nazi memorabilia predominately right wingers?
posted by brundlefly at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2009


I was listening to this story on NPR this morning and they were interviewing a historian and they asked what the people thought when they saw that sign as they came into the camp for the first time. The historian said he didn't know. I got me kind of curious though, I wonder if most people thought "More Nazi bullshit" or they actually got a glimmer of hope from it. I'm not sure of the logistics of how the camp operated, but I imagine they have spent the transit to the camp packed into boxcars so the sign probably would not have made them feel much better.

Someone on the NPR story commented that in a sad way it was kind of sort of true. You could get put on some sort of work detail when you got to the camp rather than being sent straight to the gas chambers. So, while not making you free, work could allow you to live a little while longer before dieing of disease or starvation.

Hopefully they recover it before someone turns it into scrap.
posted by elder18


I originally read that as "turns it into soap" and my flagging finger started itching.

posted by marxchivist at 12:51 PM on December 18, 2009


Gigantic high fives to everyone who made a joke about this! You are totally edgy!

Honestly, I can't maintain outrage 24/7. What do you want me to do? Decry the thieves?

Just wait until the Holocaust Sign Deniers start showing up. There never was a sign! That's just what the Zionist conspiracy wants you to believe!
posted by graventy at 12:53 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


You have to be a major-league dipshit to do this.

And also to make jokes about it. Come on, people.
posted by desjardins at 12:55 PM on December 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


Arbeit Macht Frei = Works Makes You Free

It better translates to "work will set you free."

And, interestingly, it was stolen one day after a big project was announced in restoring the site.
posted by four panels at 12:56 PM on December 18, 2009


And, interestingly, it was stolen one day after a big project was announced in restoring the site.

So, temporarily squirrelled away for safekeeping, maybe?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2009


I think it's kind of hilarious that both of these articles quote the president of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, best known in Poland for... (drumroll, please)... stealing a mural painted by a Holocaust victim and refusing to return it
posted by shii at 12:59 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, the NPR link says that the sign is made of steel. The Guardian says it was made of bronze.

Bronze sounds unlikely, given that it was a work camp and bronze is sort of extravagant. Iron or steel is probably more likely, although who knows what with wartime shortages.
posted by electroboy at 1:08 PM on December 18, 2009


I realize the importance of maintaining the place for its cultural and historical significance, but my gut says steal it, burn it, bomb it, turn the soil over the remains, sow the soil with salt so nothing grows there, and build a wall so nobody can ever see the site again. What occurred there is an abomination; it's beyond an abomination, it's a mind-searing profanity of anything good or decent or worthwhile in humanity, and must rank among the most evil places on earth.

Of course, feeling that way doesn't mean I think that's what actually should be done. I know that it should be preserved as a reminder of that evil. Anm since that's the case, whoever stole the sign should fucking return it, pronto, because the act of stealing it is the act of desecrating a grave, and the people in that grave have already suffered enough.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


Collectors were my first thought. Although are collectors of Nazi memorabilia predominately right wingers?

The only one I'm familiar with is probably a left-winger.
posted by zarq at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2009


This yahoo link corrected the material from iron to steel, so i'm guessing that's right.

Ah. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2009


God, the cheap attempts at favorites-bating lulz in this thread are really depressing. No,you don't have to be outraged all the time. Nor do you have to crack a lame joke at every possible opportunity.
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I fixed the post typos. The lulzy stuff seems not so great. As with most things no one can make everyone take everything totally seriously, but it might be a better discussion for MeTa than more HURF DURF JEWS jokes during Hanukkah. Your choice.
posted by jessamyn at 1:17 PM on December 18, 2009 [22 favorites]


Thank you Jessamyn. For the post correction, and the eloquent sentiment.
posted by zarq at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2009


The theft was done with the kind of professionalism and organization (they managed to avoid the CCTV, etc.) that it points to a collector rather than somebody who just thought it might make a good deposit to a scrapyard. Whatever the motive, it's really a desecration of a tomb, isn't it?
posted by jokeefe at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2009


they asked what the people thought when they saw that sign as they came into the camp for the first time. The historian said he didn't know. I got me kind of curious though, I wonder if most people thought "More Nazi bullshit" or they actually got a glimmer of hope from it.

The phrase actually has a history predating the Nazi era and was adopted as a slogan by the Weimar Republic. (A similar slogan, arbeit adelt -- work ennobles -- was also a widely known shorthand.) The German Jews, at least, would have been familiar with it as an idiom of social democracy rather than as a jibe directly aimed at them. Höss, the Auschwitz commandant, seemed to actually believe that work would eliminate the "criminality" from his charges, although most of his tenure at the camp involved transforming it into an extermination center.

It also seems to predate the Final Solution so its deeper irony was acquired by history rather than as an intentionally grim joke.
posted by dhartung at 1:29 PM on December 18, 2009 [18 favorites]


I was listening to this story on NPR this morning and they were interviewing a historian and they asked what the people thought when they saw that sign as they came into the camp for the first time. The historian said he didn't know. I got me kind of curious though, I wonder if most people thought "More Nazi bullshit" or they actually got a glimmer of hope from it.

Benjamin Jacobs, a Jewish dental student from Poland, spent five years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He died in 2004. In this extract from his memoir, The Dentist of Auschwitz, he recalls seeing the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" for the first time.
"Traumatised, starved, and soaked with human waste, we looked to be the inhuman, useless creatures the Nazis had characterized us as being. This camp did not look like any I had seen before. Along the inside ran what seemed to be an electric line. Perched above in towers were green-uniformed Waffen SS. Their guns pointed into the camp.

"As we were driven further, we heard an orchestra playing and people singing. 'Today Poland. Tomorrow the entire world,' they sang in German. Each refrain had a different verse and mentioned a different country. When the trucks stopped, we heard: 'We're marching on England today, and tomorrow on the entire world!'

"A sign at the gate read: 'Stop, high voltage!' Above the gate another sign read 'Auschwitz', and below it, 'Arbeit Macht Frei.' We knew it wasn't meant to be a promise, not even a pledge. The truth was that we were here to work until we died. In front of a small shack a conductor directed 30 musicians. The scene was grotesque.

"Once inside, our truck turned left and stopped in front of one of the huge three-story brick buildings. A smartly dressed SS sergeant took charge of us. 'Down,' he shouted, as the rest of the SS began to enforce his order."
posted by jokeefe at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2009 [26 favorites]


I'm guessing that cracking wise about this event is just a way of awkwardly admitting that you haven't delved into learning much about the death camps. Understandable, as it is a really hard thing to take in and try to make sense of, so a lot of people just avoid it altogether. It really did happen; it's not just a "whatever-nebulous" idea about something really horrible that people constantly talk about. That stuff really happened -- and to real people, just like you.

I recommend that you start with this book (or any personal narrative of any survivor of any of the camps -- there are many, and they are very good reading), then see what kind of jokes you can muster regarding the theft of such a oddly valuable, horrific piece of human history. I promise that this event, the theft, will mean something a bit different to you after you realize the gravity of the situation. The sign is the most shitty, horrifying example of a sick joke, ever. It served as a hollow promise, a cruel irony, a giant FUCK YOU to god-knows-how-many people just before they were raped, beaten, tortured, starved, and murdered. Denying the significance of this artifact by stealing it away from the public is unthinkably cruel to a very large population of people. It's sickening to think about, really.

Honestly, every thread doesn't have to be chock full of humor. And by "humor," I mean 12-year old awkward-boy humor. Tee hee! Check yourselves, please.
posted by heyho at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2009 [48 favorites]


There was widespread speculation over who might have been behind the robbery, with investigators looking into suggestions that it could have been anyone from scrap metal dealers to Holocaust deniers, from rightwing collectors of Nazi memorabilia to pre-Christmas pranksters

Forget who the collectors might be, what kind of pre-Christmas prankster steals a concentration camp sign? First, it's a friggin' concentration camp, not someone's holiday decorations, and second, it's a huge metal sign! You nab the Baby Jesus from the manger because he's small and a bit of quick jack-assery, not a sign requiring brute strength or specialized tools and some vehicle capable of hauling it off without raising suspicion. And if you're looking for scrap metal, there has to be an easier source than a large sign, some 12 feet up.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2009


Thank you heyho. I was struggling to express just how pissed off I was about the event and the thread's direction but I couldn't say it clearly. You've done an admirable job.
posted by Babblesort at 1:47 PM on December 18, 2009


Although I'm not angry about the joking, as one who has been lucky enough to be personal friends with a couple of survivors, I find the jokes sad and grotesque.

To the sign I say, barkgh shep'tarani. (Good riddance.) To the thieves, I hope that you are tortured for eternity by all of the souls who went to their end under that sign.
posted by snsranch at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2009


The scene was grotesque.

*shudder*

Makes my "more Nazi bullshit" comment seem kind of flip. I didn't mean it that way.
posted by marxchivist at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm guessing that cracking wise about this event is just a way of awkwardly admitting that you haven't delved into learning much about the death camps.

I must admit, I expected that some people would crack tasteless jokes when I posted. But I didn't think anyone would be unfamiliar with what happened at Auschwitz. Some folks just use gallows humor to psychologically distance themselves from horror, and it's not all that unusual for people to laugh when they are traumatized. It's a coping mechanism.
posted by zarq at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


What the? Was stuff removed from this thread? I didn't see much here that would have gotten me up in arms. Looks pretty much like your average commentary with some substantial posts and a simmering of snark. I even laughed at a post. Doesn't mean I don't abhor the bullshit behavior of the holocaust or lack an appreciation of the meaning of the sign.
posted by scrowdid at 1:59 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I am surprised that the lulz above are let to stand but, for example, the dumb duckface thing was deleted a couple of days ago. Sometimes, Metafilter, you amaze me.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:03 PM on December 18, 2009


Hmm. I'm not sure how 'dealt with appropriately' would work with this specific case. Really. And I loathe Nazism.

What do you do when you've caught the thief / thieves? Pillory them? Hmm. Can't. For very good reasons. Make them help restore the fabric of the camp? Hmm. Can't. Ditto.

But a token charge for damaging public property wouldn't really fit, either. So what would you do to deal with this appropriately? Really?

(Also, philosophically speaking, I'm unsure of my own feelings here, even - I'm finding it very hard to figure out whether I think the fabric of the camp should stay or go. Although a big part of me says it must stay, another big part of me says why on earth shouldn't it crumble?)

(Although I would probably punch the thieves in the face. Personally.)
posted by paperpete at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2009


I think it's kind of hilarious that both of these articles quote the president of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, best known in Poland for... (drumroll, please)... stealing a mural painted by a Holocaust victim and refusing to return it

Thanks for mentioning that, I noticed the irony there, too. I just posted a remark about this a week or so ago. (Although it happened in Ukraine, not Poland . . . although it's confusing as Bruno Schulz, the artist in question lived there when it was Poland and considered himself Polish above any other ethnicity.)

I'm all for the brutal punishment anyone who consciously desecrates any historical site, but this incident is especially cruel. Perhaps it was the work of pranksters or right-wing nutjobs or Holocaust deniers . . . but in the past couple of years I've seen Roma newly start fearing for their lives in the wake of murders committed by Hungarian nationalists, illegal "deportations" of Roma in Romania (from one county to a next, for the sole purpose of the upheaval of these people's lives - these internal deportations are, of course, completely illegal) and plenty of conversations with otherwise sane and well-educated Hungarians about how "the Jews" are buying up all the land in their country for the purpose of establishing a base from which to destroy the country. (By chance, I learned that very few of these anti-Semites even understand that there's a difference between Yiddish and Hebrew - it's all "Jewish" to them - so it's no wonder that they'll believe anything, given their general ignorance of even obvious facts.)

So for me, it's quite easy to believe this was the work of idiots hell bent on eliminating any sign of any minority groups even existing, which is worse than denying their treatment.

Having barely lived through European genocidal actions myself (having lost everything but my life), I don't find this a joking matter. Perhaps I'm conditioned by my own experiences, but the chutzpah of making cheap jokes at the expense of people beaten / torutured / starved / raped / killed is a call I can't imagine karma ignoring. But even in my carefree and innocent pre-war days, I imagine I had the class not to find the grave misfortune of others very funny at all.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2009 [14 favorites]


Cracking jokes about the theft < stealing the sign < being a Nazi, but they're all on the same continuum of dehumanization and trivialization of human life.

Nthing the cut-that-shit posts.
posted by DLWM at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2009


Once again I am saddened by what people will do.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 2:10 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm guessing that cracking wise about this event is just a way of awkwardly admitting that you haven't delved into learning much about the death camps.

Not necessarily. I visited Auschwitz in the late 90s, and it was an emotional, transformative experience. My immediate thoughts after hearing about the theft this morning were 1. horror, and then 2. "some asshole is going to hang this on his dorm room wall, right?"

Humans deal with shit in different ways.
posted by letitrain at 2:12 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I was at the Memorial De La Shoah in Paris last year about this time. Our apartment was right down the street (we usually stay in the Jewish Quarter) — the apartment building itself was a landmark the scene of a stand-off between the SS and Jewish resistance fighters. The only reason we went to the Shoah was kind of weird obligation I felt sleeping in a room where people fought for their last free breaths over 50 years ago. After all it's not a Feel Good kind of vacation moment visiting a Holocaust museum. So. It was early in the morning right when they opened. Most of the museum was being renovated. It was my wife, her mother, and my self and three little old ladies in head scarves. The lower part of the memorial was all dark. Ironically the "eternal flame" was out. There was nothing to accompany us but our echoing shuffle steps on the stone floor. The awkwardness was unbearable. So my wife begins conversing with these little ladies since her French is better than mine. They get to one wall where the were photos and letters and one of the ladies begins translating the letters. She began explaining what all the period jargon meant. My wife asked how she knew so much, she turned to her friends and they looked kind of pained for a second, and then as if on cue two of the ladies rolled up their sleeves reveling their concentration camp numbers. I just caught that out of the corner of my eye as my wife crying. There they were, these poor little ladies huddled around my wife, fishing for handkerchiefs trying to comfort her.
posted by tkchrist at 2:15 PM on December 18, 2009 [55 favorites]


But a token charge for damaging public property wouldn't really fit, either. So what would you do to deal with this appropriately? Really?

Hate crime.

I really don't think this is a prank/collector/scrap metal thief. It's a meticulous stunt orchestrated by a hate group.
posted by fire&wings at 2:16 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing that cracking wise about this event is just a way of awkwardly admitting that you haven't delved into learning much about the death camps.

I wouldn't imagine it's anything but that here. I've never visited any of the concentration camps, and the closest I've come is going to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and the Museum of Tolerance in LA. While it was depressing and disturbing to see and be in those exhibits, the one thing that made it the most real (for lack of a better word) was one comment from someone else visiting the Holocaust section of the Museum of Tolerance. I was there with a group of high school kids, with the usual range of responses to a school outting. There were a few of us in a room that had a bunk bed and a life-size photo taken of people laying on the bunks, and an older couple. The old man asked what I thought of it, and I said something about being stunned by it all. He said he understood, and that he had survived it.

He didn't say much, but that one moment made shift from abstract to real. I've grown up in comfort, without threats to my life or those I love. I've read about battles and genocide in classes, watched events in the news, and it's all been categorized in Fucked Up Shit People Do To Eachother, but still removed from my day-to-day life, until that man talked to me. I still haven't experienced any real trauma, but that moment shifted things for me.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


One hopes that when these knuckleheads are caught, they're taken to the courthouse in a railcar.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:19 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Was stuff removed from this thread?

I don't believe so.

I didn't see much here that would have gotten me up in arms.

OK. At least one of the jokes did upset me. Members of my family died in WWII and at Auschwitz. Even if they hadn't, I probably would have found the expressed sentiments pretty distasteful.

However, I didn't say anything for several reasons: it's a bad idea to try and steer your own FPP thread, I realize (as I said above) that humor is a coping mechanism, and I'm a hell of a lot more outraged that a memorial site to a million murders was desecrated by some asshole.

Looks pretty much like your average commentary with some substantial posts and a simmering of snark. I even laughed at a post.

I agree that they're rather tame, all things considered. They're still insensitive.

Doesn't mean I don't abhor the bullshit behavior of the holocaust or lack an appreciation of the meaning of the sign.

The jokes can be construed as people not taking an horrific event seriously. The responses in this thread asking them to stop seem reasonable to me.
posted by zarq at 2:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I heard this this morning, my first thought was "how grotesque. What sort of person would want it? what sort of person would deface the camp? Do we still have Holocaust hate crimes?" Then my second thought was "my god. We really have moved into the next century. I'm now part of the generation that doesn't understand how those kids could not know, viscerally, the experience of the world as I have had it. Is there really now an abundance of people now who wouldn't get that this is a Holocaust hate crime and not just some random wanton vandalism"

I wonder, was it someone who denies the Holocaust? Was it someone expressing hate? Or was it just someone who just doesn't get what the Holocaust was, or what it meant to the whole world to see it revealed? Has that part of history passed into meaningless background that happened to someone so long ago no-one personally cares anymore?
posted by crush-onastick at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2009


I really don't think this is a prank/collector/scrap metal thief. It's a meticulous stunt orchestrated by a hate group.

Oh, could you expound a little more on your exclusive source of knowledge? 'Cuz based on the articles we have no idea who did it or why they might have done it. For all you know it was a clandestine IDF operation to reclaim the rightful property of the descendants of those who made it, or an Auschwitz survivor's grandson trying to fulfill a heroic man's last wish. I don't necessarily think those are very likely, but could we at least find a suspect before you judge, convict, and sentence?
posted by jock@law at 2:23 PM on December 18, 2009


but they're all on the same continuum of dehumanization and trivialization of human life.

Without endorsing any of the specific awkward schoolboy jokes on this thread, let me just disagree forcefully with this. No topic is out of bounds for humor in principle. Obviously, it depends on how you do the humor; specific jokes can certainly be offensive.

Humor is on the side of the humanizers, not the dehumanizers.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:36 PM on December 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Cuz based on the articles we have no idea who did it or why they might have done it.

Well I've got a pretty good idea.. just postin' it.

In a discussion where some people are alluding to the possibility that the sign over the gate at Auschwitz may have been taken for its scrap iron value, I reckon mine is a half decent hunch.
posted by fire&wings at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm with the conclusion it was probably a hate group versus a collector as an AP article states:
Working under the cover of darkness and timing their theft between regular security patrols, the culprits unscrewed the 90-pound steel banner on one side and tore it off on the other, then carried it 300 yards to an opening in a concrete wall.
I would think a collector would want both sides unscrwed so that it doesn't damage the object.
posted by wcfields at 2:43 PM on December 18, 2009


What the? Was stuff removed from this thread?

FYI, nope.
posted by jessamyn at 2:50 PM on December 18, 2009


a clandestine IDF operation to reclaim the rightful property of the descendants of those who made it

You really think that could be the case?

A theft which seems atrocious in the contempt it shows for the terrible significance of the site, yet at the same time in itself utterly trivial; there would have to be a remarkable explanation for us not to regard this as pretty far down on the scale of moral degradation.

No topic is out of bounds for humor in principle.

Yes, some are. Both in principle and in practice. Piss off.
posted by Phanx at 2:51 PM on December 18, 2009


Stealing a sign from a death camp is itself an absurd act. Hearing this story on BBC radio this morning I thought "did I just hear that?"

I'm not surprised or offended that people joked about it. Not something I would have done, but the jokes were about the theft, not about the death camp itself.
posted by cell divide at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


No topic is out of bounds for humor in principle.

I don't have much problem with that sentiment. Take my wife. Please.

That's a pretty pedestrian joke that would cause the average person no offense.

Walk into the funeral for a man's wife with that joke and you've made a gigantic dick move. It's all about context.
posted by Babblesort at 2:55 PM on December 18, 2009


We're all just supposed to be all outraged and discuss how shitty people are?

Yes. And if you can't do that, you're supposed to exercise judgement about what is an obviously emotive topic and say nothing. It's really not hard; try it.

You do not need to have lost family in WWII or to have visited a camp to understand that this kind of desecration isn't humerous, and that making light of it is likely to upset your fellow members. There's absolutely no good reason to do that besides your own gratification, and that's selfish and thoughtless in a community setting.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:56 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking that an appropriate punishment for when the thieves are caught, would be to spend their time incarcerated watching the videos of the lives and deaths of people who suffered under this sign.
posted by quin at 3:04 PM on December 18, 2009


No topic is out of bounds for humor in principle.

Yes, some are. Both in principle and in practice. Piss off.


Handily, both the unpleasant tone and brilliantly argued nature of your riposte demonstrate much about the kind of personality who doesn't understand the profound potentials of humor. So thanks!

It's all about context.

I absolutely agree, and said as much in my comment.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 3:05 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


And god bless and keep the Internet whole, for it is the single best tool we have for ensuring that nothing like Auschwitz ever happens again.

It breaks my heart how much horror has gone down simply because some people couldn't communicate with other people...one cell phone could have saved thousands of lives.

Those kids with the Hall and Oates lip synch video are the guardians of our future.
posted by chronkite at 3:09 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


chronkite I think you're being overly optimistic. Controlling communication may be harder these days, but I don't know that it's impossible.
posted by cell divide at 3:12 PM on December 18, 2009


I'm thinking that an appropriate punishment for when the thieves are caught, would be to spend their time incarcerated watching the videos of the lives and deaths of people who suffered under this sign.

I see. Well I'm thinking that an appropriate punishment for when people are discovered as being vengeful, torturous, unjust human beings - like you - is that they are stripped of the right to vote and be on juries. They stole a sign. Sign stealing is wrong. There's a crime for that already, and it happens not to carry a cruel and unusual punishment borne out of a misguided vengeful impulse. This particular sign has the potential to effect a lot of people's emotions, but that really has nothing to do with the moral weight of stealing a sign. The fact that you want to bottle up all of your unexorcised anger and outrage against Hitler & Co. and redirect it toward others is proof of your inability to be a compassionate and just-minded human being.

You really advocate imprisoning scapegoats until death? The sorrowfully poignant irony does not escape me.
posted by jock@law at 3:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Rechtsanwalt des Teufels Macht Idiotisch
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Reread for content jock@law. quin didn't say anything like whatever you imagined. And he is absolutely correct in what he did actually say.
posted by Babblesort at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking that an appropriate punishment for when the thieves are caught, would be to spend their time incarcerated watching the videos of the lives and deaths of people who suffered under this sign.

--

You really advocate imprisoning scapegoats until death? The sorrowfully poignant irony does not escape me.


Where does quin say they should be imprisoned until death? He said their time incarcerated should be spent watching videos about the Holocaust.
posted by brundlefly at 3:26 PM on December 18, 2009


"single best tool:" != "infallible shield", hence my plea to whatever higher power might exist that it be kept whole.

The modern world would come grinding to a halt without the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas that the internet enables.
posted by chronkite at 3:26 PM on December 18, 2009


This particular sign has the potential to effect a lot of people's emotions, but that really has nothing to do with the moral weight of stealing a sign.

If a rich man were to steal food from the poor, would that not be a more immoral act than a poor man stealing food to feed his family?

Yes, there's a limit to what a person can be charged for theft. But the context of the crime does matter.
posted by zarq at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Humour is a way that human beings deal with things that are too absurd, too horrible, too much to deal with in other ways. Some people respond to horror with solemnity and quiet, while others crack jokes. I'm not sure why the one group thinks that it gets to dictate that the other shut up about it, nor why we're insisting that only one particular method of dealing with the monstrousness of the Holocaust is acceptable.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


About three-quarters of my mother's family died at Auschwitz, one great-uncle survived almost two years in the camp and lived to be 99 years old, and so stories about the Holocaust were an important part of my childhood. That means that my view is pretty personal, so I don't pretend to speak for everyone or have any special access to truth, but my take on this thread is that everyone getting indignant here about the stupid, infantile jokes is missing the whole point about what the Holocaust means.

Someone said once that the Holocaust is "the counterexample to the idea of Western Civilization". Pre-war, Germany was considered by many to be the most enlightened and evolved culture in the world. The German Jews were the most assimilated in Europe. And yet the genocide happened there as an organized program. We've had 65 years of war crimes prosecutions, films, books, Nobel Peace prizes, monuments, museums, and high school lesson plans, all dedicated to denouncing the Holocaust as a unique horror that must never happen again. Still, genocides have been happening all my life, and they will continue to happen.

Getting reverent and righteous allows us to hide from the real lesson of the Holocaust: this is one of the things that any human society is potentially capable of. If you make it into some kind of holy subject that stupid kids must never, never joke about, you're distancing yourself from that reality. The Holocaust proved the futility of hoping that somehow, if only we just educate our children and preserve the memory, we can live in a world without war and genocide.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to learn how to prevent genocide, but rather that we shouldn't pretend that we're any better than the jokesters or the Germans of the 1930s. I'd rather live in a world where idiots can make unfunny jokes than a world where everyone has convinced themselves that their good intentions somehow protect them and their society from that kind of horror.
posted by fuzz at 4:39 PM on December 18, 2009 [31 favorites]


No topic is out of bounds for humor in principle.

No topic? Maybe. Though, for example, I have real hard time with any kind of rape joke. Once you have a personal relationship with the subject matter the shit ain't funny. And seeing as how something like one out of six people have been raped in the US there might be a whole bunch of people that feel that way.

Regardless there is a time and a place. Like you wanna invite us over to a night club to watch your stand-up routine? Have at it. Be as edgy as you want. But not every occasion is an opportunity to explore your inner Sarah Silverman.

In fact as time wears on I wish Sarah Silverman would utilize fewer moments to explore her inner Sarah Silverman.
posted by tkchrist at 4:39 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I would just like to say that joking about the theft of historically significant artifacts is not the same thing as joking about the Holocaust.

And I'm still not sure what to think of the theft. Obviously people should not desecrate historical monuments, but I don't think anyone is going to forget the Holocaust if the sign is actually gone for good. It seems like a pointless crime to me, but then again, the banality of evil and all that.
posted by GuyZero at 4:39 PM on December 18, 2009


C'mon metafilter. Everyone knows that humour is not an appropriate response to tragedy. That's why Jews, African-Americans, and Native Americans never make jokes.
posted by mek at 4:41 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


jokeefe: "'Today Poland. Tomorrow the entire world,' they sang in German. Each refrain had a different verse and mentioned a different country. When the trucks stopped, we heard: 'We're marching on England today, and tomorrow on the entire world!'"

This has its own poignant sadness, although it is obviously small in comparison to the sum of the Holocaust. The phrase comes from The Song of Germany, a song written to exhort the virtues of unification of German speaking peoples. At various times there were up to 39 tiny little Bunds in the vicinity of modern day Germany up to 1815 or so. This was largely defensive: Prussia and the Holy Roman Empire were paranoid rivals driven together after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The member states had varying degrees of cultural, industrial, political and religious compatibility, and were immediately on dicey ground as varying factions tried to press their thumbs on the scales.

So The Song of Germany was written in the early 1840s as an expression of solidarity among the German speaking states. When Hoffman wrote "Germany above all/ above everything in the world", it was expressing a sentiment similar to the more familiar "United We Stand, Divided We Fall", a desire for bickering divisiveness to end and to stand together in strength and unity. The first phrase mentions landmarks in Germany, similar to God Bless America:
When, for protection and defence, we'll always
stand together as brothers
From the Meuse to the Memel,
From the Adige to the Belt,
Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world.
So the Nazis ruined that hope that Hoffman and many others had and twisted the words that urged German speaking peoples to cast aside their differences and turned it into a frightening death threat.
If you have the time or inclination and the desire to learn more, I recommend Tony Childer's insightful course on Nazi German, The History of Hitler's German.
posted by boo_radley at 4:47 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, speaking as another child of a family who lost many to the Holocaust, and as a person who probably wouldn't be here if my mom and her family hadn't fled Austria ahead of the Anschluss, this thread made me cry. Which is a first for me on MeFi.

One of the bitterest ironies of the camps was that the Nazis maintained, right up to the moment the gas canisters fell, the lie that the survivors who got off the trains were there to work. Some undoubtedly realized after riding in freight cars packed with people in freezing weather, some dying en route, that the place was for extermination. I remember seeing a Pole who lived near Auschwitz interviewed in the movie Shoah, and demonstrating the grim visual joke he liked to show the people arriving on the cars: he'd smile and draw his finger across his throat. That was another clue, for those who saw his mockery.

But many surely did not know of the lie -- after all, they were bringing suitcases, they were being greeted by prisoners who were telling them it was a work camp, they were being informed that the head shaving was merely to delouse, that the chambers were for showers. They were even given soap bars . . . made of stone. The Arbeit Macht Frei sign was just another part of the great deception, meant to keep people quiet so mass numbers of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and all the condemned others could be efficiently put to death.

I realize the importance of maintaining the place for its cultural and historical significance, but my gut says steal it, burn it, bomb it, turn the soil over the remains, sow the soil with salt so nothing grows there.

Yes, my feeling too. And I'd be glad to be there to see the sign twisted and torn myself.

I don't care what happens to the people who took the sign. I don't care about the sign. A replica is fine with me. I just want everyone to remember . . . and not to laugh.
posted by bearwife at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I find it a lot weirder that we're commemorating the site in the first place. I wouldn't have stolen it myself, but I dunno. Not really outraged. This is strange and probably in bad taste, but a tragedy? no.

Why shouldn't we make light of tragedy? Why can't bad taste be funny? I saw a picture of a tattoo recently with a picture of the two towers burning and a caption that read "It's raining men!" That's definitely bad taste, but I lolled anyway.

Nobody around here would be up in arms about a joke about the burning of the library at Alexandria, which, for my money, is by far the greatest tragedy in human history.

If you're talking about plain ol' loss of life. What about ice-age-onset (the last one) jokes? Plague jokes? Mongolian horde jokes? The Crusades?

I won't say to lighten up, because that's not really the point. Just check the self-righteousness about something you've only read about.
posted by cmoj at 4:59 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


jock@law : You really advocate imprisoning scapegoats until death?

I'm nearly positive that this isn't something I advocate. And to be honest, I'm not certain what read of my comment that you quoted would give you that idea.

What I did suggest is that when these people are caught, part of their time behind bars should include a viewing of the videos that exist of what it was like inside the camp. It might give them some perspective and understanding as to why people would get upset about an act like this.
posted by quin at 5:01 PM on December 18, 2009


If you make it into some kind of holy subject that stupid kids must never, never joke about, you're distancing yourself from that reality.

Nobody said never, ever, joke about the holocaust. For instance I thought Jerry Seinfelds bit about getting busted making out during Schindlers List to be hilarious. See. Not every edgy joke is created equally.

The rest of what you wrote there I guess I don't understand. "Distancing yourself from that reality" what? Doesn't compute.
posted by tkchrist at 5:05 PM on December 18, 2009


Nobody around here would be up in arms about a joke about the burning of the library at Alexandria, which, for my money, is by far the greatest tragedy in human history. If you're talking about plain ol' loss of life. What about ice-age-onset (the last one) jokes? Plague jokes? Mongolian horde jokes? The Crusades?

None of those occured in living human memory. While they may be more tragic (or not), they are not as immediate or as personal for the vast majority of people. As to the person with the tasteless tattoo, while I am not precious about 9/11 (despite being a native Manhattanite who lost friends and family) and have my own issues with how we collectively enshrine that event, I am literally at a loss for words with that one.

I can't help at least hoping that should the person who selected that tat meet the child, spouse or parent of someone killed in the towers, they would be less amused and more ashamed, but then, my hope for humanity springs nearly eaternal. Foolish me.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:09 PM on December 18, 2009



Nobody around here would be up in arms about a joke about the burning of the library at Alexandria


I would. My great great great great great great great great great great grandma was the reference librarian there and she was quite badly burned rushing to save a twenty seven volume papyrus of illustrated Ptolmey's guide to oyster shucking.

See what I did there. And you'd should also note the not-so buried sarcasm about, you know, not actually personally knowing anybody who was killed at the Library of Alexandria, the historical and cultural context of the event and like how out-right dumb the comparison with the Holocaust is.
posted by tkchrist at 5:12 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just check the self-righteousness about something you've only read about

I think the point is that for a lot of us it isn't just something we've read about. Again I'm shruggo on jokes for the most part but I'd literally have a larger family if the Holocaust hadn't happened. There's also a good chance some of my relatives would have never come to the US, etc etc. Things affect people in different ways but yeah, this is within recent memory for a lot of people.
posted by jessamyn at 5:13 PM on December 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


None of those occured in living human memory.

Which is why jokes about them are unnecessary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Since the topic came up: Humor in the Holocaust: Its Critical, Cohesive, and Coping Functions.

A couple of key quotes:
Because humor interfered with their propaganda and revealed the awful truth about the Nazis, they were quite afraid of humor. Hitler, wrote one biographer, had "a horror of being laughed at." . . .

One of the first actions of the new Nazi government was the creation of a "Law against treacherous attacks on the state and party and for the protection of the party uniform." As Hermann Goering reminded the Academy of German Law, telling a joke could be an act against the Führer and the state. Under this law, telling and listening to anti-Nazi jokes were acts of treason. Several people were even put on trial for naming dogs and horses "Adolf." Between 1933 and 1945, five thousand death sentences were handed down by the "People's Court" for treason, a large number of them for anti-Nazi humor. . . .
Eventually, the Nazis closed all the cabarets. Many of the performers were sent to prison camps, where cabaret humor often reappeared. Even in Dachau, a play satirizing the Nazis was performed for six weeks in the summer of 1943. The lead character, Count Adolar, was a thinly disguised Hitler. The SS were seated at the front as "honored guests." Rudolf Kalmar, the writer of the play, survived the camp and became a popular actor in East Germany after the war. Another survivor, described the effect of this satire on the camp inmates: "Many of them, who sat behind the rows of the SS each night and laughed with a full heart, didn't experience the day of freedom. But most among them took from this demonstration strength to endure their situation. . . . They had the certainty, as they lay that night on their wooden bunks: We have done something that gives strength to our comrades. We have made the Nazis look ridiculous."
posted by flug at 5:15 PM on December 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure why the one group thinks that it gets to dictate that the other shut up about it

So if I'm next to you at your mothers funeral and I say "Knock. Knock." You really gonna say "Whose there?"

My family certainly might. But either way I think at your mom's funeral your with-in your rights to boot me out if I make some jokes you don't like.
posted by tkchrist at 5:22 PM on December 18, 2009


That's an interesting perspective, tkchrist, which essentially holds that the entire world is the equivalent of a funeral for the Holocaust, forever.

Fuck that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:25 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


The BBC has a viewpoint on the significance of the sign today.
posted by immlass at 5:30 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope is there any point in which you have some sort of awareness out side yourself?

Nobody is saying you can't make all the Dead Jew jokes you want to your little hearts content. By all means. Do stand-up. Write a musical. Make a movie. We are saying that this may not be the time and place since there are people here who have a personal relationship to the event. And that people are with-in their rights here, in this time and place, to tell you so. Nobody here is shitting your eternal right to make Dead Jew jokes. Okay. Have at it.
posted by tkchrist at 5:32 PM on December 18, 2009


fuzz: I'd rather live in a world where idiots can make unfunny jokes than a world where everyone has convinced themselves that their good intentions somehow protect them and their society from that kind of horror.

I wish I could favourite this a thousand times. There is nothing quite so horrible as the complacency of a human race that has mistaken the cry of 'never again' for a promise.

'Never again!' we cried as the shells rained down on Sarajevo. 'Never again', as the machetes thudded home in Kigali. 'Never again' as the pharisees vote away rights in San Fransisco and as the police turn a delicate blind eye in Budapest, 'never again'.

And as a thousand bright torches set fire to a thousand friendly homes, and as ten thousand sharp bullets kiss a million terrified children goodnight... we turn to one another and congratulate ourselves for our resolution that never again.
posted by Dreadnought at 5:34 PM on December 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


I saw a picture of a tattoo recently with a picture of the two towers burning and a caption that read "It's raining men!"

jesus christ almighty that's messed up
posted by porn in the woods at 5:35 PM on December 18, 2009


Joking about the Holocaust is a truly frightening and nightmarish phenomenon... it's worse than trolling. In many ways, the Holocaust was the ultimate expression of the rationalized, mechanized, bureacratic, industrial state: it was the ultimate cultural expression of our times. It was the end of the world, certainly for the millions of people who were executed and annihilated.

That's millions of people, and people who make jokes about either ignore that number or don't understand it.

How can you compare a terminal, Hellish event to the burning of a library?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you really believe that jokes about the Holocaust are in and of themselves "Dead Jew Jokes" then you are sufficiently blinkered in your thinking that you are incapable of discussing this subject. The bile and filth which you are saying I am covered in is projected from your own self-image.

There is no reason for you to be nasty, and the position of "people who disagree with me on this are small-minded, anti-semitic idiots" is a disgusting one which should have no place here or anywhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:36 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


The modern world would come grinding to a halt without the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas that the internet enables.

No, it wouldn't.
posted by jokeefe at 5:39 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who is actually making "dead Jew jokes"? I didn't see any.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:42 PM on December 18, 2009


Oh god. Pope I tried. I tried to communicate to you legitimately what people were saying here. You and you essentially said nobody gets to tell anybody not to make jokes about something! Evar! Quote: "Fuck that!"

What else do you want? I tried to illustrate to you a couple of ways that there are times when people do have the right to say what offends them and that maybe some places are not okay for jokes. But no. Now you have the gall to trot out the wounded accusatory victim card. It's us. Us with our terse wording of your OWN argument that now are the evil oppressors who just can't have a discussion with you. Step outside your own little world for five seconds. Or go take a nap and let the grown ups talk. I give up.
posted by tkchrist at 5:46 PM on December 18, 2009


Who is actually making "dead Jew jokes"? I didn't see any.

No. Becuase it's forbidden for all eternity by the man who is keeping down our razor sharp sense of humor!
posted by tkchrist at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2009


Nobody is making dead Jew jokes.

At the same time, Pope, people in this thread are telling you that this topic is personal, sensitive and painful for them - predictably so - and that jokes around it are not hitting the funny so much as hitting the offensive. You can continue to make or defend those jokes and that's your right, but it's not necessary and as such, it just seems willful and stuntyy at this point.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:51 PM on December 18, 2009


Okay, so you agree that no one has actually made any "dead Jew jokes." In addition, I don't see anything posted that could be interpreted as a joke in over five hours. Seems like this particular derail is self-perpetuating and kind of dumb at this point, and it probably should have gone straight to MeTa.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:02 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nobody around here would be up in arms about a joke about the burning of the library at Alexandria, which, for my money, is by far the greatest tragedy in human history.

Your money must be worth less than a Zimbabwe dollar.

You have obviously never been to the type of building you lament, if this is your idea of the greatest tragedy ever. And in a thread where people are telling you about how their families were executed. For god's sake, display an atom of sensitivity of just stay out of the thread.
posted by smoke at 6:09 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


How can you compare a terminal, Hellish event to the burning of a library?

A burning that set human knowledge back about a thousand years that we know of.

Imagine if we'd had differential gears and batteries for two thousand years. The internet for a thousand. Imagine a chance at bypassing the dark ages, WWII and George W.

I don't compare it to one of many relatively recent genocides. It's much worse.

And for the record, my family too would have been bigger. But it would have been even bigger without the European genocide of the natives in the Americas and without the continuing, systematic oppression of both blacks and native americans in the US.

The most publicized, your-culture-centric tragedy is not the worst.
posted by cmoj at 6:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


I tried to communicate to you legitimately what people were saying here. You and you essentially said nobody gets to tell anybody not to make jokes about something! Evar! Quote: "Fuck that!"

No, no you didn't. You called me oblivious and self-involved, you threw out the accusation of "tell[ing] Dead Jew jokes", which, as Optimus Chyme has pointed out, nobody is doing, and insisted that this is not the time and place to make jokes. Out of eleven sentences you used, three had anything resembling substance, and they were making the argument that Metafilter is, specifically, not a place to make jokes which relate to the Holocaust.

I'll take a moment to note that I've just reviewed the thread and here's the jokes:
All I'm saying is it looks awesome hanging in my frat house basement.

I think you should put it in the attic.
This is a joke about Skull and Bones legendarily stealing the bones of Geronimo and displaying them in their frathouse. The only connection to the Holocaust is that it is a joke made upon the occasion of the theft of an item which was an iconic symbol of it. This has nothing to do with "Dead Jews" and is about the stupid, oblivious assholes who steal historically important things for frivolous reasons. It is the stupidity and obliviousness which are being made light of, and not the dead.
Huh. I read on Stormfront that there was a sign there, but it said "Eat at Joes"
This is a joke about the inanity and dishonesty of fascists and Holocaust deniers. This relates to "Dead Jews" only in that the specific subject of their inanity and dishonesty is the Holocaust. It is the inanity and dishonesty which are being made light of, and not the dead.
ten bucks says it was the teabaggers.
This is a joke about the racism and proto-fascist ideology of the American "Tea Party" movement, which has had several admirers of Hitler in it. It is the racism and proto-facism which are being made light of, and not the dead.
Interpol released a sketch of the suspect this afternoon.
This links to a picture of Carmen Sandiego, the star antagonist of a series of educational videogames in which an international ring of thieves steals things based not on their monetary value, but on their historical value. The joke here is that the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign is an absurd thing to steal, and is the sort of thing which would only be stolen by Carmen Sandiego. It is the absurdity of the theft which is being made light of, and not the dead.
Just wait until the Holocaust Sign Deniers start showing up. There never was a sign! That's just what the Zionist conspiracy wants you to believe!
This is a joke about the absurdity and rank dishonesty of Holocaust deniers, who attempt to persuade people to accept the proposed unreality of the Holocaust despite the overwhelming evidence of it, including the testimony of concentration camp survivors who are alive today. It is the absurdity and dishonesty which are being made light of, and not the dead.

And that's it. The last joke I can find in this thread was posted over five hours ago- at 3:53 pm, according to my settings. Not one of the jokes in this thread was about dead jews, or even directly about the Holocaust itself; every single joke that I can find in this thread is about either the absurdity of the theft or the stupidity and foolishness of human beings who were not directly involved. This is why I respond so angrily to emotional badgering such as Jessamyn's line, "HURF DURF JEWS jokes during Hanukkah.", or your constant invocation of "Dead Jew jokes". Nobody is making jokes like that here, and to assert that the jokes made here are about dead Jews is to assert that all jokes which have some relation to the Holocaust, even if they're not about the Holocaust, are ipso facto "Dead Jew jokes". This sets a terrible precedent for judging the content of communication, and I do not believe that it is the benefit of Metafilter or anyone.

What is going on here is that six comments in this thread, out of a hundred and thirteen, are jokes, nearly all of which are at the expense of universally-reviled pieces of shit and none of which are at the expense of the dead or mock the Holocaust itself. Most of the rest of the thread consists of people screaming at those people, and anybody who defends the use of humor as a coping mechanism, of making jokes at the expense of the Holocaust dead. These people are not responding to the thread or to its contents; they are responding to a preconceived idea of Holocaust jokes, throwing around accusations of ignorance and anti-semitism first and asking questions later. This is not at all good for the level of discourse on Metafilter, which I understand to be a site where we respond to what other people are saying, and not to what we knee-jerkingly assume they are saying without actually reading it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:18 PM on December 18, 2009 [39 favorites]


And if we're to find anything that could be called an offensive joke, the closest I can find is Cool Papa Bell's comment:
One hopes that when these knuckleheads are caught, they're taken to the courthouse in a railcar.
which does in fact trivialize the horrors of Auschwitz.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:21 PM on December 18, 2009


I visited Auschwitz this past September. The reality of seeing that famous sign right in front of me, of walking under it past the spot where the camp "orchestra" would play -- well, it leaves an impression. The BBC Viewpoint article said it much better than I ever could:
"The visitor to Auschwitz knows he is walking along that same platform where half a century ago Dr Mengele was directing victims to the gas chambers. He is looking at the same electrified fence that had imprisoned countless slave labourers.

And he is walking through the same gate and beneath the very same sign that cynically offered hope, but in reality promised only destruction. Or at least he was until Friday.
I don't know why it makes a difference to see the Real Thing rather than a picture, or a replica. Maybe it's because with the real thing you can feel the people connected to it -- the hands that made it, the many that walked under it.

But then I've always had a weird nostalgia/memorial bent for places, buildings, things. I think people leave an imprint on them.
posted by aclevername at 6:23 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I realize the importance of maintaining the place for its cultural and historical significance, but my gut says steal it, burn it, bomb it, turn the soil over the remains, sow the soil with salt so nothing grows there, and build a wall so nobody can ever see the site again. What occurred there is an abomination; it's beyond an abomination, it's a mind-searing profanity of anything good or decent or worthwhile in humanity, and must rank among the most evil places on earth.

I've been to Auschwitz twice, and both times I was overwhelmed by feelings. Oddly enough, most of them weren't too negative. Walking among the brick buildings made me realize both how low humans could stoop and how strong and powerful they could become.
I believe the resistance movement exhibition takes up a whole building in Auschwitz. The people who were forced into this horrendous situation were able to keep their spirits high and fight the system.

Of course, I'll also never forget seeing rooms filled with the prisoners' personal possessions, neatly grouped by type: suitcases in room 1, toothbrushes in room 2, shoes in room 3.
posted by wet-raspberry at 6:25 PM on December 18, 2009


My point is: Auschwitz is a place that symbolizes both human cruelty and human spirit. Destroying it would also strip it of its power to inspire, for lack of a better word, future generations to fight and never give up.
posted by wet-raspberry at 6:27 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pope, I read the attic joke as a reference to Anne Frank, not a frat house. Which (to state the obvious) is about a Jew who was killed during the Holocaust.

Do I need to create a MeTa for this derail?
posted by zarq at 6:35 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Cracking jokes about the theft < stealing the sign < being a Nazi, but they're all on the same continuum of dehumanization and trivialization of human life."

YOU ARE THE THOUGHT POLICE.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 6:42 PM on December 18, 2009


Pope, I read the attic joke as a reference to Anne Frank, not a frat house. Which (to state the obvious) is about a Jew who was killed during the Holocaust.

I had not made that connection. Now that you mention it, yes, that's shitty and does make light of the dead.

That said, I don't think that that is representative of the jokes in this thread. People haven't been singling that line out- they've been acting as though every joke in this thread was of that nature or worse, which they manifestly are not.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:47 PM on December 18, 2009


Having grown up with lessons in Hebrew school every year on Yom Hashoah, and having known survivors, one of the most absurd, bizarre, and honestly upsetting things for me when I first came to Japan was that that word for part-time jobs here is arubaito, which for whatever reason was selected from German, like pan (bread) from Portuguese. It took a while for me to stop cringing every time I heard it.

I mean, it's just a word, right? And just because it comes from German, that doesn't make it bad, of course. The thing is, it was on that sign, which I've heard about since I was probably six or seven, and that sign, for me represents the holocaust. It served as a reminder of just how horrible/awful/inhuman people can be. And just when you think humanity can't sink lower, someone stole that sign.

I need to stop reading MeFi in the morning.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:53 PM on December 18, 2009


yes, that's shitty and does make light of the dead.

That's all I was saying. You want to call it "emotional badgering" that's your right but that may be a rant you want to take to MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn at 6:58 PM on December 18, 2009


"I wonder, was it someone who denies the Holocaust? Was it someone expressing hate? Or was it just someone who just doesn't get what the Holocaust was, or what it meant to the whole world to see it revealed? Has that part of history passed into meaningless background that happened to someone so long ago no-one personally cares anymore?"

It's well on it's way thankfully. Kids entering school today are a good two generations removed from this event, another thirty to forty years and no one will have first hand memories of it.

"in a thread where people are telling you about how their families were executed. For god's sake, display an atom of sensitivity of just stay out of the thread."

The lulz were all before the sharing. And sharing shouldn't short circuit discussion.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 PM on December 18, 2009


I find it a lot weirder that we're commemorating the site in the first place.

Has anyone considered whether THIS may be why the thieves took it?

I've seen people propose that the thieves were collectors, Holocaust deniers, right-wing nutbags, etc., but I haven't seen anyone suggest that the thieves may have been all, "it just SICKENS us that we're leaving this site intact, especially THAT SIGN, I just can't STAND the fact that it's up there for everyone to see all.....enshrined!" and they just flipped out and took it because they thought leaving it up glorifies it in some way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's all I was saying. You want to call it "emotional badgering" that's your right but that may be a rant you want to take to MetaTalk.

It's not a rant. The language being directed at those making jokes- and those defending the use of humour- is wildly disproportionate to the actual content of the jokes. One joke was bad, and most of the rest of the thread is people taking the opportunity to get riled up and toss around emotionally-loaded accusations as if all the jokes in the thread were that joke. These accusations do not really address the actual content of the thread but are intended to "win" the argument by using emotional persuasion rather than reason. One joke was in poor taste. The rest were not, unless you are going to argue that any humour at all which references or is relevant to not only the Holocaust but to the reaction to it by uninvolved human beings is in and of itself offensive and out of bounds.

And I don't really know why this would go to MetaTalk- how people react and relate to the Holocaust what the thread's been about.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:19 PM on December 18, 2009


Pope, the fact that this is such an emotional thing for so many people is why your arguments towards reason don't fly. It's not, for me, that the jokes are horrible anti-semite jokes, because they aren't. The problem is, they are jokes about a topic that a great many people don't think should involve irrevent humor/snark. There's a time and a place, and all that most people seem to be asking is that the jokers realize that. That's what tkchrist was trying to get at when he asked you about jokes at a funeral. Some people might be okay with it, but a lot of people wouldn't. It's not that the holocaust is a giant funeral for all the world, forever, but that, out of the 13 million or so that were killed, they left a lot of relatives. The survivors themselves touched a lot of lives. Chances were, in this thread, there would be, and were, a good number of people who's lives had been touched in that way, and it would be nice, just once, if people who want to snark could find a different thread, a less sensitive thread, to relieve their pent up snark.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:26 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Primo Levi wrote a short essay on the phrase 'Arbeit Macht Frei' in 1959:
The experimental character of the camps is clear to us today and arouses an existential horror. We know now that the German camps, whether intended for work or for extermination, were not, so to speak, a by-product of conditions of national emergency (the Nazi revolution first, then the war). They were not an unfortunate transitory necessity, but the early seedlings of the New Order. In the New Order some human races (Jews, Gypsies) would be wiped out while others, for example the Slavs in general and the Russians in particular, would be enslaved and subject to a carefully controlled regime of biological degradation, transforming individuals into good labouring animals, illiterate, devoid of all initiative, incapable of either rebellion or criticism.
The camps were thus largely 'pilot plants', an anticipation of the future assigned to Europe in Nazi planning. In the light of these considerations, phrases such as the one at Auschwitz, 'Work makes free', or the one at Buchenwald, 'To each his own', take on a precise and sinister meaning. they are, in their turn, an anticipation of the new tablets of the Law, dictated by master to slave, and valid only for the slave.
If Fascism had prevailed, the whole of Europe would have been transformed into a complex system of forced labour and extermination camps, and those cynically edifying words would have read on the entrance to every workshop and every worksite.
posted by Abiezer at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


Whoa. I feel I need to explain myself here. First off, anyone that claims that I am ignorant of The Holocaust because I made a joke (which wasn't really about The Holocaust) is way off base. I grew up in Temple with a good handful of survivors. I used to do part time home care for a survivor in our congregation before she died, she was a Hoarder--a habit picked up due to her history, and I spent much time with her. I have been gang-beaten by Nazi skins and my brother has a synthetic jaw as a result of a curb job from the same group of Nazis. Fun times growing up Jewish in the Ozarks.

As mentioned upthread, my joke was about the assholes who would take something sacred for frivolous purposes. I grew up learning that "never forget" was our future protection and I understand the importance of the sign as a cautionary symbol. The "attic" thing though, flew right by me--I didn't catch it.

I still fail to see how my comment was in poor taste, again, seeing how it wasn't even really about the Holocaust. Everyone inadvertently is flippant about something that is sacred to someone sometime. Hell, we love the phrase "Drink the Kool Aid" here, but I have yet to see the MeFi sensitivity squad decry its use as an obvious reference to an terrible mass murder. With all the hand-wringing here I swear some of you must go through real life dragging fainting-couches behind you.

God forbid you should accidentally stumble across a vintage issue of National Lampoon.
posted by sourwookie at 7:43 PM on December 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


The problem is, they are jokes about a topic that a great many people don't think should involve irrevent humor/snark.

I think the identification of joking about the theft of an object related to the Holocaust with joking about the Holocaust itself is more offensive and more trivializing of the horrors of the Holocaust than any joke that's to be made.

There's a time and a place, and all that most people seem to be asking is that the jokers realize that.

I disagree. I do not get the impression from this thread that there is any time or place which is acceptable for the making of jokes which are not at the expense of the dead or directly relating to the event itself.

I'm starting to feel like the only argument that is really being made against my position is "because I want it." There's a series of pleas being made by the uninvolved and the indirectly involved alike, and these individuals appear to believe that their objection in and of itself erects a zone of inappropriateness and obligatory solemnity. This is not a good precedent, and I do not believe that the shortsightedness necessary to insist that one's own emotional responses are sufficient to dictate the terms of discussion is of benefit to anyone. That said, it doesn't look like anybody's interested in anything but "My emotions make me morally superior to you", so I'm bowing out of this thread.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:45 PM on December 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


The language being directed at those making jokes- and those defending the use of humour- is wildly disproportionate to the actual content of the jokes.

Nobody was yelling at anybody. Nobody claimed there was a perponderence of jokes. What people were trying to do was head off that particular derail. And lo we have another one in it's place.

It was you came in here with this "Where do you get off telling somebody what kind of joke they can make" attitude. Like there was some concerted effort to cramp the style of joke telling universally. And people were very politely trying to explain why they felt this way about this topic her in this thread. AS in:

"I'm not sure why the one group thinks that it gets to dictate that the other shut up about it"

Nobody was telling anybody to shut up. People were saying this thread here right now was probably not the place to start a comedy jag. That's all.

Your "Fuck that" comment was hardly constructive. Nor was your wildly uncharitable re-interpretation of what I meant by going to your moms funeral. Nor your "how DARE you" attempt at making yourself into some victim of a racism allegation. Seems to me you came in looking for a fight. Then you created a fight. Now you're bitching about fighting.

If you wanna stick up for this imaginary victim of repressed comedy, do it in Meta.
posted by tkchrist at 7:46 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]



I disagree. I do not get the impression from this thread that there is any time or place which is acceptable for the making of jokes which are not at the expense of the dead or directly relating to the event itself.

That's your problem. Your "impressions." Before you jump in with both feet maybe, just once, consider other peoples impressions first.

Not one person said you can never ever make a holocaust joke under any circumstances. This impression is a strawman only you want to fight about.
posted by tkchrist at 7:49 PM on December 18, 2009


There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience.

And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth.

- Rod Serling - Deaths-Head Revisted
posted by dr_dank at 7:52 PM on December 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


But it would have been even bigger without the European genocide of the natives in the Americas and without the continuing, systematic oppression of both blacks and native americans in the US.

And the next time somebody makes a joke about small-pox ridden blankets or the slave trade in thread related to those topics, feel free to speak up. Or not.
posted by tkchrist at 7:53 PM on December 18, 2009


The most publicized, your-culture-centric tragedy is not the worst.

I'll make sure to bring that up in every other genocide thread. It's such a productive observation.
posted by tkchrist at 8:02 PM on December 18, 2009


my comment about these jokes being edgy was more to do with how they were unfunny snark, rather than examples of using humor to cope with tragedy. Certainly humor and laughter have helped many people deal with the Holocaust, either by distracting them from the situation, or by providing a way for the mind to approach a horrifying and monumental topic obliquely, rather than head-on.
posted by dubold at 8:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Everyone inadvertently is flippant about something that is sacred to someone sometime.

Yes. This is true. And sometimes it's good to know, right?

You know once I was at this cocktail party describing a particular meeting at a High Tech firm. Doing my impersonations of all the people at the meeting. I described it like being the only fully functioning person at an all Asperger syndrome Star trek Convention. Everybody laughed. However later my wife told me that one lady there had one kid who was Autistic and another with Aspergers. Even though she too laughed I felt pretty terrible. it was nice to know not make that type of ill considered joke around people I don't know all that well again. That woman would have been well with in her rights to pull me aside later and tell me. But she didn't.

So here you have a thread about the Holocaust. It's not about a comedy routine about the Holocaust. So it's safe to assume the people attracted to comment in it may have some fairly emotional ways they may want to talk about it. One or two harmless jokes are no big deal, but even that can poison the well unintentionally. People have a right to speak up if maybe they fell that way.

Sure humor is one way people deal highly emotional topics. My family in particular is just wicked with dark humor. Even at funerals. This horrifies my wife. But only around each other.

How ever while it's true people deal with sadness with humor, humor is very subjective and compulsively cracking wise in the public context about a complicated emotional topic is a sign low maturity. If that's the main way you ( general "you" not you you) deal with it? Then it's about time as a big grown-up you learn to deal with it in an another way. Additionally. Like in "have more than one coping strategy."
posted by tkchrist at 8:20 PM on December 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


A burning that set human knowledge back about a thousand years that we know of.

I disagree completely, and I question your values.

The most publicized, your-culture-centric tragedy is not the worst.

I'm speechless.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 PM on December 18, 2009


"All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience."
The problem with that thinking is that, it you truly intend to follow it for every time and place people have been monstrous to each other, pretty soon the entire world will be the equivalent of one giant white cross or ghost bike on the side of the road.

If it isn't already.
posted by Pinback at 8:28 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


tkchrist: "You know once I was at this cocktail party describing a particular meeting at a High Tech firm. Doing my impersonations of all the people at the meeting. I described it like being the only fully functioning person at an all Asperger syndrome Star trek Convention. Everybody laughed. However later my wife told me that one lady there had one kid who was Autistic and another with Aspergers."

I feel your pain. Much like the time I told a joke about the Jonestown Massacre in the company (unknowingly) of someone who had lost family friends there.

FWIW, I got a fuck-ton of favorites when I told that joke on MetaFilter. It's a hazy line sometimes, I guess.

The few jokes in this thread rubbed me the wrong way, as well. Not enough to comment on it, however.
posted by brundlefly at 9:01 PM on December 18, 2009


So, long story short -- no one was saying "shut up with the Holocaust jokes forever everywhere." They were only saying "go do that in another room." Kind of like how you don't cook dinner in the bedroom, or take a leak in the living room. I mean, if you try dropping trou in the living room, and someone says "don't do that in here!" they don't mean "you are not allowed to shit ever again". All they mean is "dude, the bathroom is THAT way."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


+1 to tkchrist.

Or in other words, "Discretion is the better part of valor."
posted by DarlingBri at 9:26 PM on December 18, 2009


[...] these individuals appear to believe that their objection in and of itself erects a zone of inappropriateness and obligatory solemnity.

That's the kind of thing you get when you encourage people to treat an online forum as a "community". You know, you'd think that cyberspace would be the one place where you'd get a break from people sniffing each others' assholes, but no, or, at least, not on MetaFilter. Well, keep calling it, and making it, a community, and pretty soon the SJs* will take over the place (as is their wont in RL), and there'll be MetaFilter-sponsored Rotary clubs (or whatever the fuck they join these days), and won't life be grand?

*Sorry for the unexplained Meyers-Briggs jargon, but that's the way I think about it and I don't feel like spending the time to write around MetaFilter's prejudices (against MBTI), particularly given the content of this comment.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:41 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe Magneto crumpled it up into a little ball.
posted by buzzman at 9:57 PM on December 18, 2009


They were only saying "go do that in another room."

See, some people do consider this "the other room" -- this an Internet discussion forum, we're not standing in front of the desecrated gate. Or at my mother's funeral.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:08 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


See, some people do consider this "the other room" -- this an Internet discussion forum, we're not standing in front of the desecrated gate. Or at my mother's funeral.

True, we're in an Internet discussion forum.

But just like houses have different rooms for different stuff, discussion forums also have different threads for different stuff. And some stuff just don't fit in certain threads, just like some stuff just don't fit in certain rooms.

The fact that it's an Internet discussion forum doesn't mean that we don't still try to keep the conversation compartmentalized, does it? We don't start swapping recipes in a conversation about soccer, just because "it's an internet forum, not a sports stadium", do we?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:14 PM on December 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, some people do consider this "the other room" -- this an Internet discussion forum, we're not standing in front of the desecrated gate. Or at my mother's funeral.

I understand what a vital part of your self identity and feeling of comfort comes cracking holocaust jokes in a post about a concentration camp... However don't you think it's possible someone else could conceivably else have a greater emotional stake than you in this kind of post?

There are plenty of places - on the net as on metafilter - to make jokes. In light of that, protests about not being able to do it here sound like a Monty Python sketch; "Help! I'm being oppressed!"

Just because people have the right to crack tasteless jokes in a sensitive thread, doesn't mean that they should exercise it.
posted by smoke at 11:31 PM on December 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


So here you have a thread about the Holocaust.

Not really. This is a thread about the recent theft of a sign. Like most any other current event thread, it began with short responses, gut reactions, and quick snarks. At the point the jokes were made, nobody had yet staked it out as the designated Metafilter Holocaust Remembrance Thread.

You say we're to have assumed that people who had been touched by the Holocaust would want to use this, a current events thread related to the Holocaust, to share their feelings on that topic, so we'd better keep the jokes out. Now, would this apply to a Tiger Woods thread, too? Because infidelity, while certainly nowhere near as serious as the Holocaust, has affected a lot of people's lives, and you can bet they're going to want to use an infidelity-related current event thread to share their own experiences about how infidelity has affected them. Of course this also means we'd better not joke in threads related to murder, alcohol, arthritis, cancer, food poisoning, automobile accidents, or irritable bowel syndrome either, instead preserving the solemnity of the thread for those who take such things seriously.

Because I have irritable bowel syndrome, and I assure you, I take it very seriously.

Or we can do what we've always done, and what I've always thought humans do so well (or at least, it seems we used to do it well): joke about shit while still appreciating those who are seriously touched by it, or conversely, be seriously touched by something while still being able to joke about it.
posted by scrowdid at 11:57 PM on December 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


And now we're comparing the holocaust to irritable bowel syndrome. I give up. If you can't understand already, I don't have the power to illuminate.
posted by smoke at 12:07 AM on December 19, 2009


I dunno ...

Mel Brooks made fun of the Holocaust.

SPIEGEL: Can you also get your revenge on him by using comedy?

Brooks: Yes, absolutely. Of course it is impossible to take revenge for 6 million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths. In doing so, we should remember that Hitler did have some talents. He was able to fool an entire population into letting him be their leader. However, this role was basically a few numbers too great for him –- but he simply covered over this deficiency.

posted by krinklyfig at 12:32 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


i still wonder if it wasn't scrap metal dealers, mostly because i wonder if there's any piece of history or culture that someone, somewhere, wouldn't desecrate or destroy for a quick buck

isn't that the way of things? - no matter how we might strive against it, the march of stupidity and lack of respect goes on - and just as "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair" turned into a commentary on the vanity of monomania, so time, and various shitheaded humans turn our tragedies and our triumphs into their own forms of dusty vanities

i don't mean to minimize anything by saying this - it depresses the hell out of me that there will be a time when that sign and that death camp won't mean anything - it's even more depressing to see that some idiots are trying to hurry the process

there just isn't anything left that our materially deluded selves won't piss on or take apart is there? - we're pygmies slipping off the shoulders of giants, degenerate children who don't understand our own inheritance

it's just pathetic

.
posted by pyramid termite at 12:55 AM on December 19, 2009


And now we're comparing the holocaust to irritable bowel syndrome

Wrong. No such comparison was made. I suggested that there were additional discussion topics which could, like the holocaust, be considered very serious subject matter by large numbers of people immediately affected by them. Then I wondered if we had to actually practice compassion and understanding universally and refrain from joking in those threads as well.
posted by scrowdid at 1:20 AM on December 19, 2009


I'm not saying that no-one can make Holocaust jokes - I'm not even saying that no-one can make Holocaust jokes in this thread. I just think that the direction of the first 25 comments really can shape a thread, and it's not always beneficial to have single-sentence joke posts setting the tone.

Thanks to everyone who shared stories of meeting survivors. My grandfather helped liberate the concentration camps, and I only ever heard him talk about it once. The look of horror in his eyes - even 40 years later - made a massive impression on me.
posted by dubold at 6:33 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


... they thought leaving it up glorifies it in some way.

I kind of understand that, because I feel a bit the same way about Ned Kelly the bushranger. This guy was basically a thief and murderer, yet the image of his metal helmet pops up every so often like this sort of icon of Australian-ness. The symbology has become so muddied and misappropriated, I'd rather we learned to do without it.

It was odd learning that Auschwitz is now a museum. I never knew that. If it's a museum, it must be a tourist destination. If it's a tourist destination it probably has a gift shop. What could they sell in the Auschwitz Museum gift shop? It's unsettling to think about. And where have they put the shop (if it exists), inside or outside the camp?

Does anyone know?
posted by Ritchie at 6:35 AM on December 19, 2009


And where have they put the shop (if it exists), inside or outside the camp?

More of a hunch than a definitive answer -- if there IS such a shop, it'd probably be outside, as I know they're careful about what goes on inside. When Spielberg was filming Schindler's List they refused to let any actual filming go on inside the camp proper -- but Spielberg had a shot which called for the train pulling into the camp through the gate. He couldn't SHOOT inside the camp -- but they did approve of putting the TRAIN inside the gate for some reason. So Spielberg built a set that was just OUTSIDE the gate, and so that shot is actually the train coming OUT of the actual camp and stopping at the set that was just outside.

If they're that particular about that circumstance, my hunch is that a gift shop would not fly inside, if at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:01 AM on December 19, 2009


It was odd learning that Auschwitz is now a museum. I never knew that. If it's a museum, it must be a tourist destination. If it's a tourist destination it probably has a gift shop. What could they sell in the Auschwitz Museum gift shop? It's unsettling to think about. And where have they put the shop (if it exists), inside or outside the camp?

The shop is at Auschwitz II (Birkenau) (I think there may also be one at Auschwitz I). It sells books, DVDs and other things used for educating people about what went on there. It doesn't sell crappy trinkets and your usual gift shop rubbish.
posted by idiomatika at 7:13 AM on December 19, 2009


Jewish culture was profoundly altered by the Holocaust and concentration camps. As a people, we've always had a bit of a victimization complex, (one of the many in-jokes about my religion is that nearly every Jewish holiday can be summarized by the phrase "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat",) but now the survival of the Jewish people has become an overriding raison d'etre for many, and especially for the Orthodox.

When my wife was a child, her grandparents sat her and her brother on their laps every Passover and Yom Kippur and cried while pointing to pictures in a photo album. They told the kids about their own brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who had been gassed, burned to death or who had died of starvation in two concentration camps. Most of my own family was here by then, and a number of them fought in the US Army against the Germans, but I still lost family members at Auschwitz. My family embraced different traditions than my wife's, (even my wife describes those holidays with her grandparents as ghastly,) but we still remember those who were murdered.

For better or worse, "Never Forget" is ingrained in Jewish culture now. As a people, we have a long memory, and in a world where disrespect and marginalization of our religion and people is still a serious (and in some cases institutionalized,) problem, this theft doesn't exist as a sole act of desecration. So yes, to many Jews this will symbolically be more than just a theft. Speaing personally, it feels like just another heinous act on top of a long list of injustices perpetrated against us.

I do think my family history gives me the right to characterize a joke about Anne Frank as insensitive. I honestly don't understand the self-righteous argument that such a characterization is somehow invalid because it's emotional. Of course it is! Our family members were murdered! A dry dispassionate argument is unlikely here.

Do I think all the jokes in this thread were awful? No. They're tame, and as I said earlier, humor is a defense mechanism. I really like the Mel Brooks quote above, too. The idea of humor used as a sort of healing weapon appeals to me.

Should we draw a line between jokes that mock the victim and those that mock the oppressor? I think that's worth considering at least. Did any of the jokes in this thread (other than the attic one) really attack those who died in the Holocaust? I honestly don't think they did. No need to go all hoppitamoppita.

It would be nice if folks would keep that in perspective, be kind to each other, and remember that no one is trying to be malicious.
posted by zarq at 7:42 AM on December 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


Apropos of very little, this is a fascinating article that contends that the Western view of the Holocaust is not grim enough because it is based largely on Auschwitz and other camps that had survivors, unlike Treblinka and others that had no "work camp" facade, but were purely for execution.
posted by Mid at 9:19 AM on December 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


>A burning that set human knowledge back about a thousand years that we know of.

I disagree completely, and I question your values.

>The most publicized, your-culture-centric tragedy is not the worst.

I'm speechless.


Care to elaborate rather than making vague, egocentric declarative statements?
posted by cmoj at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2009


I understand what a vital part of your self identity and feeling of comfort comes cracking holocaust jokes in a post about a concentration camp...

First of all, with the possible exception of the attic reference, nobody made any holocaust jokes -- as explained above, the jokes are mocking the thieves and the sort of people who might commit such an act. The distinction is important and clear, though it appears you cannot see it. Second, I didn't make any jokes at all, so your assertion here is not only ridiculously silly, it is baseless. I do however believe that there are contexts where non-malicious humor is not inappropriate, and a faceless Internet forum many degrees removed from the event in question is one of them.

There are plenty of places - on the net as on metafilter - to make jokes.

Who's to say which threads are for which purposes? Simply because some would like to declare this thread a solemn mourning zone doesn't mean it is so.

And now we're comparing the holocaust to irritable bowel syndrome. I give up.

And now you're using this discussion for an opportunity to make wild misrepresentations and act all huffily dramatic.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:55 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a few years ago. Walking around the small spaces and contemplating what it could possibly have been like, my eyes welled up and the sheer horror of the Holocaust and Nazi rule overwhelmed me.

One of the most moving parts of the experience was seeing this quote by Primo Levi:

"One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way: if we were capable of taking in the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

The emotional impact of visiting that house was like a punch to the stomach. Anne Frank's story, amplified by wandering through the very rooms she wrote about (and in) was so powerful that I am convinced that the feeling I would have if I were to visit Auschwitz would probably make me vomit. That's exactly why I plan to go. These horrors should not be abstract events or mere words in a history book, being able to place yourself within the context of the crimes brings a necessary sense of scale to events.

---

tkchrist's story was close to setting off the tears as well... I'm emotional today apparently.

...My wife asked how she knew so much, she turned to her friends and they looked kind of pained for a second, and then as if on cue two of the ladies rolled up their sleeves reveling their concentration camp numbers. I just caught that out of the corner of my eye as my wife crying. There they were, these poor little ladies huddled around my wife, fishing for handkerchiefs trying to comfort her.

posted by knapah at 1:37 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


My father spent a couple of years in Auschwitz. He was taken there after his entire family was shot in their Polish house. He ran away into the forest and became a "Partisan" fighter which, according to him. meant he mostly stole chickens to eat. He was caught and spent about two years there - as a 15 year old. He has the blue number on his arm. He was never able to talk much about it with me. His back is a seared, scarred mass where he told me that they used hot metal irons to torture him. He was liberated by the British before coming to New York a few years later.

The experience there broke him and he became a man who could trust nobody - not friends . Not family. He became a man who had to control everything around him. Everything . Everyone.

What would YOU become if, as a 14 year old, you watched your family get shot to death in your own home and then spent rwo years watching tens of thousands being burnt into ash in giant factory ovens - while you slowly starved to death. Our family was a broken one as the evil of that place reached out over 40 years and a generation. He must have seen that sign as a 15 year old.

We are all capable of unimaginable evil if we don't remember what we have the potential to be.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 8:20 PM on December 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


Polish police say they have found the sign and have detained five men in connection with its theft.
posted by gubo at 4:32 PM on December 20, 2009


Found, yes. But found in 3 pieces.
posted by jonesor at 5:09 PM on December 20, 2009


OK, I don't know about everyone else - obviously some of you knew exactly what the sign looked like - but I had somehow missed the fact that the sign is 16 feet wide during the original news. I thought it was... I dunno, like a plaque.

The desecration of Auchwitz is no more or less offensive whether the sign is 16 feet or 16 inches, but I'm totally shocked that the criminals managed to do it.
posted by GuyZero at 5:14 PM on December 20, 2009


Thank you for the update, gubo and jonesor. I'm glad it was found.
posted by zarq at 5:52 PM on December 20, 2009


From The Financial Times:
The Polish authorities said the crime had been well planned. Police are investigating whether it was done to order from a collector – although officially no motive has been suggested for the theft. “The profit motive played a large role,” said Andrzej Rokita, a police inspector, during a news conference on Monday.
posted by electroboy at 7:57 AM on December 21, 2009


five men

Christ, what assholes.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:50 AM on December 21, 2009


A little more information: apparently the sign was in three pieces to separate the three words, the theft was for some "crazy collector" per police, and the sign returns to its place tomorrow.
posted by bearwife at 12:50 PM on December 21, 2009


I'm of multiple minds about the concept and value of humor in the face of horror. I'd like to believe in the resiliency of the human spirit, and the quote about comedy and satire being a blow against tragedy - not letting it have the last say. So, while I like zarq's distinction about laughing at the oppressors vs. the victims. But sometimes I think laughing at the absurdity of the situation helps for some people. Maybe it's the intention behind it that matters. Maybe it's the place. I don't know. But if the humor comes not from a place of callousness, but one of recognition of absurdity....oh, I don't know.

My minor to wit: my immediate family is Black and christian, though we have a jewish last name. Once, in the mid-80's when I was a teen, I remember my mom calling around to rent places for us to live, and when my mother said her name, the owner said that she didn't rent to jews and hung up the phone. My mom was staring at the phone, and I asked her what happened, and after she explained, I said something like, 'But we're not jewish!" My mom looked at me dubiously and said something like, "Well, I can call her back and tell her we're Black, but I don't think it's gonna help!" And then we looked at each other for a minute, and burst out laughing hysterically.

Make of that what you will. But I remember the laughter took some of the sting out the moment, and that horrible woman on the phone. I think it helped mitigate the despair.

Oh, and not a fan of the 'drinking the kool-aid' phrasing. We lived in Guyana when that happened. As my mom says, it wasn't kool aid, and it isn't funny. Make of that what you will as well.
posted by anitanita at 2:17 AM on December 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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