Liat Steir-Livny, Ph.D.

Senior Lecturer. Holocaust Studies, Film Studies & Cultural Studies  


Laughing Away the Pain: Holocaust Humor in Israeli Popular Culture

Liat Steir-Livny 2018

Humor y política: una perspectiva transcultural [Humour and Politics: A Transcultural Perspective]

For many years, Israeli culture recoiled from dealing with the Holocaust from a humorous perspective. The perception was that a humorous approach to the Holocaust might threaten the sanctity of its memory, or evoke feelings of disrespect towards the subject, and hurt the survivors’ feelings. Official agents of Holocaust memory continue to use this approach, but from the 1990s a new unofficial path of memory began taking shape in tandem with it. It is an alternative and subversive path that seeks to remember - but differently. Texts that combine the Holocaust with humor are a major aspect of this new memory. This chapter will explore the change in Holocaust commemoration and will analyze examples of Holocaust humor in Hebrew. It will focus on humoristic texts that discuss the way second- and third- generation Holocaust survivors deal with the transgenerational transfer of the trauma, critique Israeli memory agents of the Holocaust, turn against the instrumentalization and the politicization of the Holocaust, and dismantle Hitler’s image. The texts will be analyzed through theories of humor and post-trauma. Contrary to perceptions that Holocaust humor disrespects the Holocaust and its survivors, this chapter will maintain that since Israel is a unique sphere of intense Holocaust awareness, the vast majority of the Holocaust humoristic texts in Hebrew do not express a scornful retreat from the trauma, but reflect major functions of humor: a defense mechanism; a vent for frustration; and a mechanism for social cohesion. The chapter will claim that these functions, in fact, prove the great extent to which the Holocaust is a living part of the identity of second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.

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Holocaust Humor, Post-trauma, Israeli culture, Israeli collective memory


Steir-Livny, Liat. “Laughing Away the Pain: Holocaust Humor in Israeli Popular Culture”, In: Benavides-Delgado, J. (Ed.), Humor y política: una perspectiva transcultural [Humour and Politics: A Transcultural Perspective], Bogotá: Ediciones Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia pp. 323-349.

© 2014 Liat Steir-Livny. Designed by Boaz Albert