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How Nazi Satire Portrays Jewish History

A closer look at films such as ‘Jojo Rabbit.’

For years, satire’s blatant, campy, yet intelligent nature has been used to tell or recall stories of the past. As a medium that uses sharpness and amusement, satire seems hardly fit to recall an event like Nazi occupation or doctrine. However, satire—specifically through its use of humor—also acts as an able means of remembrance. In 1940, The Three Stooges’ “You Nazty Spy!” depicts a character with the likeness of Hitler as a futile and ludicrous dictator. Charlie Chaplan’s “The Great Dictator,” also in 1940, tells the story of a Jewish barber who is mistaken for a dictator he resembles and is asked to take his place, concluding with the rejection of his position as dictator with an impassioned speech that is now regarded as a significant moment in film history.

Most recently, films like Quentin Tarintino’s “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” (2019), maintain the position of Nazi satire as a prominent means of portraying significant aspects of World War II to a broad audience. Waititi’s film is the most recent example of this niche, a World War II-era film that tells the story of a 10-year-old German boy named Jojo—a member of Hitler youth—whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, but whose mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the family’s home. The film, blatant in the objective of its cathartic narrative, is branded as an “anti-hate” satire—a title honored in its tangible themes. What “Jojo Rabbit” represents is an enduring need to remember, to recall the attempted removal of a culture and to acknowledge the importance of intelligent and creative confrontation.

Satires represents a narrative told with the appealing tool of humor. World War II, to Jewish parentage, embodies more than war with a devastating social, commercial and political history, but a movement of hate and oppression. “Jojo Rabbit” utilizes the immense emotion of a child that must navigate a world full of chaos. The film is cathartic with the resolve of World War II and with it, Nazi occupation, in its conclusion. It sheds light on the devastating history of World War II in a satirical fashion, allowing our society to have conversations regarding this heavy topic.

“Jojo Rabbit” is simple and not unlike any of the previous satires that have come before it. The film is about spoon-feeding anti-hate rhetoric. It is self-aware and it knows that the viewers understand Nazis are bad, but it acknowledges the fact that Jewish history, intrinsically, is human history. It emphasizes a hatred of Jews but affirms the events of World War II as moments of human feat and failure. Waititi maintains Jews as nothing short of human but does more in his humanization of the main character, Jojo. In his development throughout the film, Jojo, quite literally, kicks Hitler out of his consciousness, embracing instead, sympathy and toleration. The film proves that a Jewish struggle is not limited to the Jewish people. Each struggle in each respective culture is of human origin and is shared in that principle.

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Molly is a junior at Larchmont Charter School in Los Angeles. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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