Hitler’s Mein Kampf as satire

The German comedian Serdar Somuncu recites extracts from Mein Kampf to highlight the absurdity of Hitler’s propaganda, writes Sebastian Huempfer.

The case

In his show The Legacy of a Mass Murderer, the German comedian Serdar Somuncu recites excerpts from Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf to highlight the absurdity of Hitler’s propaganda. From 1991 until 2001, Somuncu’s show toured through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where the sale and purchase of Mein Kampf is prohibited. In more than 1,428 readings, Somuncu claims to have reached a total audience of 250,000 people, many of them pupils at German schools, and calls himself “the only person who is allowed to read from this book”. He was repeatedly forced to wear a bullet-proof vest and request police protection because of threats from neo-Nazi groups opposed to his show. In German cities such as Schwerin and Ingolstadt, local government officials from various political parties tried to prevent Somuncu from performing, arguing that reading from Mein Kampf violated common decency.

The finance ministry of the state of Bavaria is the official owner of Mein Kampf until the copyright on the book expires on 1 Jan 2016. Until then, the sale and purchase of the book is prohibited in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, it is not illegal to own the book. Online versions of Mein Kampf are available for free in many languages. There has been some debate over whether Mein Kampf should be available to buy from 2016 onwards. Some – including Somuncu – argue that banning the book would create an aura of mystery around it, whereas anyone who tried to read it would immediately discover that it was “rubbish” and contained one of the “most confused and pointless theories in history”. Others argue that the book should be banned to protect the memory of the victims of the Third Reich and/or because it remains dangerous propaganda and a symbol of Nazism. The president of the Bavarian Teachers Association even argues that Mein Kampf should not be discussed in high school history classes at all, to avoid getting pupils interested in the book.

Author opinion

I don’t think the show (or the book) should be banned. I watched this YouTube video of one of Somuncu’s performances before writing this case study. Somuncu does not simply read from Mein Kampf. Nor does he use politically incorrect jokes to get a few cheap laughs from ignorant audiences. Somuncu’s show is education by satire. It benefits society because it forces people to confront a crucial historical document and reflect on what this document means today. And he is quite funny too.

Having said this, I can understand that someone who has suffered because of the kind of hatred and bigotry that Mein Kampf espouses would not want to be confronted with any excerpts from the text, and might find the laughter of other people tasteless and even hurtful. It really is problematic when people laugh about the absurdity of racist and anti-Semitic propaganda and conveniently forget that both racism and anti-Semitism still exist in their own society as they do in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

On balance, however, I think that the benefits of this kind of intelligent comedy outweigh its harmful side-effects. Its contribution to public debate and historical memory as well as the more abstract good of free artistic expression, in this case at least, outweigh the offence that may be caused by the show. This is especially true because everyone can freely choose whether they want to attend Somuncu’s shows or not.

 

- Sebastian Huempfer

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Comments (0)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I agree with Sebastian that no matter what one thinks about the general legality of voicing these opinions (and I agree with Jack here as well), clearly, context is key.
    It is legal in Germany to screen Nazi propaganda movies like ‘Jud Suess’ if they are framed by an appropriate introduction and commentary that furthers sceptical and critical thinking. Clearly, comedy can do the same.

  2. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Should he be allowed to? Absolutely! Even if he agreed with the poison. And even if the book was outlawed in Germany. What are people afraid of?–that they, and others, have such weak minds that they will be influenced by it?

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Yes, that’s one argument. It’s probably not the most important one though. What do you think about the other arguments – respect for the victims, a desire to remove the symbols of the Third Reich from all public spaces, the offence this might cause, etc.?

      • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        *the offence this show might cause

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