Fellow Fringe Festival performers know what that headline means. Yes, I’ve decided it’s high time to bring Hitler back to Europe. And Canada.
Jokes like that give me pause, of course. One of the ways I deal with the complex ironies of my legacy is humor. But, of course, humor isn’t always appropriate. And what’s funny to one person might not be funny to another.
So far, no one has come up to me after a performance to tell me they were offended. (I would love to do the show for neo-Nazis one day and see what happens…) But I’m confident that someday someone will approach me afterwards to express their anger and grief over the tragedies of WWII , and much of it will be directed at me for telling my parents’ story in the way that I do. I hope that when that time comes I stand my ground, listen, and honor that person’s experience.
However, so far, I’ve heard things like, “My mother is German and she does exactly that same annoying thing!” And both of us have a moment of relief realizing it isn’t personal familial madness and it isn’t just our mothers, it’s the eccentricity of an entire culture.
One older man said, “My father is a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, and you’ve got it exactly right. No one ever talks about how hard it is to grow up with a parent like that.”
One young woman said, “I’ve gone to Jewish religious schools my whole life, and this is the first time I felt it was okay to laugh at the Holocaust. I can’t wait to tell my rabbi about your show! My whole life I’ve been hearing about the suffering of the survivors. It’s so sad. But sometimes I don’t want to think about it anymore and then I feel guilty.” This, ironically, reminds me of the plight of my mother and other righteous Germans. They feel such collective guilt for what their government did that they don’t think they have a right to talk about their own suffering during and after the war.
I believe in talking about suffering. No, it doesn’t solve anything. But it does defuse and diffuse our common human experience.