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From a post-Holocaust perspective, one of the most surprising responses to the unfolding events of the period was the humor and satire that emerged from within it. Difficult to capture and yet by all accounts quite pervasive, satirical responses to the Holocaust occurred in a number of different contexts and reflected upon various subjects and historical moments. From humor composed within refugee communities, to ghettos and concentration camps, to the immediate post-war context, satire fulfilled a number of basic needs. According to Chaya Ostrower, humor operated as a "lubricant for social interaction, contributing to social processes such as intensifying group cohesion, reducing tension, and creating a positive atmosphere. Every humorous expression is unique and dependent on the sociocultural background of the group members. Therefore, an analysis of humor must take into account the sociocultural context in which it takes place."1  

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Because it often arises from and responds to a specific context, humor and satire are also amongst the most difficult to translate, both linguistically and culturally. Indeed, satire and humor—even more so than other artistic responses like poetry and song—remain some of the most inaccessible to those "outside" the group. To that end, they are perhaps the most difficult source group to fully grasp without an intermediary explanation or extensive annotation.

In addition to providing a kind of social currency, satire and humor also served as a "psychological weapon and a defense mechanism. It was a social bond among trusted friends.  It was a diversion, a shield, a morale booster, an equalizer, a drop of truth in a world founded on lies. In short, a cryptic redefining of the victims' world."2 On both the individual and the societal level, then, humor and satire served as a coping mechanism, a psychological defense, and a way of making sense of a senseless reality.

While the basis of humor and satire may have been shared, the jokes, puns, poems, and folklore itself remained highly specific to the time and place in which they were created. Indeed, unlike other responses, they often did not—and could not—speak across audiences. They therefore represent a kind of hyper-localized response that cannot easily be universalized.  It might only be within the language of the absurd that an absurd situation could be heard and understood.

Chaya Ostrower, "Humor as a Defense Mechanism during the Holocaust," Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, 2015, Vol. 69(2), 190.

Steve Lipman, Laughter in Hell: the use of humor during the Holocaust, (Landham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993), p. 10.