So, I grew up Jewish, and the grandson of a World War 2 veteran. This means that, for as long as I can remember, World War 2 has been everpresent in my life. Originally, all I knew was that there were the Russians (that's us! the good guys!) and the Germans, and that I was never, ever supposed to draw swastikas (I drew a lot as a kid) -- even if it was on the bad guys! Otherwise, the government would take my family to jail. I may be misremembering that last part, but I was definitely and harshly scolded for drawing swastikas at some point, pre-America.
My fifth grade teacher was a Holocaust scholar/activist so around then I also got a big, real dose of what happened outside of the fighting. Every kid got this brand-new -- schoolbooks were rarely, if ever, new -- copy of a book about the Holocaust with a picture of an wartime atrocity on the cover and a whole lot more inside. And you had to do a report on it.
Repeat that through growing up, through Jewish summer camps and trips to the Holocaust memorial museum and Anne Frank and Life is Beautiful and god-knows-what-else and I can honestly say I am done with Holocaust history. I've had absolutely enough. I fervently avoid books, movies, whatever, having to do with the Holocaust.
All of this is a rather awkward lead-in into this recent discovery. Conceived as a "lost tape" series (in roughly the vein of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, but blamed on the Americans, naturally) Heil Honey, I'm Home is an absolutely bizarre example of what was happening with sitcoms in the era of Married With Children. It will not surprise you that it was cancelled after exactly one episode.
I have to say, though, it is amazing. The theme song is pitch-perfect Leave It To Beaver saccharine. Hitler has a working-class accent and breaks the fourth wall. Long-suffering Eva refers to him as Schicklgruber and mentions his previous career as a "housepainter," a joke Mel Brooks also used in The Producers. Hitler, even when he is not in a sweater-vest, is decidedly un-Hitlerian, laughing and dancing and admitting to Eva that "you were right and I was wrong." Lines like Eva's offhanded "Adolf will kill me" -- she reveals to her fellow housewife and friend Arny Goldenstein that Neville Chamberlain is coming for dinner to make sure "Adolf isn't hiding any tanks or battleships" -- have an incredibly dark bent to them.
There was no way this series was going anywhere. Attaching the most artificially wholesome period of television to one of history's blackest souls yields a great gag, but isn't meant to last. However, as a single-episode artifact, it is a piece of work. I can see why my grandparents and their generation would absolutely despise this, but I can't.
Today I took the final exam and submitted my last paper for my English seminar course. Now, I have a single paper left on Nazis, and my final full semester is over. Why Nazis? because the only other option is to write about the Bush administration. If I attempt to do the latter, I will end up handing in a semi-coherent conspiracy theory piece that may as well be a corkboard with "HALIBURTON," "SOUTH OSSETIA," and "DICK CHENEY'S ROBOT HEART" connected by string wrapped around pins.
So, here's "Der Fuehrer's Face," a Donald Duck cartoon from 1943. I originally heard about its existence when I was eleven or twelve, from my mom's boyfriend, who heard about it on Howard Stern. Considering that I had grown up in the sanitized Cartoon Network era, after their purge of anything remotely "offensive" from their collection of classic animation, I refused to believe in it. I wouldn't encounter the wide world of pitch-black Holocaust jokes until high school and my complete disbelief was further supported by growing up a European Jew from Leningrad and taught that there is nothing funny about Hitler, ever. When a friend of mine tracked this down and showed it to me, around age sixteen or so, it blew my mind. It didn't feel like something anyone at Disney would ever have the balls to make, and yet here it was! Donald Duck the Nazi, just like mom's boyfriend said!
As with all of Disney's output during that period, it's a wonderful piece of music and animation regardless of the subject matter. While not particularly witty -- wartime propaganda rarely is -- it is rather funny. The conformity and uniformity of the Nazi regime tends to breed lazy satire, but this is quite the opposite; the animators imaginations are clearly firing on all cylinders and they thankfully set out to make a good cartoon as much as a piece of propaganda. Unfortunately, this is also a cartoon to which I must give the "product of its times" racism-pass and I'd rather go no further into that territory lest I end up turning the blog post into a dissertation on race and politics and then offhandedly mention Glenn Beck and have it turn from dissertation into that whole conspiracy-pinboard situation I am trying to avoid in the first place.