February 28th, 2013

Joan Rivers’ Heidi Klum joke: not so very funny, not so very knowledgeable

In the Heidi Klum thread, commenter “JuliB” asks:

Any comment on the uproar over Joan Rivers saying that the last time a German looked so hot, they were pushing Jews into the oven?

Well, yes. When I read the Joan Rivers joke, my response to it was that the quip is very unfunny as a joke, so why bother?

But the thing that struck me most was that Rivers, in addition to being unfunny, was also historically incorrect. The Nazis actually didn’t sully their hands with that particular job—putting Jews and their other victims designated for death into ovens after they’d been gassed. While it is true that the victims were herded (and tricked) into the gas chambers by the Nazis, the task of incineration was delegated to special squads of inmates organized by the Nazis for that purpose: the Sonderkommando.

Anyone who has studied the Holocaust and how the death camps operated knows about this especially dreadful fact, as Rivers herself should have. It’s hardly esoteric knowledge. Here’s the Wiki entry:

Sonderkommandos were work units of Nazi death camp prisoners, composed almost entirely of Jews, who were forced, on threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during The Holocaust…Sonderkommando members did not participate directly in killing; that responsibility was reserved for the guards, while the Sonderkommandos’ primary responsibility was disposing of the corpses. They were forced into the position; in most cases they were inducted immediately upon arrival at the camp, and were not given any advance notice of the tasks they would have to perform. They had no way to refuse or resign other than by committing suicide. Because the Germans needed the Sonderkommandos to remain physically able, they were granted moderately less squalid living conditions than other inmates: they slept in their own barracks, which more than any other in the camp resembled normal human dwellings; they were allowed to keep and use various goods such as food, medicines and cigarettes brought by those who were sent to the gas chambers; and, unlike ordinary inmates, they were not subject to arbitrary, random killing by guards. As a result, Sonderkommando members tended to survive longer than other inmates of the death camps — but few survived the war.

Because of their intimate knowledge of the process of Nazi mass murder, the Sonderkommando were considered Geheimnisträger — bearers of secrets — and as such, they were kept in isolation from other camp inmates, except, of course, for those about to enter the gas chambers. Since the Nazis did not want Sonderkommandos’ knowledge to reach the outside world, they followed a policy of regularly gassing almost all the Sonderkommando and replacing them with new arrivals at intervals of approximately 4 months; the first task of the new Sonderkommandos would be to dispose of their predecessors’ corpses. Therefore since the inception of the Sonderkommando through to the liquidation of the camp there existed approximately 14 generations of Sonderkommando.

One of the Sonderkommando units at Auchwitz was famous for an organized rebellion:

There was a revolt by Sonderkommandos at Auschwitz in which one of the crematoria was partly destroyed. For months, young Jewish women, like Ester Wajcblum, Ella Gärtner, and Regina Safirsztain, had been smuggling small amounts of gunpowder from the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, a munitions factory within the Auschwitz complex, to men and women in the camp’s resistance movement, like Róza Robota, a young Jewish woman who worked in the clothing detail at Birkenau. Under constant guard, the women in the factory took small amounts of the gunpowder, wrapped it in bits of cloth or paper, hid it on their bodies, and then passed it along the smuggling chain. Once she received the gunpowder, Robota passed it to her co-conspirators in the Sonderkommando. Using this gunpowder, the leaders of the Sonderkommando planned to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria, and launch the uprising.

When the camp resistance warned the Sonderkommando that they were due to be murdered on the morning of 7 October 1944, the Sonderkommando attacked the SS and Kapos with two machine guns, axes, knives and grenades. Over 70 SS men were killed, including two who were pushed alive into a crematorium oven after being stabbed by a member of the Sonderkommando. Some of the Sonderkommando escaped from the camp for a period, as was planned, however they were recaptured later the same day. Of those who didn’t die in the uprising itself, 200 were later forced to strip, lie face down, and then were shot in the back of the head. A total of 451 Sonderkommandos were killed on this day.

Words such as “terrible” do not begin to describe the moral and other dilemmas and trials faced by the Sonderkommandos. Their plight is a good example of just how vile the Nazis were, as if we needed reminding.

I guess some of us do.

[NOTE: I want to call attention to the fact that Rivers is also wrong in implying it was only Jews who were killed in the death camps (for example, gypsies were also targeted). However, it is correct that it was Jews who constituted the vast vast majority of the gassed, the inmates, and members of the Sonderkommando units.]

11 Responses to “Joan Rivers’ Heidi Klum joke: not so very funny, not so very knowledgeable”

  1. holmes Says:

    That’s all we have left- transgressionist humor. What’s shocking is just how pedestrian these attempts are.

  2. JuliB Says:

    When I first read it, I rolled my eyes. I don’t find her brand of humor humorous, but I was surprised that some people were shocked.

    To join the chorus – Juli B is my real first name and last initial. And I am flattered that my comment sparked its own post!

    I do feel that nearly everyone thinks of Jews as the only ones killed, but they were the ones so openly demonized.

  3. John in Palm Springs Says:

    In her younger days, Joan Rivers was a very funny lady. Nowadays, she is only vulgar. Is this what all that plastic surgery does to your brain?

  4. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    John in Palm Springs. “Is this what all that plastic surgery does to your brain?”

  5. blert Says:

    My Uncle survived “Dora” the Kamp that built the V2/A4.

    His particular ‘detail’ was apparently confined to digging outer works — latrines and such.

    Every week it was the same routine: Tuesday was the day of replacements. None could be considered ‘fresh ones’ in the Shindler’s List sense, for his particular detail was the end of the line. Sort of a death pit squad + latrine duty.

    It was Kamp policy to beat more or less half of the new inductees to death every Tuesday — up close and personal — with the equivalent to a baseball bat. It was in this manner that the SS man could keep his crew in line and suitably limited in number.

    As a political prisoner, it was Kamp policy for my Uncle to receive blows every time a Jew was beaten. So he always spent Tuesday afternoon unconscious.

    Higher authority wanted him dead, quickly. However, higher authority also wanted those pits dug — and he was 50% of their collective digging power.

    Unlike the Jews, he was a USAAF serviceman — in good condition — before the SS worked their method on him. In contrast, all of the ‘new’ inductees were rejects from other Dora ‘details’ — this was the end of the line.

    Instantly after the Remagen bridge was captured his SS tormentor changed his tune 10,000% — and wanted to be his very best buddy.(!)

    He was such a mess by then that he’d reached the thousand-yard stare, more or less. He was back-shipped to Buchenwald — and was liberated while in the Kamp ‘hospital.’

    He was a bed ridden, skin and bones, inmate at that stage.

    The Medical Corps determined that he had PTSD. He spent the rest of his life within a short distance to VA hospitals.

    Schindler’s List seems mild compared to the demonic barbarities that he witnessed and experienced.


    For more shocking statistics read Bloodlands.

    ISBN 978-0-465-00239-9

    Neo: the bulk of the dead never even made it to the Kamps. (!)

    The Nazis and Communists were conducting genocide in the open fields and pine woods. Death by bullet (#1) vastly exceeded that by gas (#3) — even that by starvation. (#2)

    (Both tyrannies loved to force march victims without food or water until they died — on foot, by truck, by train — or in cages.)

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    blert: I’m so sorry your uncle suffered so much.

    As far as the shootings go, most or all of the mass shootings by the Nazis occurred in Eastern Europe before the death camps really got going. For example, Babi Yar in Ukraine:

    The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on September 29–30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation. The decision to kill all the Jews in Kiev was made by the military governor, Major-General Kurt Eberhard, the Police Commander for Army Group South, SS-Obergruppenführer Friedrich Jeckeln, and the Einsatzgruppe C Commander Otto Rasch. It was carried out by Sonderkommando 4a soldiers, along with the aid of the SD and SS Police Battalions. The massacre was the largest single mass killing for which the Nazi regime and its collaborators were responsible during its campaign against the Soviet Union[1] and is considered to be “the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust”.

    Victims of other massacres at the site included thousands of Soviet POWs, communists, Gypsies (Romani people), Ukrainian nationalists and civilian hostages.

    Note the early date.

    After a while, the Nazis found that they could circumvent the problems they encountered at these sites by building the death camps. I seem to remember reading that after that the mass shootings were phased out.

    The Nazis had kept experimenting till they found a more efficient method of mass murder than the shootings.

  7. ziontruth Says:

    “The Nazis had kept experimenting till they found a more efficient method of mass murder than the shootings.”

    It wasn’t about efficiency so much as about keeping the SS men off the mental institutions. Despite the indoctrination they’d received to see those killings as no different than killing rats, the killers became madmen all too frequently. Goes to show how you can’t switch off the human soul (Genesis 1:27) even with the most intensive indoctrination. The new methods were devised with the purpose of having the mass-killing “out of sight, out of mind.”

    That’s also why I find the Beslan massacre so horrifying: It was up close and personal. The Chechen jihadists were probably on drugs, but still…

  8. southernjames Says:

    Those ancient and isolated incidents that happened long ago, in places far away, by no means justifies citizens being allowed to own firearms – other than something like Jill Biden’s two slug shotgun, maybe….if you qualify for it, and are registered, and keep it locked away in a steel cabinet – in this country. Nobody (except the government, which is there to protect and take care of us) “needs” guns. The second amendment is so obsolete, since it only referred to muskets, and also we have the national guard as our militia now, and the second amendment is only there for raising a militia.

    After all, “everybody” knows that, the sort of thing like communist or fascist tyrranny “could never happen here.” To think otherwise makes you a paranoid nut. And also, because, well, shut up.

    (sarc ).

  9. Charles Says:

    It isn’t just that Joan Rivers’ comment is ignorant of actual historical facts; but, it is also because it is okay (according to some liberals, and truth be told some on the right-side as well) to mock certain groups. Germans are among those that it is okay to mock, along with white guys, rich folks, and any one else the left considers to be “not cool.”

    I could be rude back, and say, well, with a mouth like hers is it really anyone wonder that Joan’s husband killed himself?

  10. sheldan Says:

    I used to like Joan Rivers, but her act has changed to this kind of mean-spirited material which I cannot stand.

    With this kind of remark, I refuse to watch anything she does anymore, and this should be a career-killer. It is sad when a brilliant comedienne has stooped so low that she will not recognize that this has gone too far.

  11. Mike Mahoney Says:

    I find this a hair splitting exercise. Rivers claims her own family was a victim of the holocaust. Does that giver her the same social permission to joke on that subject as some black entertainers do similarly about their culture and kind? IDK, but it is revealing.
    You cannot enlarge the atrocities of the Nazi regime by adding a few million deaths to the usual number of around six million. They had far crossed every line of human decency long before the last death at their hands.
    Rivers’ joke didn’t rise to the level of high school trash talk, really.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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