Why does Hitler feel the most secure on the toilet? because he has the brown masses behind him!
A little boy is standing on the dock in (the Norwegian west coast city of) Bergen. A car full of Germans speeds past him and drives right into the sea. The boy keeps on as before, paying no attention. Some time later, when the first Germans surface, they are furious with him for not having summoned help. To this the boy replies: “Oh, I thought you were on your way to England.”
(referring to Norwegian contempt for German chances at successfully invading England.)
It might be tempting to write off Folklore Fights the Nazis: Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945 by Kathleen Stokker as a simple joke collection, if it ddin’t combine these jokes and humor with an excellent understanding of Norwegian society under the stresses of war, occupation, resistance, and internal conflict. It provides a brilliant placement into the broader course of the war and shows internal evolution of Norway both during and after the war, all thanks to a profound knowledge of Norwegian language and culture. Folklore Fights the Nazis is a combination of excellent scholarly inquiry and analysis with a very amusing and engaging number of jokes, that work to support and reinforce each other.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what some of the funniest ones are.
Early in the occupation a couple of German officers came down to see the Ladby ship. The man in charge showed them around, explaining everything they wanted to see and hear.
When they were finished, one of them said that he honestly didn’t think there was anything special about such a ship.
To this the man in charge answered. “That’s hard to understand since it was with such a ship we twice managed to conquer England.”
One day a messenger saw a “Danish” girl walking very affectionately with a German soldier. She received the following warning. “Be careful you don’t have a child you can’t talk to.”
An old lady, who walked so poorly she needed a cane, stumbled just as she passed a German officer. He fell when her cane became entangled with his legs. The old lady fell down too, and several bytanders helped her up asking if she had hurt herself. “No,” she replied, “but my knee is getting sore now, so I’d better stop for the day. But he was the sixth.”
A picture of Hitler was being hung in a government office. The official hanging the picture asked the cleaning woman working there if he had gotten the picture straight.
“I only deal with the dirt that’s on the floor,” she replied
The fish monger at the outdoor market was calling, “Fine fish today, nice fat fish, just as fat as Goerging.”He was put in jail for two weeks. When he got out, he called, “Nice fat fish, just as fat as two weeks ago.”
“We aren’t getting eggs from West Norway anymore because the chicks won’t put out for the Germans.”
(in both English and Norwegian chick can both mean woman and baby chicken it seems)
Do you know the difference between a Hird boy and a Hird girl?
Well the Hird boys fight for the Germans on their stomachs.
(Hird refers to the pro-German Norwegian fascists, and this makes fun of the extensive fraternization between Norwegian women and German soldiers=
Once when Hitler was on a plane trip over Germany, he had to relieve himself, but as the plane was not very big, it had no place to accomplish this necessary task. As a last resort, he was advised to his his cap and then throw it out.
Some time later a truck speeded int oa German village, and soon word was spreading through the streets like wildfire that Hitler was dead. Some lumberjacks had allegedly found Hitler’s uniform cap filled with his brains.
A farmer came to the Department and said he wanted to change his name/
“What is your name then?”
“Hm. Yes, I can certainly see why you’d want another name. What do you plan on being called instead?”
“I was planning to take the name Ola Shitcreek.”
(The name of the collaborationist leader in Germany was Vidkun Quisling, who rapidly became a target of public hatred.)
“Suspected of muttering anti-German thoughts to himself as he walked along the street, a man was brought in for questioning by the Gestapo.
“I am out of work,” he explained, “and I was only telling myself that I’d rather work for ten thousand Germans than for one Englishman;”
So pleased were the Germans by this reply that they offered to help find him a job. What was his trade?
“Oh,” he answered. “I’m a grave digger.”
Do you know why Hitler now wears a diving suit?
So he can inspect his fleet.
As these show, there is a great diversity of subjects treated, both for internal Norwegian manners ranging from sexual relations between German occupiers and Norwegian women to collaborators, to jokes about the regime, to anti-German jokes, to commentary on the course of the war. It is a testament to Stokker that she managed to find such a tremendous number and then that she could fit them into such a convincing narrative.
These are intelligent, discussing important social transformations and scenes. One of my favorites is the way Haakon VII, king of Norway, transformed through the course of the war from a distant person to a much-beloved man who had the hopes and affections of the Norwegian nation projected upon him. The constant batteries of jokes that talked about Haakon VII intimately and assumed him as a personable and relatable character helped produce a people’s king who would be vital for Norway’s post-war image. There is also the important role of the trolleybus as a symbol of Norwegian social egalitarianism, and the mixing of classes. Stokker can tie these jokes to broader depictions of Norwegian society, such as the pre-war social reforms which helped to mould a more egalitarian populace capable of a unified view of the German invader and finding itself facing a common plight, with a common response - in dramatic contrast to many resistance groups throughout the rest of Europe which were just as bitterly divided as the societies that birthed them. All of this represented by a simple trolleybus, where people of all classes mingled!
Related to this is the excellent grasp of Norwegian language and culture. Many Norwegian jokes relied upon puns, or rhymes, and without an understanding of these the jokes would be meaningless. Consider “The Germans are standing in line at the liquor store.” Without knowledge of “Pole” being a homonym for liquor, and that the joke emerged at the same time as the Katyn Massacre, it would have been impossible to decipher the meaning as “the Germans are waiting in line for their extermination by the Russians too.” While directly translating these is impossible, Stokker does a fine job conveying the meaning without unduly killing the humor.
There is also an excellent usage of visual sources, such as the various lithographs, posters, art, and magazines - both from the resistance and from the Germans and their collaborators. These show well the visual component of the regime, with its focus on the Vikin past INSERT LONGSHIP, or in its opposition side, such as the symbols of the regime swept away by the returning king Haakon VII.
Not only is it genuinely funny and amusing, but Folklore Fights the Nazis manages to place Norway into context and also to understand its society and how the war was experienced by the Norwegian people. This makes it an excellent book and one well worth reading, a page turning which will leave a smile and a laugh on your lips every time.