Tuesday, May 6, 2008

WWII-Era Canadian Jewish Humour: Pre-Figuring The Producers?

Yesterday I was in the library looking for a copy of Jeffrey Feinman's Mel Brooks: The Irreverent Funnyman when a thick, soiled, cloth-bound book fell onto my foot. I bent over, picked it up, and read the spine: B.L. Cohen's "Jewish Humour: The War Years." The book, published in 1954 by Klopfman Press, Orangeville, Ontario, is a compendium of jokes, caricatures, and cartoons written and drawn by Canadian Jews between 1939 and 1945. I'd never heard of it before, and a quick search of ABEBOOKS and ALIBRIS shows that its print run must've been in the low single digits; you can't find it anywhere. A lot of the material was collected from WWII riflemen, sailors, and RCAF pilots and mechanics who, presumably, had a lot of spare time for drawing.

One particular cartoon got a deep belly laugh. It was done by Private Johnathan Goldblum of the Princess Pat's (a famous Canadian infantry regiment); it's dated 3/8/1944, and looks to be drawn on the back of an envelope. It's a two-panel drawing, and I'd describe it as follows:

First panel: A man in a prison uniform is walking through what looks to be a furniture store. He's paused to look at a particularly drab lamp, which is adorned with an enormous shade.

Second panel: The man from panel one is standing next to an extremely fat man, also dressed in a prison uniform. It's obvious from the Stars of David on their chests and the barbed wire in the background that both are prisoners in a concentration camp. The first man turns to the second and says, "Oh...I forgot to tell you: I saw your uncle yesterday."

I'll check out the book and scan the cartoon. As a Jew, it's a terrifically offensive joke. But, since it was done by a Jew, it's OK to laugh.

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