Netflix can be an excellent source for finding documentaries, television series, and films which explore anti-Semitism and Jewish life. It can also be a complete dumpster fire, like the new Netflix series Historical Roasts’ episode on Anne Frank.
The premise of the series Historical Roasts is as follows:
“Roastmaster General” Jeff Ross and a slew of guest stars poke fun at major historical figures while also honoring their enduring impact on the world.
As the host Jeff Ross, who is Jewish, literally says to the audience after announcing that Anne Frank was the “guest of honor” for that episode, “Anne Frank, are you out of your mashugana-fucking-mind?”
I’m wondering the same exact thing!
Especially during the rise of modern-day, violent anti-Semitism, the premise of this episode, roasting Anne Frank, is gross enough on its own without analyzing the content of some of the jokes (but don’t worry, I’ll get to that!). The Holocaust may have ended decades ago, but the threat of another genocide like the Holocaust is a fear that many Jews and other marginalized people share.
Netflix picked up Historical Roasts in September 2018, a little over a year after the Unite the Right rally. Since then, white supremacists have killed people at the first two recorded synagogue shootings in American history. It is hard to believe that no one at Netflix vetoed roasting Anne Frank after the Tree of Life and Chabad Poway shootings. Frankly, I don’t think there will ever be a good time to roast victims of the Holocaust, but I especially don’t think now is it.
At this roast of Anne Frank (played by Jewish comedian Rachel Feinstein), there were two main historical roasters — Franklin D. Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. For some reason, Don Rickles was also there. His appearance doesn’t really make sense in relation to the Holocaust, but the entire decision to greenlight this episode really doesn’t make sense, so I’ll take it.
FDR, played by Jewish actor Jon Lovitz, went first. I was slightly relieved that he mostly stuck to taking jabs at Hitler for his failed art career and self-deprecating comments about his own failure to help Jews during the Holocaust and the Japanese in internment camps… until he said he doesn’t feel bad for what he put Japanese-Americans through, because, unlike Jews, “they don’t run Hollywood.” Conspiracy theories claiming that Jews control money and institutions are still being used to justify anti-Semitic violence. It’s doubly gross to see this used as a joke (an unfunny one at that) to pile on another persecuted group.
And then there was Hitler, played by Jewish actor Gilbert Gottfried, who was unsurprisingly extremely offensive from the get-go. When Ross asked Hitler how he was, Hitler said, “I think I left the oven on.” I can’t believe this needs to be said, but jokes about gas chambers are not funny.
During his time at the podium, Hitler took a turn to talking about climate change and how the planet was dying. This surprised me until he said, “If we only had some kind of solution. Maybe a final one.” Of course, this joke was in reference to the Final Solution, which was Hitler’s plan to murder all Jews. It made me sick to my stomach. Climate change is a dire crisis that we desperately need to solve, but making jokes about fixing it by killing Jews is deeply disturbing.
It seems Ross tried to justify this roast by claiming that Anne Frank stands in for “not just for the victims of the Nazis, but for the refugees and asylum seekers that continued to be turned away.” Well, if Ross and Netflix actually wanted to honor Anne Frank and other victims of the Holocaust for what they went through and what refugees continue to go through, there are much better methods to go about doing so. For example, they could donate to refugee resettlement programs or promote the importance of Holocaust memorials. Roasting Anne Frank is just a cheap way to get laughs.
Fortunately, this episode has already received quite a bit of backlash. It seems most people agree that mocking victims of the Holocaust, or victims of any genocide, is not funny. Anti-Semitism, both past and present, should never be the butt of a joke.