POLITICS

Hitler baby poster OK now that Jewish group sees show slams hatred

07/12/2012 02:28 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT
MONTREAL - It took a while, but one of Canada's most prominent Jewish groups finally saw the humour behind the Hitler baby poster at the Just For Laughs Festival.

B'nai Brith Canada initially scolded the international comedy festival, saying the image of the wide-eyed baby with the black square moustache rekindled dark memories for many of its members, including survivors of the Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered.

The group said in a letter it wanted the poster for the show "Le prenom," which translates as "The First Name," pulled. Just For Laughs refused and invited B'nai Brith members to a performance.

"We're very much relieved by the fact that the show is essentially a condemnation of hatred, it's a condemnation of racism," B'nai Brith spokesman Steven Slimovitch said Thursday.

He pointed out that B'nai Brith, which closely monitors anti-Semitic incidents and hate-mongering, is sensitive because the poster appeared shortly after the group was stunned to see protesting Quebec students giving the stiff-armed Nazi salute to police and politicians.

Student groups ended up agreeing the gesture was inappropriate and urged their members not to do it again.

"Vigilance is very important," Slimovitch said. "It's very, very important to keep things in perspective and to always show and demonstrate that Canada is not a place for hatred."

He said B'nai Brith is OK with the poster now after seeing the show and reading about it.

"Although perhaps we wouldn't have chosen that type of poster, we can understand where it came from and the important thing is the message and the message is that hatred is unacceptable."

"Le prenom" is a Quebec adaptation of a popular play that was first seen in France. It revolves around the unfortunate choice of a name for a baby by a first-time father.

Andy Nulman, the president of the Just For Laughs Festival, said he approved the poster, which was designed to replace an earlier one.

"We had a previous poster that was boring," said Nulman, who is Jewish. "It didn't sell anything. It was five people sitting on a couch. This one is more indicative of what the play's all about. It's the turning point in the play.

"We understand it's a striking and controversial image but that's why we chose it, to be striking and controversial and bring attention to a very, very popular play."

Nulman noted that Hitler has often been used to comedic effect, citing the hit musical and movies of "The Producers," which was written by Mel Brooks, and revolved around the production of a musical called "Springtime For Hitler." Brooks directed Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, all Jews, Nulman noted, in the original version of the movie.

He also added Jews spoofed Hitler during the Holocaust as a survival technique, giving him the code-name Horowitz.

"The fact of being able to laugh at one's oppressor empowered the Jews," Nulman said. "This basically is more of the same. It comes from a very, very strong tradition in history."

The poster remains up around Montreal.

"I'm sure right now it's going to be a collector's item," said Nulman.