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'It's fine to laugh at new Hitler book' says Monty Python star Michael Palin

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 February 2013 | UPDATED: 10:45 11 February 2013

Michael Palin played SS commander Heinrich Himmler in a 1970 Monty Python sketch.

Michael Palin played SS commander Heinrich Himmler in a 1970 Monty Python sketch.

Archant

When Michael Palin donned a Nazi uniform and took his place alongside a swastika-clad John Cleese some 40 years ago, the only reaction was resounding laughter.

Author Timur Vermes with his bestselling book Er Ist Wieder Da, translated as He's Back. Picture: AFP/Getty Images.Author Timur Vermes with his bestselling book Er Ist Wieder Da, translated as He's Back. Picture: AFP/Getty Images.

The 1970 Monty Python sketch saw Gospel Oak resident Mr Palin assume the farcical role of SS commander Heinrich Himmler as he supported a bid from his Führer Adolf Hitler, played by Mr Cleese, to win a by-election in Minehead, Somerset.

It caused little furore at the time and was considered typical of the legendary comic group.

But now the phenomenal success of a new fantasy novel poking fun at the Führer has left many questioning whether it is right to laugh at Hitler.

German author Timur Vermes’ debut novel Er Ist Wieder Da, translated as He’s Back, sees Hitler fall asleep in his bunker in 1945 only to wake up in Berlin in 2011, where he becomes a media celebrity – including a role on a Turkish-German TV show – before entering politics.

The book has stormed to the top of the German charts and is now set to make Mr Vermes a fortune as publishers worldwide prepare to publish the 400-page work of fiction.

He’s Back will hit bookshops across the UK from next year – a move Mr Palin has no problem with.

“There’s a long tradition of laughing at Hitler. That was what we were asked to do during the war,” said the 69-year-old.

“There was no controversy when we did the Python sketch. It was a piece of surrealistic, totally absurd comedy.

“If [Timur Vermes] was saying Hitler was a great man I would find that abominable. But if it’s just comedy and makes him look absurd, that’s fine.”

For some however, the horror of Hitler’s crimes left nothing to laugh at whatsoever.

Primrose Hill resident Thomas Konrad, 84, managed to evade the Nazis when they invaded Budapest in 1944 but lost his only sister, who eventually died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

He said: “The time will never come when I can laugh at anything to do with Hitler. I can’t bear to look at the image of him. Whenever there is a swastika shown in newspapers and magazines it gives me nausea.

“I feel that a book like this should not have been written. It should not come to us here or anywhere else in the world. I can’t see the funny side, and I wouldn’t want to read it.”

It is a sentiment Michael Joseph, 67, owner of Joseph’s Bookstore, in Ashbourne Parade, off Finchley Road, Temple Fortune, sympathises with but admits it would not stop him selling the book.

“There’s a very long and estimable tradition of poking fun at terrible people as a way of dealing with them,” he said.

“I don’t believe that just because someone did terrible things, we close down the subject.

“In principle, if I thought it was a serious book – serious in the sense that it is not just exploiting the subject to make money – I would stock it.”

Danny van Emden, who manages West End Lane Books, in West End Lane, West Hampstead, would also be prepared to sell the book.

“As long as it is written well and with creditability, I’m sure we would probably stock it,” she said.

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