Italian President Silvio Berlusconi has been publicly condemned by the Vatican for telling a joke about Jews in the Holocaust. Berlusconi reportedly told the joke at a recent private gathering for his 74th birthday, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica. The newspaper secured a video of the joke. The New York Times' Robert Mackey has the video and a rough translation:
The Italian leader can be heard telling a joke about a Jew who admits that "during the time of the death camps" he agreed to hide another Jew in his cellar but forced him to pay more than $4,000 a day because "we are Jews." The joke’s punch line, such as it is, involves the man asking his family if he should finally admit to the man in his cellar that Hitler is dead and the war is over.The Vatican swiftly condemned the joke in official outlets. Ha'aretz's Saviona Mane reports, "The Vatican journal and the Italian bishops' daily newsletter yesterday condemned a 'Jewish joke' told by Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi on his birthday last week. ... 'This is an offense to the sacred memory of six million victims of the Holocaust,' the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano wrote. The Bishops newspaper Avvenire also slammed Berlusconi."
The Vatican has had a complex history with the Holocaust, which it did not recognize for years, and which it has since apologized for not protesting. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, has struggled to distance himself from the Hitler youth, into which he was conscripted as a young boy.
As for Berlusconi, his particular brand of humor has landed him in hot water many times before, most recently when he made a joke about Hitler returning to power.