20 badass, hilarious, and surprising ways people have fought Nazis.
For as long as there have been Nazis, people have been fighting Nazis.
Kicking Nazi ass is not only American as apple pie, it is the basis of our greatest foreign policy triumph, the subject of our most satisfying movies, and the reason the History Channel still exists.
From 1939 until 1945, the United States, British, and Soviet militaries tried to solve the Nazi problem by dropping bombs on them from various airplanes.
The OG Antifa. Photo by U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia Commons.
Sending explosives plummeting from way high up directly onto Nazis down below worked pretty well for a while. Nearly 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Germany and German-occupied territories during World War II, killing hundreds of thousands of Nazis.
Unfortunately, this method also wound up killing a lot of civilians, prisoners of war, resistance fighters, house cats, and random guys named Gerhard who happened to be standing near Nazis at the time. It also turns out to be super inappropriate for peacetime. Not to mention, it didn't totally work because here we are in 2017: There are still Nazis. And we're still arguing about how to fight them.
When tiki torch-wielding fascists come to town, are "many sides" to blame when fists start to fly? How free is free speech when one side is calling for the extermination of the other? Should violence be answered with more violence? Nazis aren't known to respond to reason, but vigilantism icks most of us out. And who gets to define who is and is not a Nazi anyway? Is there some kind of Google form?
If history teaches us anything, it's that Nazis don't go away unless someone fights back. And violence isn't the only way (although, reviewing the record, it turns out to be one of the main ways) to resist them.
Here are 20 alternate, yet no less effective, ways people have fought against, and mostly defeated, Nazis throughout history:
1. A town in Germany refused to let neo-Nazis win by turning their marches into involuntary walkathons.
Every year for decades, neo-Nazis marched through the German town of Wunsiedel. Every year, residents tried to ignore them or counter-march, neither of which worked. In 2014, however, the town's anti-fascist majority finally got to the Nazis by raising some serious money off their parade. For every kilometer the Nazis walked, business owners and donors in the town pledged cash to the EXIT Germany Initiative, an NGO that de-Nazifies Nazis.
Hundreds turned out to cheer the Nazis on as they subverted their own agenda step by step. The approach was so successful that it spread to other be-Nazi'd communities around the world. More importantly, it made about 200 Nazis feel really (and appropriately) dumb.
Of course, when it comes to confronting fascists, not everyone has the wit of a poet and the patience of a saint. Which is why...
2. An unknown activist straight-up punched prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face.
Perhaps the most famous of all the methods of anti-Nazi combat was famously deployed by an anonymous Black Bloc protester against white nationalist icon Richard Spencer on the day of Donald Trump's inauguration. While Spencer denies being a Nazi, he has been known to throw off a suspiciously Nuremberg Rally-esque speech every now and again, complete with shouty paeans to ethnic solidarity and athletic audience heils.
The masked anarchist in question decided to punch him just to be safe.
It is important to note that, as repellant as modern-day Nazis (whether full-on or pseudo-) may be, this writer in no way endorses violence, which is Not The Answer and Never Funny. Indeed, no part of Richard Bertrand Spencer getting decked in the temple is remotely amusing. Not the fact that the punch lands just as Spencer is about to launch into a serious analysis of the symbolism of his cartoon frog lapel pin. Not one of the dozens of remixes showing the protester's fist connecting with Spencer's face at the exact moment the beat drops in a popular song. Not Spencer whining about being humiliated online forever.
Not one bit.
3. In 2015, a guy in South Carolina made KKK marchers look silly by playing a jaunty tuba song while they marched down the street.
When it comes to giving Nazism that down-home spin, no one beats the Ku Klux Klan, a group that takes fascism, smothers it in white gravy, and serves it with a side of cheesy grits and a red-white-and-blue garnish. Back when South Carolina was debating removing the Confederate flag from its state capitol grounds in 2015, a group of klansmen tried to dissuade them by spending the morning of July 18 marching menacingly down the streets of Columbia.
Menacingly, that is, until a man named Matt Buck decided to follow them with a tuba and make them look ridiculous.
"I didn't really know how to show my opposition," Buck told Charleston City Paper following his savage sousaphone-ing of the group. "So that was my way of doing it."
4. A Jewish partisan in the Polish backcountry inconvenienced a group of Nazis by burning down a bridge they were using during WWII.
For many of the brutalized, pissed-off civilians trapped behind German lines during World War II, nothing beat skulking around the woods making life difficult for as many Nazis as possible. One such skulker, Gertrude Boyarski, recalled in a 2013 interview with the Jewish Partisan Education Fund how she gleefully set a bridge — used heavily by the local Nazis — on fire as a holiday present to the Russian government.
Illustration by Tom Eichacker.
The Nazis shot at her for her trouble, (Nazis basically have two settings: off and shooting) but thankfully missed and proceeded to not have a bridge.
5. A group of Czech musicians drowned out neo-Nazi protesters with an impromptu concert.
At a rally in Brno, Czech Republic, in May 2017, 150 marching neo-Nazis were upstaged by nearly twice the number of counter-protesters holding a spontaneous open-air open mic at the same time.
Fun fact: An impromptu anti-Nazi music festival is the one situation where it's OK to root for a guy in a fedora playing acoustic guitar.
6. A band of concentration camp prisoners blew up one of Hitler's death factories.
On Oct. 7, 1944, a group of prisoners at Auschwitz revolted against the camp's guards, killing several by detonating a pile of gunpowder (which they'd been smuggling for months) in one of the camp's crematoria, destroying it.
The Nazis ultimately shot and hanged them all, as Nazis are wont to do, but eternal respect for a group of fighters willing to sacrifice their lives under the most inhuman conditions to inconvenience Nazis, even for a moment.
7. After WWII, Germany fought Nazis with bureaucracy, fining them for their political views.
Here in the land of the free, separated from the most dangerous Nazi stuff by two very large oceans, we mostly let Nazis say what they want. Being a Nazi — so long as you don't round up and kill anyone (hard for Nazis!) — is more or less protected by the First Amendment.
In other countries, particularly those that have had a more up close and personal relationship with Nazis, things are a little different.
The Reichstag building in Berlin. Photo by Tobias Schwarz/Getty Images.
Take Germany, for instance. Nazis have been a bit of an issue in Germany in the past — so the country up and made saying Nazi things illegal. Penalties can include an arrest and a fine, which two Chinese tourists found out the hard way this summer, after deploying "heil Hitler" salutes in front of the historic Reichstag building in Germany.
It's not very free speech-y. It's also only enforced sometimes. To that end...
8. A gang of German counter-protesters formed a blockade, preventing neo-Nazi marchers from getting where they were trying to go.
In August 2017, a group of about 500 German neo-Nazis attempted to march to the former site of Spandau prison, where former mega-Nazi Rudolph Hess died by suicide 30 years earlier. They got about half a mile in before they were "forced to turn back" by counter-protesters blockading their route.
While it may seem surprising that a group of violence-extollin' Nazis let a few civilians stand between them and the ultimate triumph of the Aryan master race, it does make a certain sense. Historically speaking, other than perpetrating the mass murder of millions, giving up is what Nazis do best.
9. During the war, a secret cadre of German communists sabotaged Nazi warships.
Nazis on land are bad. Put Nazis on the high seas and you're asking for a swift torpedo to the national welfare. That's why, despite incredible risk and over the likely objections of everyone who wanted their heads to remain bullet-free, Bernhard Bästlein and Franz Jacob spent the early years of World War II organizing Hamburg shipyard workers to resist Nazi rule and slow down production.
Most members of the group were arrested and executed before they could accomplish much, but the principle they died for — never letting a Nazi get on a boat with guns — lives on.
10. A Swedish woman became an icon when she hit a group of skinheads with her handbag.
In 1985, a group of skinheads set out to terrorize the Swedish town of Vaxjo. They hoped to cow the locals into silence. Instead, a local woman, Danuta Danielsson, whose mother had survived Auschwitz decades earlier, ran up to one of the demonstrators and smacked him with her purse.
The photo of Danielsson's pocketbook strike became so legendary that, in 2014, a Swedish artist proposed building a monument to the swatting. The town, however, declined, fearing such a statue would glorify violence.
Thwack. Photo by Hans Runesson/Wikimedia Commons.
Thus, the debate over who is worse, Nazis or the people who hit them with soft household objects continued to infinity.
11. A team of Israeli secret agents tackled Adolf Eichmann when he got off the bus from work and extradited him to face trial for war crimes.
The practical downside to committing a bunch of crimes against humanity means somebody might sneak up on you when you least expect it and make you pay for them. That's what happened to Eichmann one evening in May 1960. The infamous Nazi functionary had facilitated the mass deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, resulting in the murder of up to 400,000 people. Since the war, he'd been living in Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement.
Or at least he was until Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, pulled up in front of his house, stuffed him in a car, tied his hands and feet, and snuck him onto a commercial flight back to Israel, where he was, unsurprisingly, found guilty of crimes against humanity and eventually hanged.
The world is complicated, however, and most Nazis aren't as notorious as Eichmann. To try to push past that...
12. A relentless Nazi hunter tracked down a most-wanted Nazi war criminal in his retirement community.
Consider the case of Gerhard Sommer. The top man on the Wiesenthal Center's 2015 "Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals" list, the former SS officer allegedly helped murder over 500 men, women, and children in the Italian village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema as the Germans retreated through the area in August 1944. Despite overwhelming evidence placing Sommer at the scene, prosecutors in Germany recently declared the 93-year-old unfit for trial, citing advanced dementia.
Soon after, Nazi hunter Jurgen Kolb decided to track him down in his nursing home.
Thankfully, Kolb took a few reporters from Cracked — a magazine known for its sneakily ambitious journalism — along for the ride. He told them he believes that Sommer is faking his dementia. The group followed a string of clues, ultimately locating the aged accused war criminal in a senior citizens facility.
"All we can do now is update where he is living and that he's still alive," Jurgen told the reporters in an interview. Still, in the grand scheme of making Nazis' lives bad, ensuring one spends the rest of his life looking over his shoulder ain't a terrible consolation prize.
13. A ballet dancer brought to Auschwitz reportedly killed a Nazi officer after distracting him by stripping.
On Oct. 23, 1943, a group of female prisoners, including Polish Jewish dancer Franceska Mann, were brought to a room adjacent to the Auschwitz gas chambers and ordered to disrobe.
What happened next is unclear. Some accounts claim that Mann stripped off her clothes "provocatively," distracting the guards. Most accounts claim that Mann proceeded to grab an officer's gun, shooting him dead and wounding another guard before the Nazis were able to regroup and return fire, killing the prisoners.
Regardless of how it happened, some of the Nazis who were trying to murder them got dead first.
Of course, over the next two years, Nazis continued to try to kill people all over Europe. Which is why it turned out great that...
14. A British spy stole Nazi military secrets, delaying production of dangerous weapons.
Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens had two things going for her when the Nazis invaded France: She spoke fluent German and she was a tiny lady. After leveraging her size and gender to convince a bunch of Nazi officers she couldn't possibly be a threat, she managed to convince them to tell her where they were building their cool new rocket weapon, and she relayed that information to British intelligence. The Brits proceeded to drop bombs on those places, delaying production of the V-1 and V-2 rockets and saving countless lives.
Unlike many of the Nazis she hoodwinked, Rousseau de Clarens lived to the ripe old age of 98, being small and rejoicing in humiliating Nazis till the end.
15. A 70-year-old German woman denies neo-Nazis a public platform by scratching out and painting over their graffiti.
Since the 1980s, Berlin resident Irmela Schramm has been waging a one-woman battle against swastikas, far-right propaganda, and fascist slogans scrawled on public property.
Her weapons? Nail polish remover, a scraper, and spray paint. The goal? To shut neo-Nazis the hell up.
Photo by John MacDougall/Getty Images.
"People tell me I am intolerant, that I don't respect the far-right's freedom of speech," she told CNN. "But I say: Freedom of speech has limits. It ends where hatred and contempt for humanity begins."
Nazis, however, don't always express their "hatred and contempt for humanity" in passive-aggressive artwork, which is why...
16. Vidal Sassoon and a group of Jewish war veterans engaged post-WWII Nazis in guerilla-style street fights.
Late-1940s England had a problem. Despite suffering through a six-year-long, knock-down drag-out brawl with Hitler and co., the country was somehow, against all odds, still full of Nazis. For obvious reasons, British Nazi leader Oswald Mosley (in Britain, even Nazis are named like third-tier Harry Potter villains) spent the later war years hiding out in Ireland. The year after it wrapped, however, a group of Mosley's followers began begging him to return to London to get the old civilian-threatening, Jew-slandering, immigrant-hating band back together.
In response, a band of British Jewish ex-servicemen, who had fought tooth and nail through Europe only to return to this baby fascist BS, began organizing to disrupt their rallies and shout down their propaganda — but mostly to beat the living crap out of them in the middle of the road.
One of those enthusiastically participating in the crap-beating was the group's most WTF member, Vidal Sassoon. Before he became famous for that bottle of two-in-one conditioner that's been sitting, three-quarters empty, in your mom's shower stall since 1993, the Jewish-British Sassoon was infamous for putting the hurt on British Nazis. The world-renowned hairdresser described the aftermath of one such brawl in a 2008 interview with the BBC.
"I'll never forget one morning I walked in and I had a hell of a bruise — it had been a difficult night the night before — and a client said to me, 'Good God, Vidal, what happened to your face?'" Sassoon recalled. "And I said, 'Oh, nothing, madam, I just fell over a hairpin.'"
Apparently, "I kicked some Nazis teeth in. Your move, Pert Plus," would have been a tad gauche for the polite stylist. Nonetheless, credit where due.
17. A world-famous comedian literally danced on Hitler's grave.
Illustration by Tom Eichacker.
In 1958, Groucho Marx decided to spend a little bit of that sweet founding-father-of-modern-film-comedy cash to take his friend, daughter, and family babysitter Judith Dwan Hallet to Dornum, Germany, to visit the graves of his grandparents. The group arrived at the cemetery only to discover that the area where they were buried, the Jewish section, had been destroyed.
A few days later, Marx asked his chauffeur to drive the travelers to the ruins of the bunker where Hitler had died.
"When they arrived, Hallet said, it was as if the war had happened the day before. Nothing had been cleaned up or repaired; piles of rubble made the landscape look positively post-apocalyptic. The ruins of the Führerbunker were about 20 feet tall, but Groucho climbed to the top and proceeded to perform what Hallet called 'a frenetic Charleston, for at least a minute or two, in a gesture of defiance.' When he was done, the legendary comedian requested that they leave Germany the next morning."
"The fun was gone," Hallet concluded, bafflingly denying the obvious reality that nothing, not bingo, not Yahtzee, not an indoor water slide, not a three week Disney World vacation, not a marathon of every single Marx Brothers movie ever made could be more fun than doing the jaybird step on the smoldering remains of the guy who basically invented Nazis.
18. An American suburb used Nazi rallies to gin up public support for anti-Nazi monuments.
The infamous 1977 neo-Nazi march through the predominately Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois, did not only inspire a fierce debate over the scope of the First Amendment. It also inspired an iconic "Blues Brothers" scene.
It also also inspired residents to make sure as many people as possible were as informed as possible about who Nazis really are. Fallout from the march led members of the community to band together to form the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, which helped complete the town's Holocaust Museum and Education Center in 2011.
19. Thousands of Holocaust survivors shame and resist Nazi ideology every day just by continuing to exist.
In the course of a half-decade, Nazis managed to systematically murder 12 million human beings. And yet, thanks to a timely military defeat, helped along by many of the acts listed above, many of the people Nazis tried to kill not only survived, but kept on surviving for decades after the fact. As of 2016, there were only about 100,000 Holocaust survivors left living. Still, that's 100,000 more than Nazis hoped there would be nearly 70 years after their extermination plan failed.
Students participate in the March of the Living in Poland. Photo by Yossi Zeliger/Wikimedia Commons.
These survivors wound up becoming the key adopters of perhaps the most crucial Nazi fighting method of all:
20. Survivors and their descendants keep telling the truth about who Nazis really are and why it's important to stop them before it's too late.
Being a Nazi in 2017 requires believing, against all evidence, that the Nazis weren't all bad. For modern-day aspiring Goebbles, Hesses, and Goerings to accomplish that, minimizing the Holocaust or pretending it never happened, is plan A, B, and Z. With each passing of a survivor, that becomes easier.
With each person who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust telling their story or person teaching in their memory, it becomes harder to deny.
"It puts the responsibility on us, the next generation, the children of survivors, the grandchildren of survivors, to become as articulate as we can be in maintaining this memory and the mandate that comes with it," Michael Zank, 58, the director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University, told Time in 2016.
Thankfully, you don't have to look very hard to find folks maintaining the memory. There's the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has an extensive, thorough education program on its website. Or the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, which chronicles the activities of the Jewish guerillas who fought Nazis behind enemy lines and teaches tactics for resisting fascism. Or the annual March of the Living or Classrooms Without Borders, which takes educators and students to Poland to meet with survivors and learn about Nazi atrocities firsthand.
It's not as flashy as an outdoor concert, a street brawl, or a handbag slap, but it's necessary. Because, inevitably...
Sooner or later, everyone who witnessed the atrocities the Nazis unleashed on the world will be gone.
Whether their ideology dies first or becomes human history's most ill-conceived reboot, that's up to the rest of us.
When it comes to fighting Nazis, you rarely get to pick the time and place.
For those of us alive in 2017, it's becoming clearer that's here and now.
Who's got a tuba?
Illustration by Tom Eichacker.