In his new weekly blog, journalist and author Eugene Byrne shares a historical joke about the small but feisty country of Luxembourg and its substantially larger neighbour, Germany, and investigates what lay under the humour.
The joke – popular in Europe during the 1940s
In the summer of 1940, after Luxembourg had been occupied by German troops, a senior Nazi official from Berlin was being shown around by a local guide.
“And this,” says the Luxembourgeois, pointing proudly to a grand building, “is our Admiralty.”
“Admiralty?!” says the Nazi. “Why does Luxembourg need such a big office for its Admiralty? Luxembourg doesn’t even have a navy!”
The guide replies. “Well, why shouldn’t we have an Admiralty building? After all, you have a Ministry of Justice in Berlin.”
Truth or fiction?
Despite its small size and proximity to Germany, Luxembourg was no pushover. Though it proclaimed its neutrality at the war’s outset, it was overrun by the Germans in May 1940 and, in 1942, annexed into the Reich. Its citizens were then conscripted to fight in the German army or work in German war industries. This led to a general strike throughout the Grand Duchy, one of the few such acts of resistance in occupied Europe. Several people were imprisoned and executed as a result. The joke about the Admiralty was by all accounts popular throughout Western Europe, not just in Luxembourg.