Joan Rivers, a Jewish comedienne and longtime TV fashion critic, refuses to apologize over what she says was a joke made about Heidi Klum's look at a post-Oscars party, in which she referenced the Nazi Holocaust.
"The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens, Rivers, 79, said about the supermodel's racy, cleavage-bearing dress, while commenting about Oscar looks on the E! Network show "Fashion Police" on Monday.
Klum has not commented. Rivers made her remarks three days before her and daughter Melissa's appearances as a guest judges on a pretaped February 28 episode of the supermodel's reality show, "Project Runway."
The Anti-Defamation League, whose national director Abraham H. Foxman is a Holocaust survivor, recently issued a public call for Rivers to apologize over her "vulgar and hideous" comments on the cable channel show.
"Of all people, Joan Rivers should know better," Foxman said in a statement. "This remark is so vulgar and offensive to Jews and Holocaust survivors, and indeed to all Americans, that we cannot believe it made it to the airwaves."
"There are certain things about the Holocaust that should be taboo," he added. "This is especially true for Jews, for whom the Holocaust is still a deeply painful memory. It is vulgar and offensive for anybody to use the death of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust to make a joke, but this is especially true for someone who is Jewish and who proudly and publicly wears her Jewishness on her sleeve."
"Why don't you worry about Mel Gibson?"
Rivers, who was born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn and is the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, has made Nazi and Holocaust references in public before. She reacted to the recent criticism over her Klum comment in an interview on the cable channel HLN show "Showbiz Tonight." (Watch video, below.)
"It's a joke, number one," she said. "Number two, it is about the Holocaust. This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor. My husband lost his entire family in the Holocaust."
Rivers' second husband, Edgar Rosenberg, father of Melissa, died in 1987. His immediate family escaped from Nazi Germany when he was a child. By order of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, more than six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War II in the 1940s. Many of the victims were gassed at concentration camps and their bodies were burned in ovens at crematoriums.
"Your generation doesn't even know what I'm talking about. But my doing a joke gets them talking and thinking," she told HLN host A.J. Hammer, 46. "And it didn't bother Heidi, doesn't bother me."
"[Apologize] for what? Why don't you worry about Mel Gibson?" Rivers added. "Why don't you worry about the anti-Semites out there and not pick someone who doesn't have a single living relative, huh?"
Gibson made headlines in 2006 for what has become an infamous DUI arrest, during which he he allegedly said: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson apologized and pleaded no contest to the charge. He was sentenced to three years probation and underwent alcohol rehabilitation. He also said in a statement: "Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite."
"He said something about 'oven dodgers,' but I didn't get it," the actress told the magazine. "I'd never heard that before. It was just this weird, weird moment."
While Rivers is not the first comedian to reference Nazis and the Holocaust while doing a comedy bit, she is one of the most famous.
Check out 6 examples of Nazi and Holocaust references Rivers has made in the past, sometimes as a joke and sometimes in an insulting way.
1. 1999 - Rivers insults conservative politician and commentator Pat Buchanan - In a February interview on a Phoenix radio show, Rivers says she "went to a party for Buchanan and a Nazi jumped out of the cake," according to the Atlanta Journal.
2. 2008 - Joan Rivers vs. AOL - Rivers tells the New York Post's Page Six that AOL was like "Holocaust deniers," claiming that in its video of her and Melissa's comedic commentary, company censored quotes she made about celebrities' looks at the Emmy Awards, during which she referenced Nazis and leader Adolf Hitler."
"It's hard to imagine why Joan Rivers believes that AOL denies that the Holocaust ever happened, but it's also hard to imagine that Joan really believes anyone would think her Emmy coverage was funny," Colleen Curtis, AOL's editorial director of women's and lifestyle programming , tells NBC News at the time. "I didn't, and I didn't think our audience would either, and so I chose not to use it on our fashion site."
3. 2009 - "The Celebrity Apprentice" - On Donald Trump's reality show, Rivers says fellow competitor Annie Duke acts "worse than Hitler." Rivers wins the competition and appears with Duke on CNN's "Larry King Live."
When asked by the host where she came up with the comment, Rivers said: " Oh, I don't know. You know, you're always saying things. Hitler is the worst villain in the world. So when you really get furious at someone, you say, 'Oh, you're a female Hitler' or something, you know? It's just an expression. But I stand behind it."
4. 2010 - "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" - In this documentary, Rivers makes a joke referencing the concentration camp ovens in her 2010 documentary "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," according to Heeb magazine, which quoted her as telling reporters at a press conference about it: "Come on. It's funny!"
5. 2011 - Sarah Palin is a "Nazi" - Rivers told TMZ that the former vice presidential candidate was "stupid" and a "threat" and was partially responsible for the shooting in Arizona. Her comments prompt Fox News to cancel a scheduled "Fox and Friends" interview with the comedienne.
Rivers later appears on Joy Behar's HLN show to discuss the incident and Palin. The comedienne says: "She's a Nazi, I dunno."
6. 2012 - Costco protest - In August of that year, police were called to a Los Angeles-area Costco after the comedienne staged a protest against the wholesale store for allegedly banning her new book, which contains expletives and racy language (watch videos).
"This is America. I don't want to see censorship. This is not Munich 1933.. I'm not accusing them of being anti-Semitic, but in their book section I did not see 'The Diary of Anne Frank,'" the comedienne, who is Jewish, told OTRC.com's parent company, KABC Television: "You're banning a book because it has a funny quote, where will this lead us?"