The veteran funnywoman, whose parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, critiqued a dress worn by German supermodel Heidi Klum during Monday’s episode of the E! series.
“The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens,” she said.
The remark, in reference to the Jewish prisoners of war killed by Nazis during the Holocaust, has upset leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, who are now demanding an apology from Rivers.
The league’s director Abraham H Foxman, a Holocaust survivor himself, says: “Of all people, Joan Rivers should know better.”
“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. Almost as bad as her original comment is the fact that she sat there doubled over with laughter after saying it.
“There are certain things about the Holocaust that should be taboo. 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.”
Rivers said, in a statement to ABC News: “My husband lost the majority of his family at Auschwitz and I can assure you that I have always made it a point to remind people of the Holocaust through humour.”
Rivers also recently criticised singer Adele on the David Letterman show.
Rivers said: “What’s her song? Rolling in the Deep? She should add fried chicken.”