The Jewish Kulturbund Theatre Company in Nazi Berlin
University of Iowa Press
This is a thoroughly researched, richly detailed, and highly readable account of a Jewish theatre company that existed in Berlin from the Nazi takeover of Germany in 1933 through the early years of World War II in 1941.
The company, ironically, was created and supported by the Nazis. They did so in keeping with their goal to remove all Jewish artists from association with their “Aryan” colleagues, as well as to isolate the artists and their Jewish audiences from German culture.
This isolation was to include the work to be produced. The plays were to be a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish subject matter; but forbidden were plays by Aryan Germans or Austrians, plays in which Jews and non-Jews associated, and plays depicting Jews as revolutionists or would-be messiahs.
However, much as the company’s directors attempted to select and censor scripts to satisfy the demands of their Nazi taskmasters, play selection was fraught with controversy. The Nazis were ambiguous and inconsistent in their acceptance, often pulling scripts they had previously approved from production; and the directors and audiences, more oriented to German culture than Judaic, were frequently at odds as to what a Jewish play should consist of.
Nevertheless, for eight years the highly talented Kulturbund directors, actors, and designers managed to stage a wide variety of Jewish and non-Jewish dramas in well attended and reviewed productions: tragedies, comedies, musicals, and operas from the world repertoire: German, Austrian, Hungarian, Yiddish, Hebrew, Greek, French, Italian, Norwegian, English, American.
Ample notes evidence Rebecca Rovit’s exhaustive exploration of primary sources to document her study: interviews, correspondence, scripts, script books, theatre reviews, letters, and memoirs. The book includes photos, a playbill, and a page from a script book.
Rovit well chronicles the bizarre, pathetic, admirable phenomenon of a group of German Jewish theatre artists – varying in temperaments and viewpoints – forced to work together under the most constricting of conditions – struggling to define and dramatize their Jewishness – determined to produce work of the highest caliber – doomed to be exiled or exterminated.