The Jew­ish Kul­tur­bund The­atre Com­pa­ny in Nazi Berlin

Rebec­ca Rovit
  • Review
By – December 19, 2012

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.

Nor­man J. Fed­der, Ph.D., is dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the­atre at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty. He is cur­rent­ly on the fac­ul­ty of the Inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Arts Pro­gram at Nova South­east­ern University.

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