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Race as Category in Nazi German Theatre

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Abstract

This chapter examines the use of theatre in Nazi Germany, when conceptions of race were a key factor in a cultural agenda that aimed at “cleansing” theatre and making it “German” again. While by the mid-1930s only “Aryan” works and performers were allowed on stage and could become members of the Reich Culture Chamber, Jewish theatre makers were in particular banned from mainstream stages, as Jews could only visit their own Kulturbund theatres. By examining productions of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, as well as Richard Euringer’s German Passion (1933), and Eberhard Wolfgang Möller’s Rothschild Is the Victor at Waterloo (1934)—an example of the more traditional plays centred on anti-Semitic message—but by also focusing on Jewish Kulturbund theatres in the Berlin context especially, I will provide an overview of how race impacted on theatre in these crucial years of German history.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term völkisch derives from the German word Volk (people). It has strong romantic, folklore and ‘organic’ undertones, which, in its emphasising of the ‘Blood and Soil’ idea, combine with an anti-urban populism. The völkisch movement was also characterised by anti-communist, anti-immigration, anti-capitalist, anti-parliamentarian and strong anti-Semitic undercurrents.

  2. 2.

    Kindermann remained the leading German language theatre scholar for much of the twentieth century, and his studies form an integral part of performance studies libraries the world over.

  3. 3.

    Günther was of course part of a wider discourse and in his studies seemed keen to link his theories to a much wider field of Rassenkunde scholars.

  4. 4.

    For examples of Nazi theoretical positions concerning the Thing plays, see Rainer Schlösser, Das Volk und seine Bühne: Bemerkungen zum Aufbau des deutschen Theaters (Berlin, 1935); Wilhelm von Schramm, Neubau des deutschen Theaters (Berlin, 1934); Hans Severus Ziegler, Das Theater des deutschen Volkes: Ein Beitrag zur Volkserziehung und Propaganda (Leipzig, 1933); Richard Euringer, Chronik einer deutschen Wandlung 1925–1935 (Hamburg, 1936); Heinz Riecke, ‘Freizeitgestaltung und Spiele der Gegenwart’, Die Neue Literatur 37 (1936), 22–32.

  5. 5.

    Hitler’s rank in the Imperial German army during the First World War was Gefreiter (private), and this rank was regularly referred to by conservative critics of the Nazi party before 1933 to ridicule Hitler and his political ambitions. The equation Gefreiter = Hitler would have been made by theatre audiences as well, and it did not need further explanation.

  6. 6.

    Quotations from this play in English translation are taken from Eichberg/Jones, 1977, pp. 133–134.

  7. 7.

    The vast majority of German theatres were (and still are) municipal theatres (Stadttheater) which are owned and subsidised by city councils.

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Heinrich, A. (2021). Race as Category in Nazi German Theatre. In: Morosetti, T., Okagbue, O. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43957-6_7

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