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Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre

Jeanette R. Malkin, Freddie Rokem

Publication Year: 2010

 While it is common knowledge that Jews were prominent in literature, music, cinema, and science in pre-1933 Germany, the fascinating story of Jewish co-creation of modern German theatre is less often discussed. Yet for a brief time, during the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic, Jewish artists and intellectuals moved away from a segregated Jewish theatre to work within canonic German theatre and performance venues, claiming the right to be part of the very fabric of German culture. Their involvement, especially in the theatre capital of Berlin, was of a major magnitude both numerically and in terms of power and influence. The essays in this stimulating collection etch onto the conventional view of modern German theatre the history and conflicts of its Jewish participants in the last third of the nineteenth and first third of the twentieth centuries and illuminate the influence of Jewish ethnicity in the creation of the modernist German theatre.

 The nontraditional forms and themes known as modernism date roughly from German unification in 1871 to the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933. This is also the period when Jews acquired full legal and trade equality, which enabled their ownership and directorship of theatre and performance venues. The extraordinary artistic innovations that Germans and Jews co-created during the relatively short period of this era of creativity reached across the old assumptions, traditions, and prejudices that had separated people as the modern arts sought to reformulate human relations from the foundations to the pinnacles of society.

 The essayists, writing from a variety of perspectives, carve out historical overviews of the role of theatre in the constitution of Jewish identity in Germany, the position of Jewish theatre artists in the cultural vortex of imperial Berlin, the role played by theatre in German Jewish cultural education, and the impact of Yiddish theatre on German and Austrian Jews and on German theatre. They view German Jewish theatre activity through Jewish philosophical and critical perspectives and examine two important genres within which Jewish artists were particularly prominent: the Cabaret and Expressionist theatre. Finally, they provide close-ups of the Jewish artists Alexander Granach, Shimon Finkel, Max Reinhardt, and Leopold Jessner. By probing the interplay between “Jewish” and “German” cultural and cognitive identities based in the field of theatre and performance and querying the effect of theatre on Jewish self-understanding, they add to the richness of intercultural understanding as well as to the complex history of theatre and performance in Germany.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

Series: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture


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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Although the theme of this volume, Jews and modern German theatre, has been addressed in a number of articles over the years, this will be the first book to view modern German theatre (1871–1933) as a co-creation by two over-lapping cultures: gentile and Jewish Germans. Our focus is on the Jewish participants; but the world in which they create, and the theatre they helped ...

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1. Introduction: Break a Leg!

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pp. 1-20

“Break a leg!” This traditional benediction used among actors to wish each other “good luck” before going onstage has evoked much speculation. Its provenance is unclear, but American performers have been using the expression, according to some sources, since the years following World War I.1 Interestingly, the phrase has a striking parallel in German theatre circles, where ...

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2. Reflections on Theatricality, Identity, and the Modern Jewish Experience

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pp. 21-38

I open with a sweeping general thesis: the theatre and issues associated with theatricality and performativity are intimately bound up with - and illuminate - central dimensions of modern Western culture and of the Central European Jewish experience itself. For what are the dynamics of assimilation (or acculturation or integration) about, if not basic questions and conflicts of ...

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3. How “Jewish” Was Theatre in Imperial Berlin?

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pp. 39-58

Jews played significant roles in the theatres of imperial Berlin, but the extent to which their involvement was overtly “Jewish” varied considerably. Otto Brahm and Max Reinhardt, the two most important directors of literary and dramatic theatre, were Jewish, as was their core patronage, but few of their productions dealt with Jewish themes. Jewish characters were much more ...

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4. Stagestruck: Jewish Attitudes to the Theatre in Wilhelmine Germany

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pp. 59-76

In his seminal survey of Jews and the German theatre, Juden auf der deutschen Bühne (Jews on the German Stage, 1928), Arnold Zweig devotes roughly ten pages to a discussion of the audience. Jewish spectators, he maintains, constituted an essential component of the audience flocking to German theatres.1 The same temperamental “Mediterranean” disposition which (according to ...

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5. Yiddish Theatre and Its Impact on the German and Austrian Stage

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pp. 77-98

It is difficult to give a clear overview of the nature of Yiddish theatre at the beginning of the twentieth century and even more difficult to assess its complex influence on the practice of theatre in German-speaking countries. Yiddish theatre was a nomadic enterprise, a minor genre practiced by a national, linguistic, social, and cultural minority - especially in German-speaking ...

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6. German and Jewish “Theatromania”: Theodor Lessing’s Theater-Seele between Goethe and Kafka

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pp. 99-115

Does history repeat itself? If we look at the exceptional part played by Jewish authors, actors, managers, directors, and critics in the development of modern German theatre and the above-average proportion of Jews in the audiences, it is not an exaggeration to speak of a “Jewish theatromania” during the late nineteenth century and the first three decades of the twentieth century. ...

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7. Arnold Zweig and the Critics: Reconsidering the Jewish “Contribution” to German Theatre

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pp. 116-131

In 1928 Arnold Zweig published a small book entitled Juden auf der deutschen Bühne (Jews on the German Stage), which offered a systematic consideration of what he calls the Jewish contribution to modern German theatre. Although well known, the book has been almost completely neglected by specialists in the field. Zweig’s study is arguably a dubious source for theatre history, given ...

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8. Jewish Cabaret Artists before 1933

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pp. 132-150

From the outset - with the founding of the Buntes Theater (Motley Theatre) in 1901 - German Jewish theatre artists were central to the initiation and development of a cabaret culture in Germany and Austria. Oscar Straus was in charge of the musical production at this famous cabaret (better known in Berlin as the

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9. Transforming in Public: Jewish Actors on the German Expressionist Stage

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pp. 151-173

German expressionist theatre was a highly physical endeavor. During its short-lived stage life, approximately 1909–1922,1 the typical expressionist themes of rebellion, transformation, and regeneration took plastic shape through a new theatrical body language that later also became one of the trademarks of expressionist film. Expressionism was to German modernism ...

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10. The Shaping of the Ostjude: Alexander Granach and Shimon Finkel in Berlin

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pp. 174-196

The concept of the “New Man” is fundamental to the European revolutionary culture that evolved during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This term was first used during the French Revolution; it was adapted and developed in later revolutionary movements such as German neo-romanticism, Soviet communism, or even Italian fascism. ...

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11. Max Reinhardt between Yiddish Theatre and the Salzburg Festival

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pp. 197-218

One late October evening in 1922 an audience in Vienna eagerly awaited a performance of S. Ansky’s Der Dybbuk (1914) by the internationally renowned Vilna Troupe of Yiddish actors. The troupe had been invited to perform at the Roland Theater by the Freie Jüdische Volksbühne (Free Jewish People’s Stage), one of Vienna’s successful local Yiddish theatre organizations. A ...

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12. Theatre as Festive Play | Max Reinhardt’s Productions of The Merchant of Venice

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pp. 219-231

At the beginning of the twentieth century a new concept of theatre - theatre as festival - was propagated in Germany and in other Western cultures. By redefining theatre as festival, theatre reformers such as Peter Behrens, Georg Fuchs, Max Reinhardt, Adolphe Appia, Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, and others wanted to bring about what they called a retheatricalization of theatre: a shift ...

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13. The Unknown Leopold Jessner: German Theatre and Jewish Identity

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pp. 232-260

When we look back on the history of the German stage in the so-called Golden Twenties of the Weimar Republic, three directors repeatedly come to mind: Max Reinhardt, Leopold Jessner, and Erwin Piscator. Of the three, Jessner has drawn relatively little attention, although his politically oriented “topical theatre” or Zeittheater paved the way for the political theatre of Piscator and ...

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14. Epilogue

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pp. 261-268

What if the artists portrayed in this book had known? What might they have done, if anything, had they had a premonition of what was going to happen in Germany during the coming years? Could some of the artistic leaders have employed their creative abilities and artistic status to forestall the catastrophe? Could anyone, even those who did perhaps sense that something ...

Works Cited

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pp. 269-290


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pp. 291-294


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299346
E-ISBN-10: 1587299348
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587298684
Print-ISBN-10: 1587298686

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: cloth
Series Title: Studies Theatre Hist & Culture
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 648759729
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Jews and the Making of Modern German Theatre

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Subject Headings

  • Theater -- Germany -- History -- 19th century.
  • Theater -- Germany -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jews -- Germany -- Intellectual life -- 19th century.
  • Jews -- Germany -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Jews in the performing arts -- Germany -- History.
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