Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nazi-era U-boat drama postponed in Germany

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Jewish Theatre
August 06, 2006


HAMBURG - A German theatre's plans to stage a Nazi-era play about ill-fated U-boat missions were postponed Wednesday evening, but officials said the play would go ahead once they come up with "suitable anti-Nazi" programmes to accompany the play.

The compromise came after weeks of heated debate among theatre purists in Germany and Holocaust survivors, with the purists saying this play offers insights into a theatrical lost art and Holocaust survivors calling it nothing more than an attempt to resurrect Nazi propaganda.

City officials in the eastern German city of Erlangen, in announcing the compromise, said the play would be staged at a later time with "discussion podiums" to enable dissent.

The compromise came after Holocaust survivors and local politicians called for the play to be banned, but also after esteemed drama historian Guenther Ruehle issued an appeal for it to be staged so that modern German audiences could get a feel for what he said was "very subtle" dissidence in Nazi Germany.

Ruehle said the play represented the "undercurrent of defeatism" that was rife in the closing days of World War II and he said it demonstrated the courage of a playwright and a theatrical troupe to risk death by firing squad to produce such a play in the Third Reich.

The play, not performed on the German stage since the height of World War II, had been scheduled to be performed at the taxpayer- financed Erlangen State Theatre later this month in what was billed as "the discovery of an all-but-forgotten" playwright.

The playwright was the card-carrying Nazi Party member Hans Rehberg, whose other main claim to fame is having penned an ode in honour of Adolf Hitler's 50th birthday entitled "Der Fuehrer".

The play, entitled "Wolves" (Die Woelfe) is a paean to a good German's love for his Fatherland over his love for his wife.

Holocaust survivors and town politicians have expressed outraged over the production.

"I fear this play will bring only embarrassment and ridicule to our city," says Erlangen Mayor Siegfried Balleis, who spearheaded efforts to close the theatre.

"I don't see how we can permit this egregious lapse of good taste to go ahead," Balleis told Deutsche Presse-Agentur

The small theatre, which normally attracts little attention outside a local radius, has prompted headlines nationwide. And it is sharing the spotlight with stories warning that neo-Nazism is on the rise, particularly in eastern Germany.

"Staging this particular drama at this particular time is hardly a move aimed at reconciliation and healing of wounds," says Ralf Giordano, one of Germany's most prominent Jewish Holocaust survivors.

"If it's reconciliation, then it is reconciliation being carried out on the backs of the victims," says Giordano, a journalist whose true-life account of how non-Jewish neighbours hid him from the Nazis while his family was exterminated became a best-selling book in Germany.

In an open letter to Erlangen theatre head Sabine Dhein, Giordano calls the Erlangen theatre staging "an unforgivable resurrection" of Nazi propaganda and condemns playwright as "a Hitler hanger-on who quite deservedly sank into obscurity".

Dhein responded to the letter saying that, while she "respects and admires" Giordano and understands his sentiments, she has no plans to cancel the play, which had been scheduled to premiere on October 23.

Dhein said Wednesday evening she was satisfied with the compromise to stage the play at a later date, though she would have preferred for it to go ahead in late October.

Rehberg, who died in 1963, wrote his U-boat drama in 1943 - just after the German surrender of Stalingrad, now Volgograd, and just as the battle in the Atlantic was turning against the German U-boats.

By the time the play was staged a year later in Breslau, now Wroclaw, Poland, the war was all but lost for the Germans. Red Army troops were rapidly advancing on Wroclaw as the reich's eastern front collapsed.

The plot involves three German U-boat crewmen and their wives back home. The men live in constant fear of death, and the wives live in war-time deprivation and in constant fear of their husband's death. And when the sub crewmen do indeed die, their ghosts continue to haunt their wives.


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