Bruder Eichmann and other relatives: Representations of Nazis on German *stages
This dissertation is concerned with the representation and reception of Nazis in West German theater as contributions to the cultural memory of the Holocaust. It examines eight dramas and their performances: Ingeborg Drewitz's Alle Tore waxen bewacht (1955), Erwin Sylvanus's Korczak and die Kinder (1957), Rolf Hochhuth's Der Stellvertreter (1963), Peter Weiss's Die Ermittlung (1965), Thomas Bernhard's Vor dem Ruhestand (1979), Heinar Kipphardt's Bruder Eichmann (1983), Joshua Sobol's Ghetto (1984), and George Tabori's Mein Kampf (1987). This study takes into account the literary criticism of the plays and reviews of the world premieres and subsequent stagings. It highlights the role of the media in influencing the formation of public awareness of a text as well as a staged play.
The playwrights created a space for the perpetrator memory that has been a taboo in the national discourse about the past since the end of Word War II. They targeted the suppression of this memory in German society's recurrent tropes of denial, invoking “Nazism as a demonic force,” “Germans as victims of Nazism,” the “Nuremberg defense” of “just following orders,” or “just cogs in a machine,” or “just puppets.” The dramatists challenged such cultural myths by revealing their Nazi characters in situations of choice and exposing an individual motivation (anti-Semitism, sadism, fear, careerism) that led to the issue of individual culpability. The playwrights asked their German audiences to accept the perpetrators as human beings similar to themselves and to contemplate their own complicit relationship with and memory of the Holocaust.
Despite the ostentatious confrontation with the perpetrator memory, the reviews of the plays' stagings indicate that the media, for the most part, ignored or played down the perpetrator performative in favor of other aspects of the plays. They also tended to conflate the victim and perpetrator categories in plays by Sobol and Tabori that presented Jews as fallible human beings. Nevertheless, there were some critics who did point out the significance of the Nazi characters for a German audience. Overall, the disparity of views expressed shows that dealing with the perpetrator memory has been an ongoing struggle in German society.
0335: European history