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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 13 | volume III | February-March, 2000



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 13February-March, 2000
Theatre Reviews

Oppositional Cabaret In Nazi Germany

Or: Walking a Political Tightrope Over The Abyss

p. 1
Günter Berghaus

    The fame and success of Weimar cabaret were founded predominantly on its socially critical and culturally opositional quality. Most of this work was produced by left-wing authors, who after Hitler’s seizure of power had to flee into exile in order to save their skins. After 1933, cabaret did not die out in Germany, but it was only the innocuous entertainment version that was allowed to flourish, interspersed here and there with a few tits-and-bums shows.
    Despite the system of repression that was erected by the Nazis in both the political and the cultural spheres, pockets of resistance continued to exist right up until the Second World war. One of the most notorious Nazi butchers, Julius Streicher, issued a warning: ‘Should it happen again that a cabarettist makes fun of a political leader, we shall close the shop on him. I shall annihilate any such impertinent prattler. If I again hear reports of people circumventing the rules which the Fuhrer does not want ignored, I shall take them to task and there will be serious consequences’.
    One such impertinent cabarettist was Werner Finck. Born in 1902, he had initially tried his luck at becoming an actor in legitimate theatre. ‘I went to audition for the role of Hamlet and immediately got an engagement – as a light comedian’, he recalls in his autobiography, Alter Narr-was nun (Munich: 1972, all quotes are taken from that edition). From 1929 to 1933 he ran the Katakombe, a typical literary cabaret of the period. The theatre survival after 1933, but contrary to the general trend of the period, it became more rather than less political. The critic Frederich Luft remembered: ‘Finck made political cabaret when all others made only just cabaret. People went there to see how he would manage to get his neck out of the noose again. It was an exhilarating experience, observing him venture on to the high wire without a safety net underneath’.
    Finck described the transition from Weimar to Nazi cabaret: ‘Instead of walking down into a cellar, our guests had to step up on to the first floor – an unusual case of a catacomb situated above floor level. Here we made literary-political cabaret. I knew a few things about literature, but next to nothing about politics. I only knew that in a cabaret one had to be a leftist. So I became a leftist, at least in the evening. My heart

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