Theatre in the Third Reich, the Prewar Years, Essays on Theatre in Nazi Germany, Edited by Glen W. Gadberry

Article excerpt

Theatre in the Third Reich, the Prewar Years, Essays on Theatre in Nazi Germany, edited by Glen W. Gadberry

There were few subjects on which Hitler did not consider himself an expert. This was especially true when it came to cultural affairs. Although his tastes remained quite petit bourgeois -- the Führer preferred entertainment for its own sake, the kitschier the better -- as dictator of Germany he had to insist on the propagation of high culture, albeit one that would follow the official tribal values of his regime. This imperative was reflected in the politicization of everything from Wagnerian operas (about whose production the Führer had fixed opinions) across to classic German drama. But such classical fare was usually performed to certain fixed traditional standards. Therefore, only in the more proletarian genres, such as that of the stage review and the cinema, was the regime really able to call the shots, and only here did a universal Hitlerian version of socialist realism really emerge.

Shortly after the Nazi accession to power, the Führer's Council of United German Culture and Art Organizations was established with Culture Chambers which had the authority to control the entire entertainment industry.

However, the establishment of a new theater aesthetic was not easy. Depending on the personal whims of such prima donnas as Joseph Paul Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg, Hermann Göring, as well as various lesser satraps, standards often fluctuated between ideology and art. For example, propaganda minister Goebbels thought that Nazi entertainment should be non-sentimental, manly, and heroic in tone and show "steelhard" romanticism. It must be accessible to all, create a soothing sense of stability, and promote the solidity of the regime. Drama had to reflect life the way the regime wanted it to be, not the way it was. Hitler, on the other hand, liked less ideological fare. Three of his favorite movies were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone with the Wind, and King Kong, and he adored Viennese operetta.

The eleven essays in this book try to make sense of this National Socialist theatrical Byzantium. While they do not pretend to treat their subject comprehensively -- the chapters often come at the reader from different directions -- they collectively add up to a satisfying whole nonetheless. And they are all the more welcome since there is a relative absence of material written about theatre under the Nazis. A few examples can illustrate the book's general scope and diversity.

"Theatre in Detmold 1933-1939: A Case Study of Provincial Theatre During the Nazi Prewar Era" shows how a regional repertory theater with a strong tradition "swiftly and seemingly without serious objection or defiance, acquiesced to the new order and structure of the Third Reich cultural agenda." Author Ron Engle claims that such a smooth transformation was characteristic of the way other such theaters conducted their affairs.

The Nazi career of actor Werner Krauss is related in "Werner Krauss and the Third Reich." Krauss, the leading actor in the expressionistic classic Das Kabinett von Dr. …