Date of this Version
Kosmas: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal 29:1 (2017), 78-81
Performing Captivity, Performing Escape. Cabarets and Plays from the Terezin/Theresienstadt Ghetto presents Lisa Peschel’s edited, revised, and translated into English Divadelní texty z terezínského ghetta/ Theatretexte aus dem Ghetto Theresienstadt, 1941-1945.
Terezín/Theresienstadt was unusual in that it served as a ghetto with an attached prison, as well as a concentration camp. The Nazi propaganda used this camp to convince the world that life was “normal” in this supposed Jewish resettlement area. For this reason, they allowed cultural life to take place. Peschel’s work is an anthology of selected texts originating there. It contains cabarets, puppet play scripts, as well as historical and verse dramas, poems, songs, and satirical radio programs. It embraces humorous as well as serious texts, couplets, songs, radio sketches, even children’s texts. Witnesses’ and research commentaries, as well as extensive bibliographies, accompany the cited writings.
Famously, the camp was portrayed in two films intended to deceive the Red Cross and the world public about the true nature of Theresienstadt. Though “formally approved,” cultural activities there were censored, limited, and conditioned. Ironically, the performances allowed prisoners to experience moments of “normal life,” although many prisoners met their death in the camp or were sent to death on the transports. This small fort town, built in the 1780s, was designed to host a population of 7,000. Nevertheless, when used as a Jewish resettlement, the population at its peak reached 60,000 prisoners, creating extremely harsh living conditions with lack of space, water, food, sanitation, and a large death toll (33,000), even though it never served as an extermination camp.