Theatre and Film, Johnny Carson School of


Date of this Version



Published in Theatre Annual 51 (1998): 15-26. Copyright © 1998 by The College of William and Mary. Used by permission.


Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers' Party were obsessed with keeping the German theatre tradition vital and maintaining Berlin as a "cultural metropolis" after Hitler's appointment as Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933. Upholding a dynamic and energetic cultural life for the nation was a task for which National Socialism, as a political movement embodying the "will of the people," felt itself eminently well qualified. The Nazis, therefore, began almost as soon as they took over the reins of government in Germany to support theatre as an art form and theatres as institutions to an extent unprecedented in German history. Though they had condemned much of the comedy prevalent in the Weimar Republic as decadent and perverse, they had no desire to remove comedy from German stages, but rather to reform it completely; indeed, they assigned comedy an important role in the task of "re-awakening the spirit of the people" because comedy "came from the heart." It "sprang from the depths of the peoples' roots as a nation, and it unites us as a people," according to one cultural panjandrum in a 1936 treatise titled "Culture in Service to the Nation," by Wilhelm Westecker. Westecker went on to demand that German comedy of the future should resemble that of either Hans Sachs in sixteenth-century Nuremberg or Ferdinand Raimund in nineteenth- century Vienna. The "new Germany," he said, needed a new kind of comedy, one distinct from the "civilized filth" of comedies popular in the Weimar Republic. That kind of comedy (one based on improbable situations and distinguished by witty dialogue) was not only filthy, another critic remarked; it had occasioned "enormous damage to the integrity of the German people" because it exposed "life-sustaining values" to "cheap, easy laughter."