Based on external research commissions awarded by the Palast in 2019 on the occasion of the stage anniversary, a trilogy is gradually being created that reviews 57 eventful years of the Palast’s history from 1933 to 1990. The first volume, “Dein Tänzer ist der Tod” (Your Dancer is Death), was published by BeBra Verlag on 2 March 2023 and deals with the period of the Nazi dictatorship.
Fig. above: typgerecht berlin | Photo: ullstein bild
In the more than 100-year stage history of today’s Friedrichstadt-Palast Berlin, the Nazi era is the darkest chapter: founded in 1919 by the Jewish theatre genius Max Reinhardt, the Großes Schauspielhaus was renamed the “Theater des Volkes” in 1934 and came under the direct control of Joseph Goebbelsʼ, Reich Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, and the National Socialist entertainment organisation “Kraft durch Freude” (KdF). Until 1944, the house was the largest propaganda stage of the Third Reich. In 1947 it was given its present name: Friedrichstadt-Palast.
The stage history of the Palast began on 29 November 1919. On the occasion of the stage anniversary “A Century of the Palast” in 2019, it was a significant concern of the artistic director Dr. Berndt Schmidt to have the role of the house during the National Socialist era comprehensively reviewed.
The author of the first volume of the trilogy on the history of the palace is the historian Sabine Schneller. She studied modern history, sociology and journalism and works as a freelance author after many years in adult political education. Intendant Berndt Schmidt appointed Guido Herrmann, administrative director and authorised signatory of the Palast, as curator of the anniversary season 2019/20 and, as part of this task, also as editor of the series of publications.
Sabine Schneller looks at history: “I have always been concerned with the darkest period of German history. The book about the Nazi past of the world’s largest theatre stage is a project of the heart with special significance for me.”
Guido Herrmann: “Since there were supposedly only a few clues to the history of the Theatre of the People, the project of a research assignment arose. From painstakingly gathered building blocks, the picture of a suppressed time of this Berlin theatre has emerged. With its publication, a dark era is brought back into the light of day. Because remembering must not be backward-looking, but always present.”
In his foreword to Volume 1, the artistic director and managing director of the Palast, Dr Berndt Schmidt, emphasises the deep involvement of the theatre in the Nazi terror regime: “As the largest theatre in the Reich, we made our contribution to artistically covering up and supporting the criminals and their crimes. Anyone who plays along is complicit.”
In his foreword, he describes the self-perception of many German theatres, concert halls and operas after 1945 that they were “apolitical” in the Third Reich and “upheld the humanism of the classics in the midst of omnipresent barbarism” as a “whitewash” and says: “This hypocritical theatre often continues to have an effect today. The truth is: German theatres strengthened morale at the front and home front through their performances, we were important to the war.”
Your dancer is death.
The Berlin “Theater des Volkes” under National Socialism
Author: Sabine Schneller
BeBra Publishing House
288 pages, 60 b/w illustrations
Format (W x L): 17 x 24.3 cm
Weight: 844 g