Performing Captivity, Performing Escape
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The concentration camp and Jewish ghetto at Terezín, or Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic, was a site of enormous suffering, fear, and death; but in the midst of this was a thriving and desperately vibrant cultural life. While the children’s drawings and musical pieces created in the ghetto have become justly famous, the prisoners’ theatrical works, though a lesser-known aspect of their artistic endeavors, deserves serious attention as well.
Performing Captivity, Performing Escape collects eleven theatrical texts―cabaret songs and sketches, historical and verse dramas, puppet plays, and a Purim play―written by Czech and Austrian Jews. Together these works reveal the wide range of ways in which the prisoners engaged with and escaped from life in the ghetto through performance. The anthology opens with an insightful preface by novelist Ivan Klíma, who was interned in the ghetto as a child, and contains a detailed introduction by editor Lisa Peschel about the pre-war theatrical influences and wartime conditions that inspired the theater of the ghetto.
The array of theatrical forms collected in Performing Captivity, Performing Escape speaks of the prisoners’ persistence of hope in a harrowing time and is moving read for not for all.
‘Performing Captivity, Performing Escape is a fascinating, heartbreaking, frequently witty collection that has been translated with love and care, and that brings to light art that has heretofore been hidden. When you add the essays, thorough biographical notes, and beautiful, evocative artwork, you end up with a powerful portrait of a tragic era in Central European history and of the power of art to ameliorate suffering.’―Austrian Studies Newsmagazine
‘Peschel’s beautifully-produced, edited Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín Ghetto is a valuable addition to scholarship related to the cultural heritage of the Holocaust: theatre art produced in situ at camps and ghettos during the years 1933–1945. Peschel’s collection assembles for the first time in English play texts from the ghetto’s Czech and Austrian repertoire between 1942 and 1944. The book’s mosaic structure with its plentiful photographs and archival documents allows readers to engage with interconnected details of a performer’s biography, the context within which the text was written, performed, and translated. In this way, we gain insight into the vital cultural life of Terezín as well as its legacy. Peschel’s meticulous research on Terezín includes the assistance of surviving performer-witnesses to translate and recreate the play texts. This benefits cultural historians and theatre practitioners alike who wish to understand something about the performers and their performances, with an eye to re-staging the texts on today’s stages.’―Rebecca Rovit, author of The Jewish Kulturbund Theatre Company in Nazi Berlin