Controversial: The Chemnitz Staging of “The Eternal Road” (III)

A modest contra to the assessment of the Chemnitz staging of Weill’s and Werfel’s “The Eternal Road” by Jonathan C. Friedman

By Thomas Ziegner

For a medium-sized regional newspaper, the “Südwestpresse”, which appears in Ulm, I wrote about the Chemnitz performance nearly twenty years ago. A longer preliminary report was rejected by a Freiburg Sunday newspaper, as too long and too hermetic. I refused to cut or to simplify. Parts of this preliminary report have then appeared on Europe’s largest Jewish website, I knew its founder, David Gall (1956-2014). He visited me in Rottenburg, and we had heated-friendly discussions about the editorial work … The text is almost unchanged on now. Even in the haGalil version of 1999, I would have liked to have precise footnotes (David had a footnote allergy), indicating the sources. The notes have been lost to me, but at least the most important reference literature is now called.

Not yet published was a book by Jonathan C. Friedman:”The Literary, Cultural and Historical Significance of the 1937 Biblical Stage Play The Eternal Road. NY, 2004 (The Edwin Mellen Press). Instead of a review: The book by Prof. Friedman is useful for anyone who deals with the work and also shows highly relevant interfaces to other social and cultural scientific topics. It reads with pleasure and learning effects alike.

All the more disappointing are Mr. Friedman’s short passages about the 1999 Chemnitz production and its reception. He disliked the costumes (did he see them, or at least pictures of them?) The scenery was too simple for him, bizarre the project, because it had too well reflected the complex genesis of the work. (p.123)

A dramaturgy that refrained from reflecting on the genesis and the history of the time would have been completely wrong for the German social-cultural climate. The German press commentaries quoted by Mr. Friedman from an essay by Tamara Levitz comes from some of the most miserable papers of the time, boulevard (tabloid) the one (Berliner Morgenpost), badly reactionary the other (Die Welt, meanwhile has changed for the better).

Even relevant for atheists

The fact that some authors wrote that Reinhardt, Weill and Werfel had only remembered their Jewish life after the rise of Hitler seems to Levitz and Friedman to accuse these authors as if their claim was wrong. But it is rather correct, and you do not have to look for evidence for it. Not only the Eternal Road trio, but thinkers and artists of Adorno, Theodor W. to Zuckmayer, Carl, were forced to rethink their descent and its implications. And some goyim are said to be secretly embarrassed, if in their descent not a single Jewish part was to be found.
Friedman fails to recognize the grim irony of the only serious German critic he cites, Hans Klaus Jungheinrich. He wrote that Hitler had been an “involuntary Zionist,” and that without the nazi-terror, neither Weill nor Schoenberg would have given up their German or Austrian identity. With the latter Jungheinrich is most likely right.

Meyer W. Weisgal, idea giver and producer, conceived the work in response to the German-Nazi state terror. Jewish self-esteem should be articulated. That succeeded. And yet, the work can not be reduced to that. How impressive are the prophetic figures of the Old Testament, men, representing the divine law. This also interests gojim; even atheists. Ernst Bloch thought about “Atheism in Christianity, Christianity in Atheism”. Would the world literature of the last centuries be adequately understood without at least fragmentary knowledge of the Bible, including the Old Testament? At any rate, the predominantly non-Jewish audience in Chemnitz was overwhelmed by their eyes and ears. The staging was better than its reputation.