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May 11, 1984 - Image 30

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-05-11

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Friday, May 11, 1984





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Toronto (JTA) — A
Jewish historian and a
Jewish philosopher are both
highly critical of the 1984
version of Passion Play
which will be staged this
summer in the West Ger-
man village of Oberammer-
gau. It will mark the 350th
anniversary of the first
production of the play by the
Ever since 1634, the
people of Oberammergau in
Bavaria have kept a prom-
ise made at the time when
their village was
threatened by a plague "to
keep the tragedy of the pas-
sion (of Jesus) every 10
years." The dominant
theme of the play has not
been that the evil Jews
crucified Jesus.
Saul Friedman, professor
of history at Youngstown
(Ohio) State University, the
author of No Hope for t'e
Oppressed and Pogror--:hik ,
and the author of soon to
be released bookon thePas-
sion Play. ...s the play,
which ;. expected to be seen
by lore than 500,000 spec-
Lators this summer, will be
substantially the same ver-
sion presented in the village
in 1980.
"On the scale of anti-
Semitism, where Der
Sturmer is 100 and the
Sermon on the Mount is 0, I
would say the 1980 play at
40," Friedman says. "But it
is much improved over 1970
where the text was 70 in
While Friedman is not to-
tally satisfied with the new
expurgated version of the
play — which tends to por-
tray Jews as the people of
Judas, rather than Jesus —
he says that many of the
improvements came about
r\f_titc, crrInd will of
gau. That good will has not
gone far enough, however,
he observes, since there are
still distinctly anti-Jewish
resonances in the latest ver-
Friedman indicates that
the village's former mayor,
Ernst Zwink, one of the
most helpful forces in the
purging of the original text,
has died and his death has
removed some of the
urgency of the text's re-
In a preface to Friedman's
new book, Obergammergau,
philosopher Emil Fac-
kenheim, a professor at the
Institute for Contemporary
Jewish Studies, says that
the 1934 version of the play
belies the assertion made by
many defenders of
Oberammergau that
Nazism never really pene-
trated the play. He states:
"We say the 1934 Nazi
version because, contrary to
all the apologies offered
after 1945, to the effect that
Nazism never penetrated
Oberammergau, the spirit

Emile Fackenheim

of Nazism is unmist-i(ablY
present in the F icture of
money-greed)' plotting,
bloodthin-?'Y Jews, coupled
nea tfr with the claim that
n ,,v, anno 1934, Christians
are redeemed from them
and their machinations."
Fackenheim concedes
that the 1980 "cleaned up"
version (which will be the
text offered this summer)
has eliminated some of the
more "overtly offensive ex-
pressions and ideas." But
both Friedman and Fac-
kenheim concur in their
assessment of the real prob-
lem with the Oberammer-
gau spectacle. The play
shows no evidence of what
Fackenheim calls "a fun-
damental metanoia." This
term has been inadequately
translated in English as
"repentance." Fackenheim
says in his preface: "The
1934 version of the
Oberammergau damns the
Jews explicitly. In the 1980
version this damnation is
still implicitly present."
In his book, Friedman
identified no less than eight
clearly anti-Jewish
stereotypes found in the
aricious money-ienaers,
vengeful opponents of
Jesus, spiteful rabbis and
pharisees, and Jewish mobs
shrieking for blood.
Friedman also reports in
his book that in discussions
with Catholic theologians,
he was told that it takes
time for reconsiderations
about Jewish culpability to
be reflected in the popular
consciousness. The result
of the Second Vatican
Council in 1962 has not yet
succeeded in reaching to-
tally the Oberammergau
In his preface, Fac-
kenheim scores this apolo-
getic tendency. "Just how
long will it take for ,the or-
dinary Christian or German
to take notice. And in the
meantime, are new seeds of
the old hatred being sown,
for some future explosion —
and a new catastrophe for
Christianity, no less than
for Judaism and the Jewish
Fackenheim identifies
one Catholic theologian in

Germany who has spoken
out on the need for Germans
to realize what they have
done to their Jewish citi-
zens, Johann Baptist Metz.
Even after the war, Metz
said that the Jews remained
a vague cliche and that
one's views were derived at
best from Oberammergau."
Christians must at long
last listen to Jews. says
Metz. "This moral recollec-
tion of the persecution of the
Jews touches lastly the re-
lation of the people of this
country to the state of Is-
r poi. In this respect we have
no choice, and I insist in this
point over against my leftist
friends," Metz declares.
"After the Jews were car-
ried in our most recent his-
tory to the brink of total an-
nihilation, we should be the
last people in the world to
accuse Jews of an excessive
desire for security.
"We should be the very
first to claim that they de-
fend their state, not because
of "Zionist imperialism" but
rather as a "house against
death," as the very last
place of refuge of a people
persecuted for centuries."
Fackenheim concludes
his preface to Friedman's
new book on Oberammer-
gau by suggesting that it is
doubtful whether the play
could really survive the
kind of metanoia or repen-
tance demanded by theolo-
gians such as Metz. The
only possibility for the sur-
vival of the play, says Fac-
kenheim, is if the following
words of Metz are heeded:
"We Christians will never
get back behind Auschwitz.
And we will get beyond it,
not alone and by ourselves,
but ofh6lL rii pntirn

Nun urges
boycott of play

Toronto (JTA)
Catholic nun is urging
people not to go to the West
German village of
Oberammergau in Bavaria
this summer to see the Pas-
sion Play. "To go would be to
participate in a play more of
prejudice than of piety," Sis-
ter Mary Jo Leddy of To-
ronto wrote in a column re-
cently in the Toronto Star.

Oberammergau "has be-
come a place of prejudice
rather than of piety," she
wrote. "Why? Because of the
anti-Semitic content of the
play produced there.
Hitler himself recog-
nized this. The play
was a favorite of his.
He believed the drama pro-
vided the religious under-
pinning of his racist anti,],
Jewish policies."

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