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Competing Germanies

Competing Germanies: Nazi, Antifascist, and Jewish Theater in German Argentina, 1933–1965

Robert Kelz
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    Competing Germanies
    Book Description:

    Following World War II, German antifascists and nationalists in Buenos Aires believed theater was crucial to their highly politicized efforts at community-building, and each population devoted considerable resources to competing against its rival onstage.Competing Germanies tracks the paths of several stage actors from European theaters to Buenos Aires and explores how two of Argentina's most influential immigrant groups, German nationalists and antifascists (Jewish and non-Jewish), clashed on the city's stages. Covered widely in German- and Spanish-language media, theatrical performances articulated strident Nazi, antifascist, and Zionist platforms. Meanwhile, as their thespian representatives grappled onstage for political leverage among emigrants and Argentines, behind the curtain, conflicts simmered within partisan institutions and among theatergoers. Publicly they projected unity, but offstage nationalist, antifascist, and Zionist populations were rife with infighting on issues of political allegiance, cultural identity and, especially, integration with their Argentine hosts.

    Competing Germanies reveals interchange and even mimicry between antifascist and nationalist German cultural institutions. Furthermore, performances at both theaters also fit into contemporary invocations of diasporas, including taboos and postponements of return to the native country, connections among multiple communities, and forms of longing, memory, and (dis)identification. Sharply divergent at first glance, their shared condition as cultural institutions of emigrant populations caused the antifascist Free German Stage and the nationalist German Theater to adopt parallel tactics in community-building, intercultural relationships, and dramatic performance.

    Its cross-cultural, polyglot blend of German, Jewish, and Latin American studies givesCompeting Germanies a wide, interdisciplinary academic appeal and offers a novel intervention in Exile studies through the lens of theater, in which both victims of Nazism and its adherents remain in focus.

    eISBN: 978-1-5017-3987-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, European Studies, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Argentina’s Competing German Theaters
    (pp. 3-26)

    Reprinted in the widely read Argentine newspaper La Razón, Joseph Goebbels’s speech at the 1938 Reich Theater Week pinpointed the root of the bitter conflict that had enveloped German Buenos Aires at least since 1933.¹ Celebrating the Nazification of Austrian theater, Goebbels asserted that, essentially, claims to German identity were not defined by political boundaries, but rather were contingent upon national affection and cultural representation. Not only did Goebbels underscore the importance of culture in National Socialist visions of Germanness, but he unwittingly bolstered the position of exiled German antifascists, who posited themselves as the true representatives of Germany by...

  2. 1 German Buenos Aires Asunder
    (pp. 27-57)

    German emigration to Argentina has a history as old as the city of Buenos Aires itself. According to popular legend one of the original four founders of the city in 1536 was the German adventurer Ulrich Schmidl, who is celebrated for this feat in the drama Utz Schmidl (1940), penned by another German emigrant, Werner Hoffmann. Larger waves of German emigrants reached the River Plate in the latter third of the nineteenth century and peaked when hyperinflation ravaged Germany after World War I. Argentina had remained neutral in the conflict, which is attributable to the profitable business of exporting agricultural...

  3. 2 Theater on the Move: Routes to Buenos Aires
    (pp. 58-90)

    Ludwig Ney was born into a German military family in the village of Landau on May 29, 1901. The son of an officer, Ney was inspired to become as actor during his days as a cadet. Ney participated in a local theater project while stationed near the Baltic Sea and immediately realized that his future lay not in the army, but on the stage. Like his rival in Buenos Aires, Paul Walter Jacob, Ney faced vehement opposition from his family when he told them of his decision. He was forced to flee home, and at the age of twenty was...

  4. 3 Staging Dissidence: The Free German Stage
    (pp. 91-170)

    When planning his escape from Europe, Paul Walter Jacob had every intention of continuing his career in theater.¹ Upon arrival in Argentina he made contacts with numerous antifascists in the country, most importantly Ernesto Alemann, owner and editor of the antitotalitarian Argentinisches Tageblatt. On January 19, 1939, the Tageblatt printed an article celebrating the composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Written by “Paul Walter,” the piece initiated a close professional and personal relationship between Jacob and Alemann. When Jacob suggested forming a German-language stage, the Tageblatt owner glimpsed a possibility to deploy theater as a cohesive force among antifascists and refugees on...

  5. 4 Hyphenated Hitlerism: Transatlantic Nazism Confronts Cultural Hybridity
    (pp. 171-225)

    Nazi officialdom wasted little time conscripting dramatic performances into their efforts to foment enthusiasm for Hitler’s regime among Germans in Argentina. On April 5, 1934, the Deutsche La Plata Zeitung announced plans for a guest performance by the starstudded German Drama ensemble, featuring Gerda Müller, Eugen Klöpfer, and Käthe Dorsch, under the direction of Heinz Hilpert.¹ As it was a stridently nationalist paper, the La Plata Zeitung’s propagandistic intent was clear from the outset. Before the celebrity cast had even departed for South America, the paper reported that its rehearsals were preparations for an upcoming cultural “victory” of the new...

  6. 5 Enduring Competition: German Theater in Argentina, 1946–1965
    (pp. 226-288)

    After rising to power in the military and then as minister of labor and vice president, Juan Domingo Perón was elected president of Argentina in 1946 and held power until late 1955 primarily by advocating for the nation’s lower classes. Catalyzed by Eva Perón, the government granted women’s suffrage and funded an array of social welfare programs, subsidizing workers’ access to housing, health care, education, and leisure activities. At the same time, the regime purged dissidents from the government, media, and education sectors. Controversially, Perón encouraged European immigration to Argentina, particularly from Germany. From 1945 to 1955 approximately 400,000 Europeans...

  7. Epilogue
    (pp. 289-316)

    There can be no question that from the 1930s through the 1960s Buenos Aires was a volatile, conflict-ridden place. To an extent, the city’s German populations mirrored their hosts, who also were in nearly constant political and social turmoil. The polarization of Argentine society allowed both antifascist and nationalist German blocs to cultivate intercultural alliances without modifying many aspects of their own political platform. The competition among emigrants to define German culture also was shaped by events in Europe, including German dramatic theory, Bonn’s domestic and foreign policies, and new waves of emigration to Argentina. Neither off- nor onstage were...