The mood surrounding Kander and Ebbs Cabaret can best be described as a dance on the volcano. Such is the backdrop that Clifford Bradshaw finds himself in as he negotiates the seedy streets and sex soaked side alleys of Berlin in the 1920s and 30s. As Cliff maneuvers his life abroad, he is drawn to the Kit Kat Klub. Ultimately, the entertainment at the Kit Kat Klub serves Cliff not only as an escape from the events transpiring in and around Berlin, but as a commentary on the grim realities of the moment.
Berlin and Germany as a whole were constantly shifting and realigning itself along social lines. With rapid changes in the government and the rise in power of the Nazi party, a wide variety of groups would come under heavy amounts of persecution and hatred. The two groups we will focus on here will be the LGBT and Jewish communities and how they were treated with the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Third Reich.
The LGBT Community
In 1934, a special German Gestapo (Secret State Police) division on homosexuals was created. One of its first acts was to create police “pink lists” from all over Germany. The police had been compiling these lists of suspected homosexual men since 1900. On September 1, 1935, a harsher, amended version of Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, went into effect, punishing a broad range of “lewd and lascivious” behavior between LGBT men and women. For a full description of Paragraph 175 click here.
In 1936, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler created a Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. The linking of homosexuality and abortion reflected the Nazi regimes population policies to promote a higher birthrate of its “Aryan” population.
An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were arrested and sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps. The uniforms of those sentenced as homosexuals bore various identifying marks, including a large black dot and a large “175” drawn on the back of the jacket. Later a pink triangular patch appeared.
Conditions in the camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. Many survivors have testified that men with pink triangles were often treated particularly severely by guards and inmates alike because of widespread biases against homosexuals.
After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps.
The Jewish Community
Jews experienced a period of legal equality from 1848 until the rise of Nazi Germany. In the opinion of historian Fritz Stern, by the end of the 19th century, what had emerged was a Jewish-German symbiosis, where German Jews had merged elements of German and Jewish culture into a unique new one.
In October 1916, the German Military High Command administered the Judenzählung (census of Jews.) Designed to confirm accusations of the lack of patriotism among German Jews, the census disproved the charges, but its results were not made public. Denounced as a “statistical monstrosity,” the census was a catalyst to intensified anti-Semitism.)
In 1935 and 1936, the pace of persecution of the Jews increased. In May 1935, Jews were forbidden to join the Armed Force, and that year, anti-Jewish propaganda appeared in Nazi German shops and restaurants. The Nuremberg Racial Purity Laws were passed around the time of the Nazi rallies at Nuremberg; On September 15, 1935, the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor was passed, preventing sexual relations and marriages between Aryans and Jews. At the same time, the Reich Citizenship Law was passed and was reinforced in November by a decree, stating that all Jews, even quarter- and half-Jews, were no longer citizens of their own country (their official status became “subject of the state”). This meant that they had no basic civil rights, such as that to vote. This removal of basic citizens’ rights preceded harsher laws to be passed in the future against Jews.
The Nazi persecution of the Jews culminated in the Holocaust, in which approximately 6 million European Jews were deported and murdered during World War II. On May 19, 1943, Germany was declared judenrein (clean of Jews; free of Jews).
For more information about Signature Theatre’s production of Cabaret please contact our Box Office at 703 820 9771 or visit our website here.