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A: Peter Weiss Pf: 1965, Berlin, 15 other German theatres, and ‘reading’ in London Pb: 1965 Tr: 1966 G: Documentary drama in 11 scenes; German verse S: Courtroom, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1964 C: 28m, 2fIn 11 ‘cantos’, the proceedings of the 1964 investigation into the atrocities committed at the Auschwitz Nazi extermination camp in Poland are re-enacted. A judge, prosecutor, and defence counsel cross-examine nine witnesses and 18 defendants over the killing of some four million people at the camp. The anonymous witnesses describe the camp: the rail heads, the gas chambers, the crematoria, the beatings and the medical experiments, concluding that ‘what they did | could not have been carried out | without the support of millions of others’. Grotesque details are given, e.g. that in the ‘sanatorium’ an aspirin was hung on a thread. Those with a temperature were allowed one lick, those with fever two. The accused, who are all named, deny their guilt, claiming that they were merely following orders. They sometimes applaud each other and laugh at the testimony of the witnesses.

A: Peter Weiss Pf: 1965, Berlin, 15 other German theatres, and ‘reading’ in London Pb: 1965 Tr: 1966 G: Documentary drama in 11 scenes; German verse S: Courtroom, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1964 C: 28m, 2f

This was the first attempt by a German writer to address squarely the most shameful episode of Germany's – and Europe's – recent past, the Holocaust. Significantly, Weiss abandoned the wild theatricality of his successful Marat/Sade to present the material in as cool and objective a form as possible. Using only court transcripts, together with notes he himself made at the trial, Weiss showed how almost wholly authentic documentary drama could create absorbing theatre. Its simultaneous opening at 16 theatres across West and East Germany gave its staging something of the function of a national act of penance.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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