Shylock in Buchenwald

Hanan Snir’s Israeli-German Production (Weimar 1995)

in European Judaism
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Can The Merchant of Venice be performed in Germany after the Holocaust, and if so, how? Is the claim that the play is a touchstone for German-Jewish relations, with a philosemitic tradition – and therefore eligible to be performed today – verifiable? The article begins by briefly surveying this tradition from the Jewish emancipation in the mid-eighteenth century, which, with a few relapses, continued – especially in productions directed by Jews and/or with Jewish actors in the role of Shylock – until the rise of the Nazi regime, to be resumed after the Second World War. The main part analyses a test case, staged by the Israeli director Hanan Snir at the Weimar National Theatre (1995), and intended rhetorically to avenge the Holocaust on the German audience: Merchant as a viciously antisemitic play-within-a-play, directed by SS personnel in the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp with eventually murdered Jewish inmates compelled to play the Jewish parts.

European Judaism

A Journal for the New Europe