In September of 1970 my U.S. Army officer husband and I arrived in Munich to be stationed at McGraw Kaserne at the same time that the nearby every-10-years Oberammergau Passion Play festival was considering whether the production was antisemitic.
Ever since then this festival has been of interest to me. Now in July of 2022 I finally had the opportunity to see the Oberammergau Passion Play for myself. (The 2020 production had been postponed for two years because of the Covid pandemic.)
At the performance I used the English translation booklet provided to follow the German-language presentation of “The Oberammergau Play of the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth.”
The elaborate costume production ran 2 ½ hours for the first half with an intermission for dinner and then another 2 ½ hours for the second half. The pageant consisted of a mixture of choir singing, re-enactment of the account, and beautiful scene tableaus, especially of Biblical accounts that somewhat paralleled segments of the Passion Play.
Several different kinds of live animals had walk-on parts. And I noticed that the young children were only in the first part of the pageant; presumably they were in bed for the second half, which ran late.
The forward of the English translation booklet of the Passion Play includes this information:
The original text of the play was written by Pastor Joseph Daisenberger (1799-1883). However larger passages have already been changed for the last three performances. The current production also has many rewritten parts of the original text, which Christian Stueckl (director since 1990) often reformulates even during rehearsals.
In addition to participating residents of Oberammergau, he also sought advice from representatives of Jewish organizations who have shown great interest in the fact that the play correctly depicts unique religious and cultural aspects of the Jewish religion, to avoid the antisemitic overtones coming to the fore, as has occurred far too often in history. The people of Oberammergau fully support this goal.
On the same European trip — this time in Salzburg — I had another positive experience of Germans or Austrians facing their antisemitism:
During a group tour of Salzburg I walked across a pedestrian bridge lined with information posters (English on one side, German on the other side) about Jews in Salzburg.
The guide said that Austrians had to accept that they were not victims (a reference to being annexed into the Third Reich in March of 1938 before the start of WWII). He said they had to accept that they participated in the Holocaust, and that it was important for Austrians that they recognized this.
The bridge (Steg in German) crossing the Salzach River in Salzburg – formerly named the Makartsteg after Hans Makart, a painter born in Salzburg in 1840 – had been renamed in 2021 for Marko Feingold, a Holocaust survivor and the “embodiment of Jewish life in Salzburg.”
One of the bridge signs states: “Jews were banished from Salzburg in 1498.” Another sign about the Medieval Jewish community in Salzburg states: “Until 1498, it was subject time and again to expulsions and grave persecutions.”
Salzburg is a town closely associated with the movie “The Sound of Music.” Even at the arranged lunch we were serenaded with songs from the musical. Yet while many of us remember the beautiful songs, many of us forget what the story based on the real von Trapp family was about:
The Austrian naval officer Georg von Trapp refused to serve in the military for the Third Reich. He and his family risked their lives to escape the Nazis.
This trip also provided the opportunity to re-visit the location of McGraw Kaserne, checking out the street of Tegernseer Landstrasse where the Russian spy stood out in the cold to watch the U.S. Army Military Intelligence officers and their wives arrive at the Officer’s Club for the 1971 New Year’s Day reception.
For an interesting place to visit now – opened in May 2015 at the site of the former Brown House, the Nazi Party headquarters – I highly recommend the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism. Very informative and free admission. Check out the website at www.nsdoku.de/
NEVER AGAIN IS NOW podcast:
While co-host Evelyn Markus and I are on a summer break, you can watch or listen to all 55 episodes on YouTube, Spotify or Apple Podcasts. All three program links are at www.millermosaicllc.com/podcast-never-again-is-now/