Category: The Investigation (3)
In the midst of rehearsals for his play Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss went to Frankfurt to sit in on sessions of the Frankfurt-Auschwitz trial. It was March 1964. The trial was a landmark event: although preceded by the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the Federal Republic’s case against 22 former SS officers stationed at the concentration camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau was the first German accounting on German soil for Nazi war crimes.
Over the course of 183 days, hundreds of witnesses offered detailed, exhaustive, and devastating testimony about the camp at Auschwitz. Working from his own notes and journalist Bernd Naumann’s daily dispatches for the Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung, Weiss first created and published a short sketch, titled Frankfurter Auszuge (Frankfurt Excerpts), a collaged text based on the trial testimony. The short sketch featured and satirized the defendants’ behavior in court, highlighting the perverse theatricality of their histrionic denials, courtroom obsequiousnes, and self-representation as victims of the trial.
For Weiss, the defendents’ courtroom theatrics were reflective of a larger attitude, a general culture of denial. In the 20 years between Hitler’s defeat and the Auschwitz trial, the Federal Republic had busied itself with economic recovery and forgetting. Public reception of the trial revealed a certain fatigue on the part of most Germans—they were tired of the past. In a poll conducted at the time of the trial, almost 60 percent of respondents stated that they thought further investigations into the Nazi past were “unncesssary.” Like many of the defendants, they wanted to get on with the business of their lives, to live in peace for whatever time they had left. But for Weiss, the need for Vergangenheitsbewaltigung—a reckoning with the past—had only become more pressing. In December of 1964, he visited Auschwitz. Soon after, he began work on The Investigation, expanding the documentary format of the Frankfurt Excerpts. Read more »
When it comes to reaching the truth, the adversary is more valuable than whoever voices one’s agreement.
—Karl Jaspers, “La Culpabilité allemande” [The German Guilt]
As in all legal proceedings, the speakers have a right to speak so that, through their statements, the truth can spring and light up the court, the jury, and history. Just as in any other trial, there is more than one version of what happened, since each person has their own version. In 1964, nineteen years after the [Auschwitz] camp liberation, a trial started in Frankfurt.
Why this dressing-up? Why have these Rwandan artists, rather than telling the story of their own genocide, which is still hardly known worldwide, prefer to work on the genocide of the Jews, which has been featured in plays and on the screen time and again? Maybe because dressing-up belongs to the essence of theater and perhaps it allows a special way of telling the truth. Read more »