Performing Captivity, Performing Escape

Cabarets and Plays from the Terezin/Theresienstadt Ghetto

Edited and with an Introduction by Lisa Peschel

Performing Captivity, Performing Escape

Edited and with an Introduction by Lisa Peschel

Distributed for Seagull Books

With a Preface by Ivan Klíma
446 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 7 1/2 | © 2014
Paper $25.00 ISBN: 9780857420008 Published April 2014 World sales rights except India

The concentration camp and Jewish ghetto at Terezín, or Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic, was a site of enormous suffering, fear, and death; but in the midst of this was a thriving and desperately vibrant cultural life. While the children’s drawings and musical pieces created in the ghetto have become justly famous, the prisoners’ theatrical works, though a lesser-known aspect of their artistic endeavors, deserves serious attention as well.

Performing Captivity collects eleven theatrical texts—cabaret songs and sketches, historical and verse dramas, puppet plays, and a Purim play—written by Czech and Austrian Jews. Together these works reveal the wide range of ways in which the prisoners engaged with and escaped from life in the ghetto through performance. The anthology opens with an insightful preface by novelist Ivan Klíma, who was interned in the ghetto as a child, and contains a detailed introduction by editor Lisa Peschel about the pre-war theatrical influences and wartime conditions that inspired the theater of the ghetto.

The array of theatrical forms collected in Performing Captivity speaks of the prisoners’ persistence of hope in a harrowing time and will be moving reading for students of the Holocaust.




Pronunciation Guide

Edition Notes and Conventions


Lisa Peschel

Prologue: Terezín Theater

Ivan Klíma

Part 1: Czech-Language Texts

Radio Show

Felix Prokeš, Vítězslav “Pidla” Horpatzky, Pavel Stránský, and Kurt Egerer

Looking for a Specter

Hanuš Hachenburg

Songs from the Revue Prince Bettliegend

František Kowanitz

The Smoke of Home

Zdeněk Eliáš and Jiří Stein

Laugh With Us

The Second Czech Cabaret

Felix Prokeš, Vítězslav “Pidla” Horpatzky, Pavel Weisskopf, and Pavel Stránský

Part 2: German-Language Texts

From the Strauss Cabarets

Leo Strauss and Myra Strauss-Gruhenberg

The Treasure

A Puppet Play in Ten Acts

Arthur Engländer


Walter Freud

The Death of Orpheus

Georg Kafka

The Insult-but Unintended; or, The Man with the Detective Memory

A Theresienstadt Courtroom Scene

Author Unknown

From the Hofer Cabarets

Hans Hofer

Epilogue: New Year’s Eve

In the Oederan Slave-Labor Camp

Lisa Zeckendorf-Kutzinski



Review Quotes
Austrian Studies Newsmagazine
Performing Captivity, Performing Escape is a fascinating, heartbreaking, frequently witty collection that has been trans­lated with love and care, and that brings to light art that has heretofore been hidden. When you add the essays, thorough biographical notes, and beauti­ful, evocative artwork, you end up with a powerful portrait of a tragic era in Central European history and of the power of art to ameliorate suffering. This gorgeous full-color volume, in a beautifully bound paperback, is only $25, and it is a bargain.”
Rebecca Rovit, author of The Jewish Kulturbund Theatre Company in Nazi Berlin
“Peschel’s beautifully-produced, edited Performing Captivity, Performing Escape: Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín Ghetto is a valuable addition to scholarship related to the cultural heritage of the Holocaust: theatre art produced in situ at camps and ghettos during the years 1933-1945. Peschel’s collection assembles for the first time in English play texts from the ghetto’s Czech and Austrian repertoire between 1942 and 1944. The book’s mosaic structure with its plentiful photographs and archival documents allows readers to engage with interconnected details of a performer’s biography, the context within which the text was written, performed, and translated. In this way, we gain insight into the vital cultural life of Terezín as well as its legacy. Peschel’s meticulous research on Terezín includes the assistance of surviving performer-witnesses to translate and recreate the play texts. This benefits cultural historians and theatre practitioners alike who wish to understand something about the performers and their performances, with an eye to re-staging the texts on today’s stages.”
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