Jubiläum

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JUBILÄUM

Play by George Tabori, 1984

George Tabori premiered his play Jubiläum ("Jubilee") in Germany on 30 January 1983, the fiftieth anniversary of Hitler's takeover. In the Bible the year of jubilee (the fiftieth year) is a holy year and is considered a time of reckoning, when justice is restored. Tabori, a Hungarian Jew, set his story in a Jewish cemetery in Germany where the dead are beginning to rise up, in the year in which, Tabori insinuated, justice might finally prevail. Utilizing the episodic form used by playwright Bertolt Brecht , Tabori based his play on contemporary newspaper articles, court records, and personal experiences. As in his earlier Holocaust plays, Tabori used dark humor to present a disconcerting case study of contemporary German society.

Originally conceived as a continuation of Brecht's anti-Nazi play Fear and Misery in the Third Reich, Jubiläum is a series of 12 episodes involving seven characters whose lives are intertwined. They include a Jewish couple, Lotte and her husband Arnold, whose father was killed at Auschwitz; a homosexual couple, Otto and his partner Helmut, whose concern over his neo-Nazi nephew Jürgen causes him to undergo circumcision out of guilt over the Holocaust; Jürgen, the young, brutal neo-Nazi; Mitzi, Arnold's crippled niece who is driven to suicide by Jürgen's taunts; and Wumpf, the gravedigger clown whose scenes echo his prototype's in Hamlet.

The play begins as Jürgen races up and spray paints "JEW DOG DIE" all over the Jewish graves. Arnold, one of the inhabitants of the graveyard, shakes his head ruefully and corrects the young man, "'JEW-DOG' with a hyphen, young man." Otto chimes in, "The cross [swastika] is wrong too—you missed a line on the left side." These ironic comments, which frighten Jürgen away, draw the audience into an unusual world of walking corpses who act out various roles in their conversations with one another: psychiatrist and patient, defendants and prosecutors, victims and perpetrators.

The scenes begin and end with no clear resolution; past, present, and future merge to form a collage that hints at Tabori's fears of the resurgence of the Nazi mind-set, personi-fied by Jürgen, the young neo-Nazi who claims that "a little NA-Z-I" is present in all of them. Some characters reveal their memories of abuse during the Holocaust; others relate contemporary incidents of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, asking questions, like the sons in Tabori's The Cannibals, about their parents' behaviors in the past.

The history of Jürgen's development is revealed in order to clarify the link between the Nazi period and the present. When Jürgen was a child, his father, an SS man, delighted him with glorious stories of his adventures during the war. In adolescence Jürgen joined a gang whose major interests included smoking, tormenting foreigners, and drinking. He was thrown out of school and into jail several times, but his uncle, "a judge of the old school," always managed to get him off. Later, in a scene between Jürgen and Helmut (where Jürgen forces Helmut to play his father), the audience learns how his father's crimes become transformed into acceptable behavior in the boy's eyes, confirmed by society's failure to prosecute many Nazis. Unlike Schreckinger's son in The Cannibals, Jürgen takes perverse pride in emulating his father.

While Jürgen serves to incarnate Tabori's fears, Arnold serves as a voice of hope and desire for reconciliation. He describes a recurring scenario of his childhood. His parents often fought, throwing things at each other, yelling and crying, while the child Arnold stood at the door, "waiting for them to get along again." Arnold pities Jürgen, just as he once pitied Hitler, who always seemed lonely to him. In the end Arnold's father, who was killed at Auschwitz, appears to Arnold, offering him bread, which Arnold shares with everyone, including Jürgen. As in The Cannibals, Tabori utilized the idea of Holy Communion or the sharing of bread in the Jewish Sabbath, but with a twist: the bread "tastes funny." Thus, it becomes a symbol both of reconciliation and of retribution. He also stressed the theme of the questioning son who survives his father, as in several of his other plays. Tabori's own father, Cornelius, was murdered at Auschwitz.

Brecht's influence on Tabori is evident in this play. Tabori borrowed liberally from the most famous episode of Fear and Misery, "The Jewish Wife." Lotte's predicament when she is trapped in a phone booth is clearly patterned after "The Jewish Wife." Also, Helmut wears a dress and reads "The Jewish Wife" as he recovers from his circumcision. Allusions to Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice also appear throughout the text. By referring to these other texts, Tabori added more layers to the horror he illustrated. Through the play's setting, form, and content, Tabori sounded an urgent warning to his German audiences, articulating his hopes and fears for the future.

—Susan Russell

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Jubiläum

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