The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg Des Arturo Ui)

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THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI (Der aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui)

Play by Bertolt Brecht, 1957

In March 1941 Bertolt Brecht and his family were refugees in Helsinki, Finland, anxiously waiting to depart for the United States; the Nazi army, which had just invaded Denmark and Norway, seemed all but invincible. In this atmosphere of desperate suspense, Brecht drafted a new parable play, a "gangster-history," meant for the American stage as a warning against the dangers of fascism. In part, his decision to frame the rise of the upstart Adolf Hitler as the story of Al Capone in Prohibition-era Chicago was an attempt to provide a milieu familiar to American audiences. Brecht intended "to render ridiculous the great political criminals, alive or dead" and "to destroy the common and dangerous respect for the great killers." Aided by his son Stefan and his assistant Margaret Steffin, Brecht completed Arturo Ui in early April 1941; the play was published in 1957 and appeared in English translation in Collected Plays 6, ii, in 1976.

When the curtain rises, the city is reeling from an economic downturn. There is violence in the streets. Ui (Hitler), a cheap hoodlum, approaches the members of the Cauliflower Trust (Junkers and industrialists) and offers to boost sales because "shopkeepers would rather buy cauliflower than cof-fins." Instead, the trust decides to make use of the impeccable reputation of the ward leader Dogsborough (Paul von Hindenburg) and reinvigorate its enterprise with a municipal loan designated officially for the construction of harbor works. The trust entices Dogsborough to acquire the majority of stock in a shipping company and to accept a country estate as a "gift." Once Dogsborough has secured the loan, Ui smells an opportunity. Threatening to expose the venerable politician, he becomes the protector of the racket. Ui and his henchmen—the devilish florist Givola (Joseph Goebbels), the wily populist Giri (Hermann Göring), and the brutish Roma (Ernst Röhm)—thus join the ranks of the major players. In order to succeed in the public arena, Ui takes lessons in speech and demeanor from an actor. Under the pretext of restoring order, he imposes a reign of terror on the small vegetable merchants (petty bourgeoisie). A man who refuses to pay for protection finds his warehouse in flames. The ensuing trial reveals that judge and prosecutors have been bought. In spite of the efforts of a brilliant defender (Georgi Dimitrov), an unemployed drifter (Marinus van der Lubbe) is convicted. Once in power, the members of Ui's gang begin to quarrel. Roma wants to extend the terror to the large businesses, including the Cauliflower Trust, but Ui plans to consolidate his power in collusion with big business, not against it. He has set his sights on the city of Cicero (Austria), where the newspaperman Dullfleet (Engelbert Dollfuss) controls the vegetable trade and agitates against Ui. Ruthlessly, Ui pursues his goals, first by having Roma and his group murdered, then by wooing Dullfleet's wife, Betty, and by threatening Dullfleet. Even though Dullfleet agrees to collaborate, Ui has him assassinated and takes over Cicero. In the final scene, Ui declares, in front of a subdued crowd of vegetable merchants from both cities, that Dogsborough has named him heir in a rueful will. He secures his own election by having dissenters shot and zealously presents his designs for armament and expansion.

Arturo Ui is a brash montage that oscillates between the parabolic simplicity of unmasking historical events and a complex and ostentatious artificiality. The play's relation to historical reality is reductive and allusive rather than representative. In 17 short scenes Brecht traces Hitler's rise to prominence during the depression and the crumbling Weimar Republic (1929-1933); the finance scandal involving Reich Pres. Paul von Hindenburg, which Hitler helped suppress (1933); the Reichstag fire (February 1933); the arson trial (September to December 1933); the elimination of the rogue paramilitary organization SA (Sturm-Abteilung) and its leader Ernst Röhm (June 1934); the murder of the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss (July 1934); and the annexation of Austria (March 1938). Those who view the play as an allegory of Hitler's rise to power have noted that Brecht falsified the historical record by, for example, allowing Dullfleet to appear as an honorable anti-fascist and by casting Roma in the role of a martyr. The twofold plot of gangsters and Nazis has also come under attack as an inadequate analytical tool for grasping the phenomenon of National Socialism. Brecht's Marxist focus on the hidden alliance between politicians, industrialists, and gangsters prevents him from addressing other aspects of Nazism, such as its popularity or its anti-Semitic policies. The play may therefore be viewed as exemplary of a trend discernible in Brecht's oeuvre in general: an evasion of race as a crucial category in the legitimation and implementation of the Nazi genocide. On the other hand, Brecht employs a number of alienation techniques (parody, satire, quotations from popular culture and from scripture, use of formal elements of the classical tragedy) that foster an estranged view of fascism and make visible the discrepancies between aesthetic form and cheap content. The audience is led to contrast the historical grandeur and the messianic posturing of Hitler with his corrupt and murderous acts.

—Cornelius Partsch

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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg Des Arturo Ui)

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