Tabori, George

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TABORI, George

Nationality: British (originally Hungarian: immigrated to England, 1936, granted British citizenship, 1945; moved to the United States, 1947; moved to Germany, 1971; moved to Austria, 1986). Born: Budapest, 24 May 1914. Education: Studied with L. Strasberg. Career: Worked in a hotel in Berlin, 1932-34; journalist and translator in Budapest, 1935; correspondent in Bulgaria and Turkey, 1939-41; Middle East correspondent, British Army intelligence service, 1941-43; correspondent, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 1943-47; lived in New York writing film scripts and plays, 1953-71; started The Strolling Players (theatre group), 1966; worked as a director in various German cities, 1971-81; founder and manager, Der Kreis (theatre group), Vienna, 1987-90; director, Burgtheater and Akademietheater, Vienna. Awards: German Academic Exchange Service scholarship for study in Berlin, 1971; Federation of German critics prize for literature, 1976; Prix Italia, 1978; city of Mannheim film prize and city of Berlin art prize, both in 1981; city of Mülheim dramatist prize, 1983; city of Munich Ernst-Hoferichter prize, 1987; J. Kainz medal, 1988; Peter Weiss prize for theatre, 1990; Georg Bücher prize, 1992; distinguished service cross, 1994; city of Vienna gold medal of honor, 1995.



Theaterstücke (includes Die Kannibalen ; Pinkville ; Die Demonstration ; Clowns ; Die 25 Stunde ; Mutters Courage ; Der Voyeur ; Jubiläum ; Peepshow ; Mein Kampf ; Weisman und Rotgesicht ; Der Babylon Blues ; Goldberg-Variationen ; Requiem für einen Spion ). 1994.


Flight into Egypt (produced New York, 1952). 1953.

I Confess, with William Archibald, adaptation of a play by Paul Anthelme (screenplay). 1952.

The Emperor's Clothes (produced New York, 1953). 1953.

The Young Lovers (screenplay). 1954.

The Journey (screenplay). 1958.

Brou Ha Ha (produced London, 1958).

Brecht on Brecht (produced New York, 1960). 1967.

The Cannibals (produced New York, 1968). 1974.

Niggerlovers (produced New York, 1969).

Secret Ceremony, adaptation of a story by Marco Denevi (screenplay). 1968.

Pinkville (produced New York, 1970). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui; A Gangster Spectacle, adaptation of a play by Bertolt Brecht. 1972.

Clowns (produced Tübingen, Germany, 1972). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

Die Demonstration (produced Berlin, 1972). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

Sigmunds Freude, based on Gestalt Therapy by Frederick S. Perls (produced Bremen, Germany, 1975).

Talk Show (produced Bremen, 1976).

Die 25. Stunde (produced 1977). 1994.

Die Hungerkünstler, adaptation of the novel by Franz Kafka (produced Bremen, 1977).

Verwandlungen, adaptation of the novel by Franz Kafka (produced Munich, 1977).

Ich wollte, meine Tochter läge tot zu meinen Füßen und hätte die Juwelen in den O. based on Shylock, the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (Shylock Improvisations ) (produced Munich, 1978). 1979.

Mutters Courage [My Mother's Courage] (produced Munich, 1979). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

Der Voyeur (produced Berlin, 1982). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

Jubiläum [Jubilee] (produced Bochum, Germany, 1983). In Spectaculum: 38, Sechs moderne Theaterstücke, 1984.

Peepshow (produced Bochum, 1984). In Theaterstücke, 1994.

M, based on Medea by Euripedes (produced Munich, 1985).

Stammheim (produced Hamburg, 1986).

Mein Kampf (produced Vienna, 1987). 1988.

Masada, adaptation of De bello Judaico by Flavius Josephus (produced Graz, 1988).

Weisman und Rotgesicht: ein jüdischer Western (produced Vienna, 1990). 1990.

Nathans Tod, adaptation of Nathan der Weise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Nathan's Death ) (produced Wolfenbüttel, Germany, 1991).

Goldberg-Variationen (produced Vienna, 1991). 1992.

Der Babylon Blues oder wie man glücklich wird, ohne sich zu verausgaben (produced Vienna, 1991).

Der Großinquisitor, adaptation of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (produced Seville, Spain, 1992).

Unruhige Träume (produced Vienna, 1992). 1992.

Requiem für einen Spion (produced Vienna, 1993).

Die Massenmörderin und ihre Freunde (produced Vienna, 1995).

Die Ballade vom Wiener Schnitzel (produced Vienna, 1996). 1996.

Die letzte Nacht im September (produced Vienna, 1997). 1997.

Purgatorium (produced Vienna, 1999).


I Confess, 1952; Young Lovers, 1954; The Journey, 1958; The Holiday, 1961; No Exit, 1962; Secret Ceremony, 1968; Insomnia, 1974; Mutters Courage, 1995.


Beneath the Stone. 1944; as Beneath the Stone the Scorpion, 1945.

Companions of the Left Hand. 1946.

Original Sin. 1947.

The Caravan Passes. 1951.

The Good One. 1960.

Tod in Port Aarif. 1995.


Betrachtungen über das Feigenblatt: Ein Handbuch für Verliebte und Verrückte (essay). 1991.


Film Adaptations:

Secret Story, 1968; I Confess, 1952; The Journey, 1959, Mutters Courage, 1995.

Critical Studies:

Embodied Memory: The Theatre of George Tabori by Anat Feinberg, 1999; "George Tabori's Jubilaum: Jokes and Their Relation to the Representation of the Holocaust" by Timothy B. Malchow, in German Quarterly, 72(2), 1999, pp. 167-84; "Speaking of American Theater: George Tabori and the Jewish Question" by Jack Zipes, in Theater, 29(2), 1999, pp. 98-108.

Theatrical Activities:

Director: Plays— Several of his own plays; Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, Salzburg, Austria, 1987; Schuldig geboren, Vienna, Austria, 1987. Film— Frohes Fest, 1981. Actor: Film— Bye, Bye America, 1993.

* * *

George Tabori began writing about the Holocaust as a way to cope with his father's murder at Auschwitz. Tabori has occupied a unique position as a Jewish playwright working in Germany and Austria persistently confronting his audience with the memory of the Holocaust. Tabori's distinctive style has included black comedy and techniques of Theater of the Absurd in his depiction of German history.

Tabori, who was born in Budapest, fled to England and became a war correspondent in the Middle East. During World War II he began writing novels, but in the late 1940s he met the German playwright Bertolt Brecht , who hooked him on the theater. Tabori's playwriting was also affected by his work in the experimental theater of the 1960s in New York City. His style has been described by various critics as chutzpah, cynicism, black humor, and tasteless. Tabori claimed that for him, "humor and horror always dance together." He admitted that he has never been concerned with "good taste or pious 'coping with the past."' In his plays, as in Brecht's, the tragedy of the Holocaust does not preclude the use of comic irony to shock his audiences.

The Holocaust occupies a different role in each of his plays. The Cannibals, his earliest Holocaust play, is set in Auschwitz itself where sons of survivors have gathered to reenact their fathers' stories. Tabori utilized some of the ideas of Brecht's epic theater—e.g., actors play many different roles. His dark humor and indebtedness to absurdism is apparent in the insertion of numerous jokes and musical numbers throughout the play. The hero of the play, Cornelius, is modeled after Tabori's own father. The play revolves around whether or not the inmates will stoop to cannibalism. Cornelius and most of the others refuse and are gassed to death.

His second Holocaust play, Mutters Courage ("My Mother's Courage") is a step removed from Auschwitz. It is also based on his family's experience: his mother was arrested and placed on a train to Auschwitz. Along the way a German officer decides to let her escape. Although her story has a "happy ending," the tragic fate of other Jews is the darker subtext of the play. As in The Cannibals, the telling of the story—and the impossibility of knowing the truth—is foregrounded. In Mutters Courage the mother's memories sometimes clash with the narrator/son's desire to whitewash the past. The play, like The Cannibals, highlights the next generation's (and all future generations') puzzled sorrow about the events of the past.

Tabori's third play, Jubiläum ("Jubilee") is set in 1983 in a Jewish cemetery where the dead return to demand justice. The play grapples not only with the past but also with the rise of neo-Nazism and xenophobia in contemporary Germany. Jubiläum 's setting (a graveyard where the characters pop up out of graves) is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett's mise-enscéne. Once again Tabori borrowed from epic theater by having actors portray many different parts. Like Tabori's other plays, Jubiläum not only involves a shocking confrontation with the past but it also suggests hope for the future.

The play that led to international fame for Tabori was his black comedy Mein Kampf, a prequel to the Holocaust involving a Jew, Schlomo Herzl, and his roommate, the aspiring art student Adolf Hitler, in a shabby flophouse in 1907. Here, even more so than in his other plays, Tabori borrowed from Beckett, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Faust, and Theater of the Absurd. This play premiered in Vienna at a time when Austria was embroiled in the controversy over the presidential election of Kurt Waldheim, a former Nazi official. As with The Cannibals, Tabori was accused with Mein Kampf of intentionally shocking people and tastelessly breaking taboos. As in his other Holocaust plays, the metaphor of eating plays a prominent role in Mein Kampf. At the end of the play Hitler burns Schlomo's beloved chicken, Mitzi, and Schlomo is forced to eat her in order to build his strength against the evil to come. Hitler waltzes off with his new companion, Frau Death, who has come to help him fulfill his destiny as an "exterminating angel."

Several of Tabori's other plays deal with the Holocaust more tangentially. For example, he has adapted two classic works, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise, in light of the Holocaust. In the former, called Shylock Improvisations, Tabori investigated the history of anti-Semitic representations on the stage. In Nathan's Death he tied together the history of oppression of Jews with the twentieth century version: the Holocaust. Over many years as playwright and director, Tabori has continued to shake up his audiences by deliberately offending them, making them wonder whether or not to laugh, and causing them to question their own complacency through his unique mixture of what he calls "the celestial and the excremental."

—Susan Russell

See the essays on The Cannibals, Jubiläum, and Mutters Courage.