Tabori, Georg

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TABORI, GEORG (1914– ), Hungarian playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and theater director. Tabori was born in Budapest into a non-practicing Jewish family. His father, Cornelius, and his brother were both dedicated journalists subscribing to a liberal cosmopolitanism. In 1932 Tabori received training to become a hotel manager in Berlin and Dresden. After briefly returning to Budapest he immigrated to London in 1934 and became a British citizen. There he worked as a translator, journalist, and tourist guide. From 1939 to 1947 he was a foreign correspondent for the BBC in Bulgaria and Turkey and also worked for the secret service of the British army in the Middle East. In Jerusalem he met his first wife, Hannah Freund, whose family had all been murdered in Auschwitz. Tabori's first novel, Beneath the Stone (1944/45), about a German officer, was not well received. The novels Companions of the Left Hand (1945), Original Sin (1947), and The Caravan Passes (1949) followed. These early novels were only translated into German in the 1990s. They owe their background to Tabori's cultural encounter with the Middle East. He delineates the atmosphere of Cairo in Original Sin, and The Caravan Passes can be seen as a bridge between Europe and the Islamic world. The characters transcend socio-cultural boundaries, the European characters set against the strangeness of a multi-ethnic milieu.

In 1945 Tabori was invited to Hollywood, where he pursued his passion for history, working with Brecht on the English version of Galileo. Later, he wrote also film scripts for such directors as Alfred Hitchcock. Meanwhile his own plays were also beginning to be produced on stage, notably Flight into Egypt (1952), directed on Broadway by Elia Kazan. In 1953 Tabori married his second wife, the actress Viveca Lindfors. He initiated his own productions and founded a theater group, the Strolling Players, in 1966. His most famous play, Die Kannibalen (1969), received frosty reviews on its premiere in Berlin. In this outstanding play Tabori places his characters in an exceptional situation. A group of famished concentration camp inmates kill their comrade Puffy, who had gotten hold of a piece of bread. At first, the inmates are indifferent, then they decide to make a meal out of him. During the preparations stories are exchanged and memories are shared. However, only two of the characters are able to eat the human flesh. They survive and serve as witnesses. The whole play shifts erratically between disturbing and trivial elements and questions of morality, violence, and moments of dignity. Taboos are deliberately broken and the comical is shocking. Tabori's next disturbing play, Pinkville (1970), caused an outcry in the United States, as it was seen as an indictment of the war in Vietnam. In the late 1970s he unconventionally adapted pieces like Kafka's Der Hungerkuenstler (1977) or Siegmunds Freude and produced a series of experimental productions with his Bremer Theaterlabor. In the 1980s Tabori wrote his play Peepshow (1984), which contains many autobiographical elements and Tabori's black humor. The poet Willie is obsessed with sex and death. The play deals with the American-Jewish middle-class dream and the pathological condition of the famous. The character of Willie also enters the play The Voyeur (1990). The voyeur is an allegory of the Jewish Holocaust survivor. The play portrays the clichés, prejudices, and collective psychosis of minorities, which are embodied in the Jewish character Weisman, his mongoloid daughter Ruth, and the alleged Native American.

Tabori gained his ultimate recognition as a playwright with Mein Kampf (1987), which stages the meeting of Adolf Hitler and the Jewish bookseller Schlomo Herzl, another piece of disturbing and provocative theater. The spectator is drawn into the work despite himself. Tabori later took up residence in Vienna, married to his fourth wife, the actress Ursula Hoepfner. He was the recipient of a number of international prizes for his work such as the Kritikerpreis (1976), the Peter-Weiss Prize (1990), and the Buechner Prize (1992).


A. Feinberg, George Tabori (2003); P.W. Marx, Theater und kulturelle Erinnerung: kultursemiotische Untersuchungen zu George Tabori, Tadeusz Kantor und Rina Yerushalmi (2003); M. Roth, Theater nach Auschwitz: George Taboris Die Kannibalen im Kontext der Holocaust-Debatten (2003); S. Scholz, Von der humanisierenden Kraft des Scheiterns: George Taboriein Fremdprophet in postmoderner Zeit (2002); B. Haas, Das Theater des George Tabori: vom Verfremdungseffekt zur Postmoderne (2000); J. Struempel, Vorstellungen vom Holocaust: George Taboris Erinnerungs-Spiele (2000); A. Feinberg, Embodied Memory: The Theatre of George Tabori (1999).

[Ann-Kristin Koch (2nd ed.)]