Dutch Performances Canceled of Play Said to Be Anti-semitic
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Dutch Performances Canceled of Play Said to Be Anti-semitic

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A reputedly anti-Semitic play that has been the center of a raging controversy in Holland for the past two months has been withdrawn by its sponsors.

The decision was announced at a news conference here Monday night by Paul Sonke, director of the Amsterdam Theatrical Academy. He said the play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, titled “Garbage, the City and Death,” will not be performed publicly, for the time being, adding that “protests by a vociferous part of the public had condemned the play before it could have been seen.”

The scheduled Nov. 18 premier at Rotterdam’s Lantern Theater was canceled before the curtain rose when Jewish demonstrators occupied the stage. The theater management cleared the 250-seat house for safety’s sake, because of the furor raised by disappointed members of the audience.

On Monday, theaters in Arnhem, Utrecht and Haarlem, where the play was to have been performed during the next few days, also announced it was canceled.

The play was opposed by virtually the entire Jewish community of the Netherlands and many non-Jews, including the 40,000 member “Christians for Israel,” a Protestant organization. Its supporters accused those who wanted to ban it of “cultural censorship.”

The heat of the controversy was apparent on the night of the aborted premier, when Professor Lou de Jong, a historian, told a group of young Jews demonstrating peacefully outside the theater that the way Jews were portrayed in it by the late West German playwright was akin to the violently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stuermer, published by Julius Streicher during the Nazi era. One of the play’s principal characters is an exploiter known as “the rich Jew.”

But Rob Weber, assistant director of the Amsterdam Theatrical Academy, the play’s sponsor, likened the way Jews prevented its performance to book-burning by the Nazis.


Although Dutch politicians at all levels initially took a neutral stand on the issue, they eventually became embroiled in it. Premier Rudolph Lubbers of Holland said at his weekly news conference last Friday that it is impossible to forbid a performance under the Dutch constitution.

He added, however, that he did not mean this particular play should be performed and said that if it were, he himself would “certainly not go to see it.”

Justice Minister Frits Kotthals Altes of the Liberal Party made a radio appeal the day before the scheduled premier, urging actors in the cast not to go on. He was promptly attacked by the Christian Democrats, the Labor Party and the “Democrats 1986” party for undue interference with freedom of expression.

The future of the play remained uncertain after the canceled premier. A private performance was given Saturday night, restricted to the Theatrical Academy and representatives of the Jewish community and guests invited by both sides. It was followed by a discussion that lasted into the early hours of Sunday morning.

But no minds were changed. Jews who saw the play insisted that it promoted anti-Semitism even if the work itself was not anti-Semitic. The Theatrical Academy maintained that the play aimed to combat anti-Semitism.

Sonke promised a decision by Monday and after further consultations with the cast, announced its withdrawal.


These developments in Holland closely parallel events in West Germany two years ago. The play was to have opened at the Kammerspiel Theater in Frankfurt on Oct. 31, 1985. The performance was canceled when about 30 local Jews marched on stage with a banner accusing the producers of “subsidizing anti-Semitism.” A few days later, a private showing was held for theater critics, after which the German impresarios withdrew the play.

The play was performed in New York last year. The Dutch version was produced by Johan Doesburg, a recent graduate of the Theatrical Academy, as a graduate project.

Doesburg said in an interview in the newspaper De Volkskrant Tuesday that he could understand the reaction of the Jews in Frankfurt, in a country where so many had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. But he could not understand the commotion in Holland.

Meanwhile, it was learned here Friday, much to the surprise of all concerned, that the Fassbinder play is currently being performed in Copenhagen without protests from the Jewish community there.

A spokesman for the community, Hermann Rubeizky, and the chief rabbi of Denmark, Bent Melchior, explained in a Dutch television interview that Danish Jewry had suffered relatively little during the Nazi occupation — mainly because they were rescued by the Danes — whereas more than 100,000 Dutch Jews were deported to death camps.

That apparently accounts for the different reactions in the two communities to the Fassbinder play.

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