Declaring that he would leave the verdict on the Freiburg Passion Play to 1,000 clergymen, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish, whom he was inviting to witness a performance, Morris Gest issued a statement declaring that “instead of increasing prejudice against Jews, it would wipe out ill feeling.” At the same time that Mr. Gest presented his contention, Dr. Stephen S. Wise in his sermon at the Free Synagogue and the Rev. John Haynes Holmes at the Community Church voiced strong criticism of the Passion Play production at the Hippodrome.
In his effort to substantiate his position, Mr. Gest declared.
“I have never done anything or been connected with anything of which I’m more proud than the Passion Play. First of all, it is not a commercial enterprise. The Freiburg Passion Play has been a production to which the Fassnachts have given their lives for seven generations, since 1780, because this play visualizes and uplifts and clears away once and for all the thing which has been untrue and which has been held against the Jews.
“If some stupid person made a war and 15,000,000 were killed, nobody says a word-for very long.
“Art is a religion. It is practical charity. Art uplifted Russia. Not Russian politicians-art. ‘The Miracle’ did more for Germany than all the ambassadors she ever sent over to this country. Art is the purest thing in the world, in all the world. It has caused men to starve in the gutter-and I hope it makes me do just that, too. They starved in the gutter because they did not commercialize their art, they did not commercialize their souls in the past.
“The Passion Play is wiping out and will continue to wipe out all the ill-feeling, all the prejudices which 1929 years have witnessed. It will do more to create a feeling of brotherhood and good-will than anything in the history of good old New York.” In his sermon, Dr. Wise declared: “The Passion Play, whether reverently done at Oberammergau or garishly and vulgarly done as at the Hippodrome, undoes every earnest and honest effort in the direction of what is come to be known as good-will between Jew and Christian. The immediate effect of the Passion Play is to strengthen the notion that the Jew is, above all things, a vindictive, merciless Christkiller. Every Passion Play thus perpetuates anew the myth of the Christ-killing Jew.”
“One thousand years of good-will cannot undo the damage to the Jewish people done by the Hippodrome Passion Play and its moving picture predecessor, ‘The King of Kings.’ The Passion Play does enough alone to convey the impression that the Jew is the Christ-killer and a venal, vindictive and bloodthirsty individual.
“The producer has sinned against
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the Jewish people. Night after night and day after day, he has sinned against the truth. He runs the Jewish people constantly into the danger of grave injustice,” Dr. Wise declared.
Dr. Holmes stated: “Many Jews have been genuinely concerned lest the Passion Play, presenting the lie that Jesus was killed by the Jews, stir anti-Semitism in this city. Let them be reassured. The Passion Play stirs no anti-Semitism because it stirs no emotion at all. It is a miserable perversion of the Bible tale and thus a base libel on the Jews. But the audience is too much bored to care. It knows this thing never really happened. This is nothing but a cheap show. It’s the Christians not the Jews who should object to this play.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.