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Heated Controversy Continues to Surround Oberammergau Passion Play

May 23, 1984
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Heated controversy still surrounds the Oberammergau Passion Play which had its season’s premier here Sunday attended by thousands of distinguished guests, including the Prime Ministers of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, Franz Josef Strauss and Lothar Spaeth.

Mayor Klement Fend of Oberammergau insisted that charges of anti-Semitism in the play’s content were unfounded and unacceptable to the local townsfolk who have produced and acted in it every tenth year for the past 350 years.

But this was strongly disputed by the members of an inter-faith delegation from the United States who witnessed Sunday’s performance and attested that the play “remains marred by a deep and pervasive anti-Jewish orientation.” The delegation, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, included two prominent Christian scholars, Prof. Eva Fleischner, a Roman Catholic author and theologian and the Rev. Dr. William Harter, a Presbyterian Church leader.


Rabbi A. James Rudin, the AJCommittee’s National Interreligious Affairs Director, one of the leaders of the group, summed up their reaction in a statement in Munich today. The 1984 Passion Play is “fundamentally flawed and still perpetuates the pernicious myth that Jews are eternally guilty for Jesus’ cruc’ fixion,” Rudin said.

He and Mimi Alperin, Chair of the AJCommittee’s Interreligious Affairs Commission who is co-leader of the group, called for stronger efforts to “eradicate defamation of Jews and Judaism that persist in the drama despite revisions in the text.”


Mayor Fend readily acknowledged that the version of the play that was performed Sunday and will continue through the 1984 season was the “traditional version”, not the amended so-called “Rosner Passion,” a revised text proposed in 1977 which was widely viewed as relatively free of anti-Semitic bias.

“The (local) community should be praised for the efforts, work and the costs invested in that project,” Fend said referring to the 1977 text. “However, the citizens of the Oberammergau have decided by a majority of two-thirds to one-third for the traditional version of Daisenberger-Dedler. This decision should be absolutely respected,” the Mayor declared.


He vehemently denied that the traditional text contains anti-Jewish stereotypes. “Anti-Semitism is foreign to the historical origin of the play and to its spiritual contents,” he said, adding that the production remains a “prayer of thanksgiving” of the whole community.

Fend claimed that the 1984 version has in fact been re-edited to conform with the findings of Vatican Council II which absolved the Jewish people of collect- tive guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus. This was confirmed by a special working group of the Roman Catholic Church in West Germany which took up the questions related to Judaism, the Mayor said. He dismissed the ongoing “debate on this subject” as “old rope.”

But Fleischner, a professor of religion at Montclair State College in New Jersey and author of “The View of Judaism in German Christian Theology Since 1945,” declared in Munich today that “The Oberammergau Passion Play falls far short of the standards called for by Vatican II” and the 1974 “Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration ‘Nostra Aetate.'”


Harter, pastor of the Falling Spring Presbyterian Church in Chambersburg, Pa. and a member of the World Council of Churches Consultation on the Church and the Jewish People and of the National Council of Churches Committee on Christian-Jewish Relations, also severely faulted the play.

“Christian leaders and educators have a responsibility to instruct our people that the drama as it unfolds in Oberammergau is not a true or just enactment of the Passion story. (It) is highly selective in the New Testament episodes it chooses to dramatize,” ignores other Scriptural passages and “departs entirely from Scripture in significant ways,” Harter said.

In addition to leading German politicans, the audience at Sunday’s performance included foreign diplomats and journalists from all over the world. The ambassadors of virtually all European countries outside the Eastern bloc attended, according to a statement by the Oberammergau authorities. The statement did not mention the Israeli Ambassador to Bonn who was invited but did not attend.

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