(Music credit: Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony)
Imagine it’s Nazi Germany, 1933. Jews are turned out from almost all professions, including the performing arts. A group of Jewish musicians write a proposal to Joseph Goebbels’s Office of Propaganda and Enlightenment, asking to set up a cultural organization that allows Jews to perform symphonies, operas, and dramas, for Jewish-only audiences. Goebbels, sensing an international propaganda coup, accepts. This really happened.
From 1933-1941, the Jewish Kulturbund (Jüdischer Kulturbund), consisting of thousands of members at its peak, performed in 42 theatres across Germany. When the Kulturbund closed, some members emigrated or went into hiding, most were sent to the camps. This is a little-known story of the power of music, resiliency of the human spirit, and will to survive.
The Jüdische Kulturbund Project will share the story of the Kulturbund and current-day artists response to oppression in various platforms. In development are Artivists, Art Against Oppression, a traveling museum exhibition and immersive technology and virtual reality experience; the feature documentary film Bullets to Books, which tells the story of one man’s mission to “change the minds of bullets to books: in an effort to bring peace to South Sudan and the world; Hannah’s Dance, a drama and dance performance that tells the story of the last dance of the Kulturbund in August 1939; Singer, a dramatic feature film that takes us to Berlin and the Kulturbund theatre in the 1930s; The Opus, a play with music, a fictional story based in part on the life of Gideon Klein; and The Ring Project, a multimedia production inspired by Nathan the Wise’s Ring Parable. Our public programs present first-hand accounts, images, and music of Kulturbund artists. Our education program encourages empathy and understanding of the issues of artists living under oppression and how they respond through their art. These initiatives and others will continue the legacy of the Kulturbund and show how their story is relevant today.