‘Theatrical Zionism’ in Weimar Berlin

“Barak, the Zionist Propaganda Troupe is a means in the struggle on behalf of Zionism. Barak is one of the methods, not the sole one. Barak is a means for underscoring our movement’s emotional sides, not out of neglect for the rational possibilities, but as a necessary contrast.”

Penned by Hans Anton Wolff (1906-1974), the epigraph is taken from the statement of intention of Barak – a Zionist theatre group that was established in Berlin by Maccabaea (Maccabi), a Jewish students’ union, during the 1920s. A Frankfurt native, Wolff studied chemistry at universities in Bremen, Freiburg, and Berlin, but clearly possessed strong artistic leanings. Identifying with the Zionist cause, as evidenced through his membership in organizations like Blau Weiss and Maccabi, Wolff was among the founders of Barak (Hebrew for “lightening”). In addition, he contributed original works that the troupe staged. Among the documents in the theater’s file at the LBIJ archive is a play—Einer von uns (One of Us)—that follows the ‘Zionist conversion’ of a young assimilated Jew who is fully immersed in German culture. The script’s dialogues and songs reflect the author’s Zionist ideology. What is more, Einer von uns depicts the process that many of the playwright’s contemporaries underwent upon encountering Zionist ideas amid the tumultuous Weimar years.

For those interested in Wolff’s creative process, the archive houses the writer’s drafts, director’s notes, and even a festive speech he delivered on the opening night of the aforementioned play in 1932. Barak’s political mission comes to expression in, among other archival items, the screen play Palestine! as well as correspondences that Wolff kept and political lectures he authored with fellow members of the theater, such as Leon Chitzes and Heinz Gerling. The latter two eventually immigrated to the Land of Israel and were active at Leo Baeck Jerusalem. Making aliyah himself in 1933, Hans Wolff settled down in Haifa.

These riveting documents from the LBIJ archive’s Barak file offer a glance at a turbulent period in the annals of Germany, not least its Jewish community. Furthermore, these items open a window onto the lives of passionate youth who found a single outlet for both their ideological beliefs and creative talent.

Here is the link to the collection

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