Press - May 02, 2007

Letter to the Editor of Falter by Peter Droessler

Re: “Farce with Swastikas” [“Posse mit Hakenkreuzen”], Falter, March 14, 2007
Dear Wolfgang Kralicek, Dear [Editor-in-Chief] Armin Thurnher,

Unfortunately, I have only just now read your article “Farce with Swastikas”. It includes a number of assertions that should not continue to go without comment, especially in a medium such as Falter with its commitment to open culture-political dialogue. In the abovementioned article, there is sadly little of that to be found.

The characters are distinctly defined. On one side is the fairy tale description (“Once upon a time…”) of the Nazi-traumatized Jewish protagonist, the “puppet theater maker” Warren Rosenzweig (from New York, no less) who “won’t give up” with his “few, small productions” that have not yet made any big waves, so instead, “time and again,” he “disrupts” the cultural activity in the Nestroyhof. On the other side is Gabriel, not the archangel, but a former member of the “legendary” Freihaus (wow, now I really am impressed; when I think how many times I drank my coffee there and never had a clue that I was sitting at a legend), who has discovered in himself a selfless love for culture and who has wrested an agreement from his family concerning the Aryanized Nestroyhof. Now he wants to prove that his forbears were “no little pigs”. Of course, the 3,500 schillings they paid in 1951 as a settlement to rid themselves of the heirs of the original owner of the Nestroyhof was not quite just. But the heirs did after all renounce the object and “how bad this was in the case of the Nestroyhof” seems hard to say.

So the characters are clear and perhaps the name of the disputed object, “Nestroyhof,” has led Wolfgang Kralicek to recount as farce the eternal, yet sadly still unfunny question of how Vienna reflects on its Jewish past. Nice try, but it fails.

The mode of argumentation contained in this farce is only too familiar. It’s just that no one would have expected to see it in Falter. Clever enough at disguising words (yeah, Kralicek knows how to write), the archetypes of political discussion of the last decades surface again: The Jew who uses heritage to take unfair advantage of others (“No one has a spiritual right to something, just because he comes from a Jewish corner”). The innocent profiteers who have merely been lucky (“The theater was closed by the Nazis and not by the Polsterers”). Look at the good, assimilated Jew (“I’m also Jewish and I think there is something far more Jewish about a [Gentile] writer like Fian than an Israeli author”). And even "Practically every theater is a Jewish theater.” Conclusion: We don’t need a Jewish theater in Vienna. We can do it better ourselves. The only line missing is: “It’s high time to put this subject to rest.”

One gets the impression that this lovely story contains less than the usual concern for scrutiny. For it just can’t be that someone who clearly professes to be in tune with progressive culture – even “legendary” – would defend his not-so-kosher inheritance. No accusations intended, of course, yet there does seem cause for questioning. Admittedly, the facts and the chronology of events are a bit confused in the article. A few points are anesthetized, thanks to the dramaturgical facelift and liberties taken in the presentation of quotes. Just one example: Whoever, when, whatever is – or isn’t – responsible for the swastikas in the title, either it is necessary to do some precise research, or the story should be left out. Yet Kralicek tells it only from the perspective of the owner of the house – and allows several months in the timetable to be swept under the carpet. Instead of “a few days,” as Kralicek suggests, Rosenzweig waited five months for a response from Gabriel before making a formal issue of the matter at a press conference.

All of this is disturbing, but saddest is the fact that the festival, “Tikun Olam,” which provided the actual occasion for the article, is barely even mentioned, and then, only dismissively, in passing. Here there was an opportunity for Wolfgang Kralicek and interested Viennese readers to see for themselves if there’s something to be said for the idea of a Jewish theater after all. One could have tested whether, indeed, “every theater is a Jewish theater” or whether there may be special qualities – inspired perspectives from Jewish theater artists – of interest also to non-Jews. One week long there was opportunity to encounter artists and their work from, for example, the US, Canada, South Africa, Russia, Israel, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, France, Brazil, Australia, and Austria – who had come to Vienna to participate in the festival and congress. But they were all ignored in the article. Kralicek could have asked, for example, Mira Hirsch, President of the World Congress of Jewish Theater, among many others, whether, or why, Jewish theater is important and why the congress was being held right here in Vienna. But this was a chance that Wolfgang Kralicek chose to renounce, since he already knew before the festival that “every theater is a Jewish theater” and that, artistically, an institution with “Jewish” in its name operates at a level “befitting” to report upon only in a newspaper for the homeless. That many people found their way to Tikun Olam despite Falter is due to the coverage of other media sources, including, for example, Der Standard, Profil, and Ö1.

Wolfgang Kralicek made rather the choice to create a one-sided story for readers interested in culture. Instead of giving information, he gave opinion. Fine, but one would expect a publication like Falter to value journalistic quality enough to present opinion as such [and not as fact].

In any case, Herr Gabriel was happy. He immediately posted the article on the wall in the foyer of “his” Nestroyhof. Only that one [article] alone.

Sincerely yours,
Peter Droessler

PS: To head off any new assumptions concerning Jewish arrogance: I am not Jewish, but Protestant, and yes, I know Warren Rosenzweig. We became acquainted last autumn. I then gave my support to the Jewish Theater of Austria for its Tikun Olam theater festival as I am of the opinion that Vienna can benefit from more contemporary Jewish culture. All the same, I’m not remote-controlled by Warren Rosenzweig. “Alles klar?”

(trans: JTA)