Als ich heute morgen aufstand, guckte ich als erstes aus dem Fenster. „Nach was guckst du“, fragte mein Nachbar. „Ich gucke nur“, antwortete ich, „ob ich schon im Ausland wohne.“
[The first thing I did when I got up this morning was look out the window. “What are you looking at,” asked my neighbour. “I’m just seeing,” I replied, “if I’m living abroad yet.” (ed. trans.)]
Cabaret artiste Louis Davids in one of his performances 1939
The nature of cabaret lies, in part, in its criticism of political and social conditions. When the Nazis seized power in 1933 this art form faced profound danger. As early as 28 February 1933, the day after the Reichstag fire, the constitution was changed: freedom of opinion and right of assembly were restricted, encroachments on the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications permitted. This meant a great reduction in the public presentation of contemporary cabaret. Many Jewish artistes were no longer allowed to perform or practice their professions, and many ensembles dissolved in the ensuing period. For cabaret artistes, the path to exile represented the only chance for them to keep treading the boards.
At first the other German-speaking countries offered the most logical choice of destination for anyone wishing to continue to perform in the accustomed manner. However in Switzerland, for example, cabaret was an unfamiliar art form and, what’s more, the right to asylum was conditional on émigrés proving themselves “worthy of acceptance by behaving in a sedate manner”. Some cabaret artistes attempted to continue their work in Switzerland. However the majority went to Austria where, with a bit of luck, they were able to appear in established cabaret venues alongside their Austrian colleagues.
When Germany’s 1938 annexation of its neighbour pushed émigrés onward to non-German-speaking countries, stage performers were confronted with the problem of language. Only rarely did they manage to collaborate with local colleagues, or present mixed-language programmes. Most cabaret groups which were established in the ensuing years in Western Europe and the USA presented German-language programmes. They addressed the situation in Germany and life in exile itself, and their audiences were largely composed of fellow emigrants.
For most audience members an evening at the cabaret was a special event. Financial difficulties meant that cultural events were rare enough; the perilous state of emigrants’ lives and the world around them also meant there was very little to laugh about.
Klösch Christian, Thumser Regina: „From Vienna“. Exilkabarett in New York 1938 bis 1950. Wien: Picus Verlag 2002 (Begleitbuch zur gleichnamigen Ausstellung der Österreichischen Exilbibliothek)
Zaich, Katja B.: „Ich bitte dringend um ein Happyend“: Deutsche Bühnenkünstler im niederländischen Exil 1933-1945. Frankfurt am Main u.a.: Lang 2001
Weit von wo. Kabarett im Exil. Karl Farkas, Peter Herz, Hugo F. Koenigsgarten, Rudolf Spitz, Robert Weil u.a. Hg. von Hans Veigl. Wien: Kremyr & Scheriau 1994
Otto, Rainer; Rösler, Walter: Abriss des deutschsprachigen Kabaretts. Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 1981