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Comedy in the Camp

“To discover that there was any semblance of art in a concentration camp must be surprise enough for an outsider, but he may be even more astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humor there as well; of course only the faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes. Humor was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.”

– Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959), p. 43.


At Westerbork, in Holland, many of the artists were from vibrant artistic Berlin — they had tried to escape to Holland, but were arrested. The Nazi commander at Westerbork transit camp, A.K. Gemmeker, was proud of the highly talented celebrities. He also saw to it that there were classical music concerts, recitals and the widely popular cabaret shows, but every Tuesday Jews were deported to the gas chambers. The cabaret called “Humor and Melody,” premiered on Sept. 4, 1943 with 18 different skits, satirizing the daily life in the camp. The experienced German theater director Max Ehrlich created it with composers Willy Rosen and Erich Ziegler, and the Dutch Jewish stage designer Leo Kok. Dancers were part of the cabaret.

Westerbork Cabaret

K Heidi Fishman

This afternoon I spoke with Joanna Caplan. She is an actress who has been working for a couple of years on a one woman show entitled “Total Verrückt.” The title means “Totally Crazy” and is lifted from one of the cabaret shows at Westerbork.

Camp Westerbork was the nazi transit camp in northern Holland where my mother was interned for about eight months when she was eight years old. The camp was a holding place for Jews that were rounded up throughout Holland until they were sent east to the death camps. Westerbork happened to hold many of the top singers, actors, directors, and musicians that were either Dutch or had fled from Germany to the Netherlands. They were able to put together several shows there at the camp which the Commandant enjoyed and supported. The performers were often able to stay longer at Westerbork and avoid deportation if the…

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Stating Intentions

This blog is meant to reflect an ongoing learning process, for the next year, in fulfillment of the requirements of the Gideon Klein Fellowship through Northeastern University. I will be doing ongoing research to find out about the Camp Westerbork cabaret. Here, I will report on my findings as I find them — in other parts of the site I will organize my information in a systematic way.

I have already uploaded a number of external sites on my Resources page. I will continue to mark external online resources and print resources on that page.

Please do be in touch if you have more information or references!