Samizdat Shakespeare 1944: Ludwig Berger’s Secret Midsummer Night’s Dream in Nazi-Occupied Amsterdam

Professor Christian Rogowski
G. Armour Craig Professor in Language and
Literature In the Department of German
Amherst College

Samizdat Shakespeare 1944: Ludwig Berger’s Secret Midsummer Night’s Dream in Nazi-Occupied Amsterdam

Monday, May 28, 16:30
Rabin Building Room 2001
Mount Scopus

In April 1944, a series of remarkable performances of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place in Amsterdam in the private home of German-Jewish film and theater director Ludwig Berger (1892-1969). Between 1940 and 1945, Amsterdamers endured oppression by the German occupying forces, including a tightly controlled cultural life, limited supplies of food and heating fuel, restrictions on public and private gatherings, as well as strictly enforced curfews. The city’s Jewish residents, moreover, faced continued raids and deportations, first to Dutch transit camps, then to the death camps further east.

Having sought refuge in the Dutch city in 1937, Berger had directed two films in the Netherlands that won him the respect and admiration of the Dutch cultural elite, and he survived the Nazi occupation under as yet unclear circumstances. Despite the threat of brutal reprisals, and in a remarkable gesture of support for the celebrated refugee director, a sizeable group of Dutch theater lovers, among them acting students as well as representatives of a wide range of professions, gathered around Berger to perform and to watch Shakespeare’s classic comedy. Surviving testimonials suggest that to the participants, the play, performed in English, spoke to their need to assert the values of Western enlightened humanism against the forces of Nazi tyranny, in a display of collective solidarity and a deliberate act of political defiance.