Day: September 24, 2019

Ambassador Dodd’s Diary

Poster for the 1934 Oberammergau Passion Play, via www.passionsspiele-oberammergau.de

Source: William E. Dodd Jr. and Martha Dodd (eds.), Ambassador Dodd’s Diary, 1933-1938 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1941), pp. 163-163

Production: Oberammergau Passion Play, Passion Play Theatre, Oberammergau, Germany, 22 August 1934

Text: August 22, Wednesday. I went with my family to the famous Passion Play at Oberammergau, escorted by the mayor who had kindly sent us tickets. The mayor gave the Hitler greeting whenever he met any acquaintance on the street. We were all seated together in the reserved section but I think few if any of our neighbours knew who we were.

The play during the morning portrayed the early life of Jesus and the Old Testament prophecies and scenes showing what the Christian churches have always claimed were the connecting links between the Old and New Testaments. I saw no Jews present. There were 6,000 people in the beautiful hall. It is open at the end where the stage is located, and one gazes constantly upon a most beautiful mountain scene. It is a wonderful setting.

The chief actor is Lang, son of the man who gave the play its present form some thirty years ago. The Lang family are masters of the town, Oberammergau having normally 3,000 inhabitants whose main income each year is from visitors, foreign and German, who go there to see the Jesus tragedy. I think Lang is an excellent actor and the choir which sings or recites interludes in a grand style is impressive.

At 2 o’clock we took our places again in the great hall and the tragedy slowly moved to its culmination: the betrayal by Judas, the trail of Jesus and the awful scene of the executions on the cross, with law officers climbing short ladders to the crucified individuals and beating them before their deaths. When Jesus was tried before the angry Jewish court, a well-dressed German, looking very solemn, said to me: “Es ist unser Hitler.” Ida Horne, a distant kinswoman of mine, sitting in another part of the hall, told me as we came out together: “A woman near me said, as Judas received his thirty pieces of silver, ‘Es ist Roehm!’” I suspect half the audience, the German part, considers Hitler as Germany’s Messiah.

Comments: William Edward Dodd (1869-1940) was an American historian and diplomat. he served as US Ambassador to Germany 1933-1937. A passion play has been performed at Oberammergau in Bavaria, Germany, since 1634. The play is usually performed every ten years where the year ends in a nought, but a special 300th anniversary performance was put on for 1934. This had the support of the Nazi regime which had come to power the previous year. Ernst Röhm, or Roehm, leader of the Sturmabteilung paramilitary force, had been a close ally of Adolf Hitler but Hitler saw him as a threat and had him killed during the ‘Night of the Long Knives‘ the month before this performance. Hitler had seen the production on August 13. Anton Lang played the role of Prologue Speaker, having play the role of Christ in earlier productions.

Links: History of 1934 production on 2020 Oberammergau Passion Play site (in English)