The shaping of the ostjude: Alexander Granach and Shimon Finkel in Berlin

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With the end of the Weimar Republic, Alexander Granach fled to Poland and the USSR, where he eventually was arrested and at the last minute managed to escape to the United States. In the USSR and the United States he performed in Yiddish theatres; in Hollywood films his accented English again marked him as a foreigner. He died in New York on March 14, 1945, at the age of fifty-five, after an appendix operation. Finkel joined the TAI, immigrated with the group to Palestine at the beginning of 1925, and worked as an actor. He felt artistically restricted and returned to Berlin in 1927, determined this time to integrate into the German theatre. But he found a Berlin rife with anti-Semitism and (after a discussion with Leopold Jessner) joined the Habima group then performing in Berlin. He immigrated with the theatre to Palestine in 1931 and was one of its leading actors for decades. He died in Tel Aviv on October 5, 1999, at the age of ninety-four. Despite the obvious differences between them, Finkel and Granach's early years were strikingly similar. Both were drawn to the Yiddish theatre they had encountered as children in Eastern Europe and dreamed of succeeding in a new type of artistic theatre. Both changed their language, their pronunciation, and even their physical appearance in order to be suitable for the profession. Their burning desire for a spiritual art, and their intense search for radical self-transformation and new modes of expression, led them to different avant-garde theatre groups, each of which had its own variation of the New Man, the self-transformed protagonist. Notwithstanding this purported pursuit of the New Man ideal, both Granach and Finkel vacillated all their lives between their old identity as Ostjuden and their new identity as modern actors. Both moved in mainly Jewish social circles. Granach became the only Ostjude within a group of German Jewish avant-garde theatre people but always retained contact with the language and culture of his youth. Finkel joined a group that moved between German Jewish, Hebrew Zionist, and Yiddish cultures. Both men achieved their goal of becoming avant-garde actors in the theatre of the New Man. Nonetheless, their biographies repeatedly reveal the need that they felt to create a chain of continuity between their old Jewish identity and their hard-won modern and avant-garde persona.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJews and the Making of Modern German Theatre
PublisherUniversity of Iowa Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9781587298684
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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