Religious History Oberammergau Passion Play Part 3

About Oberammergau Passion Play in Germany, a long standing traditional reenactment of the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ.

A Ticket to the Oberammergau Passion Play

Perhaps the most famous 1930 visitor was Henry Ford, who presented that year's Christus, Alois Lang, with a motorcar in appreciation for his acting talents. Lang accepted the certificate entitling him to his choice at a Munich car dealer. William Randolph Hearst made it in 1934, as did a chief of the Blackhead Indians, arrayed in native finery and carrying a calumet (a ceremonial pipe), which he presented to the same Christus, Alois Lang. Hitler also arrived, escorted by a dozen cars, to take the seat he had booked under an assumed name. This same Fuhrer issued an order in 1943 that would have converted the theater into an airplane parts factory, but the villagers successfully refused to comply with the order.

There has always been decided antagonism felt by the Jews toward this most Christian of all Christian art-worship services. In 1970, the 36th performance in the festival's 336-year history, the controversy erupted again. It swirled this time in a new religious awareness that followed the 2nd Vatican Council. The American Jewish Committee released a critique which was supported by 7 Christian scholars, alleging that the 1970 script still "reveals the sin of anti-Semitism," in spite of superficial alterations. Jewish groups demanded that Munich's Julius Cardinal Dopfner boycott the opening because of the text, but he attended anyway only to declare at the opening mass: "We are all agreed that the text today needs a new version."

Actually, the 1970 version was supposed to have a totally new script. Stephan Schaller, a modern-day Benedictine from Ettal, wrote one after laborious consultation with Jewish groups and after reconciling the play with the spirit of the 2nd Vatican Council. But Oberammergau's 26-man play committee rejected it as too bland. Now still another special committee is at work making revisions for the 1980 performances.

While anti-Semitism persists in the play, it reached its most painful pitch in the 1930s. In 1934, Oberammergau scheduled a special performance to commemorate the 300-year anniversary of the Passion Play. This time a new plague was on hand to harass the villagers--Nazism. In an effort to make his Bavarian subjects look like Aryans rather than Jews while playing their biblical roles, Hitler appointed his Bavarian State Minister, Esser, High Commissioner for Tourist Traffic and ordered him to preside over the Passion Play committee. But the villagers refused to modify their makeup and costumes, though they paraded agreeably, regularly "heiling" Hitler.

During August, 1934, the audience paid tribute to Field Marshal von Hindenburg on the occasion of his death and to Hitler when he attended a performance. Hitler was inspired only by the character of Pilate, whom history records as a brutal Roman governor, but whom Hitler exalted by commenting: "There he stands like a firm rock in the middle of the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

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