Tag Archives: Cabaret

“You Can Take Our Lives and Freedom, but You Cannot Take Our Honor” Life is Not a Cabaret

Otto Wels

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am going to address something of critical importance today, even though it occurred over 87 years ago, which in the scope of history is not that long, despite the fact that the average American, regardless of their political beliefs and ideology are ignorant of past events, even those of just a few years ago. Thus, when one discusses events of 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 years ago, one typically receives blank stares, or appeals to historical myths and fabrications that they learned in school, church, or from the media, both news and entertainment. As a historian it drives me crazy, our society, including our political, business, and media elites, has become a new generation of Know Nothings, of whom none other than the President and cult like followers supply some of the worst, but certainly not the only examples.

in 1932 the Communist Party of Germany KPD, refused to ally itself with the Social Democratic Party, SDP because they viewed the Socialists as sell-outs who refused to embrace a Soviet State in 1918 and 1919. At that time they called themselves Independent Socialists, but though a minority unleashed a left wing reign of terror that pushed German Conservatives further to the extreme right, and left the Social Democrats working with the German Army to try to hold the center. In the end, it was the extreme right that finally won a thirteen year struggle to overthrow the Weimar Republic, and after abortive coup attempts, including the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, which was crushed by a nationwide strike of labor groups, and the Nazi led Bier Hall Putsch, which was crushed due to the duplicity of Hitler’s coerced allies, and the refusal of Munich’s police to withdraw in the face of the Nazi advance at Odeonsplatz.

However, the Nazis learned from their failures at violent revolution, and instead, despite being outlawed for a number of years, worked within the democratic model to slowly gain regional, and eventually a national following. By 1932 the Nazi Party, as well as the KPD were at the height of their support. The traditional conservative German right was divided and its leaders thought they could control the Nazi movement. The left was divided between the moderate SPD and the militant KPD. An alliance of the two left parties in 1932 and 1933 would have created a parliamentary majority and stopped the Nazi movement in its tracks, but the KPD, which had split from the SPD in 1919 hated the SPD more than they did the Nazis, even though the Nazis were an existential threat to the German left. 

As a historian I think that this is one of the of the most relevant examples as the United States and other democratic nations lurch toward legally elected right wing authoritarian governments.

A few months after he gained power, Hitler’s Nazi majority Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, or by its full title Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich (“Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich”). The came on the heels of the Reichstag Fire Decree and had tremendous repercussions for the German Republic and in effect made Hitler and his administration a dictatorship. The legislative branch, the Reichstag was limited to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the executive, as was the judicial branch, the Reichsrat. It supposedly protected the rights of the President, the Reichstag, and judiciary, but it made Hitler the the sole decider of domestic and social laws, as well as all foreign policy decisions.

The law stated:

The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:

Article One

In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution. (Article 85 and 87 dealt with the budgetary process and allocation of funds for advertisement.)

Article Two

Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain unaffected.

Article Three:

Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government. (These Articles dealt with the legislative process in which the Reichstag, Government, Reichsrat, and President all had specific responsibilities which limited the power of the government to rush laws into force without due process and deliberation, and if needed the approval of the electorate)

Article Four

Treaties of the Reich with foreign states, which relate to matters of Reich legislation, shall for the duration of the validity of these laws not require the consent of the legislative authorities. The Reich government shall enact the legislation necessary to implement these agreements. (This removed the requirement of the Reichstag to approve treaties)

Article Five

This law enters into force on the day of its proclamation. It expires on April 1, 1937; it expires furthermore if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

When the legislation was introduced the debate was muted. While the Communist Party was yet to be banned, deputies of the Communist Party could not attend the session, many had already been arrested and many more were in hiding or had fled the country. Hermann Goering adjusted the rules for a quorum in order to compensate for the lack of members in attendance. Deputies of the Social Democratic Party were also terrorized, hounded, and some arrested, but 94 attended, outnumbered they did not buckle under the Nazi threats, which included the chamber being ringed by armed members of the SA and SS.

The non-Nazi Protestant based conservative parties provided no resistance, but the Catholic Center Party was torn by concerns that the legislation could limit the rights of the Catholic Church. However, they had been outmaneuvered by Hitler who had already negotiated a Concordant with the Vatican. The result was to ensure that the Catholic Center Party would vote for the measure, which passed with a mere 94 deputies opposing it, all members of the Social Democratic Party.

The only member of the Reichstag to speak against the measure was the head of the Social Democrats, Otto Wels. In defiance of Hitler, Goering, the Nazi Deputies, and the threatening SA and SS men uttered words that every resistor in every country threatened by authoritarian leaders who despise the rule of law and the Constitutions that they used to gain power need to hear and proclaim, because the truth can never be silenced:

“You can take our lives and our freedom, but you cannot take our honour. We are defenseless but not honourless.”

Shortly after the Enabling Act, every non-Nazi Conservative party voluntarily dissolved, their organizations, youth, and veterans organizations being absorbed into the SA or Hitlerjugend. Many rank and file KPD members readily embraced the Nazis, even if their leaders were killed, jailed, or exiled. That was not the case with the SPD. Because of their stance and the courage of Otto Wels, they became the most hated and persecuted German political parties.

Otto Wels died as an exile in France. Many Social Democrats were placed in Concentration Camps and died, likewise some Communists. The Catholic Center Party would find itself betrayed, and many of its leaders would be killed, jailed, or placed in Concentration Camps, and Hitler would persecute opposition members of the Catholic Church as if no Concordat had ever been negotiated. A few members of the Protestant conservative parties, would join the German resistance, and some would be jailed, placed in Concentration Camps, or after the failed Military Coup of July 20th 1944, would be executed for their resistance, but they were a distinct minority, and few had any misgivings as long as it looked like Germany would win the war.

But eventually the Nazis would be driven from power. Their descendants today, whether in Germany, the United States, or other countries must be confronted at all costs. Democracy, and the American Constitutional Democracy, based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes that all men are created equal, and the Constitution of the United States which was the first to checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government, must be upheld. The Executive Branch, cannot, regardless of which party is in power be allowed to overthrow that democracy.

We have reached a point in the history of the United States where the Executive Branch, over a period of decades has assumed the powers of dictatorship as the Legislative branch over the corresponding time has surrendered its prerogatives and powers, while the judicial branch had become the domain of politically appointed judges and justices. Donald Trump and the GOP Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, have been the leaders of that, but should by some chance Bernie win, I have no doubt that some of his supporters secure his power by similar means. Yesterday, the President declared himself to be the Chief Law Enforcement Official in the country, in effect above all law. The Founders attempted to ensure that would not happen by placing Congress above the Executive Branch in the Constitution, but they assumed that no Chief Executive would do such a thing.

One does not know what will happen next, especially after the Senate acquitted the President in his impeachment trial, and the President’s subsequent retribution on those whose did not support him completely, or obeyed their oaths of office.

However, it is my opinion, that anyone who truly values the primary principles of the Declaration and the Constitution, and not just be a compliant tool of any political leader, must ne willing to take a stand; like the one Otto Wels made when confronted with a dictatorship in the making. Even if the President unleashes the power of the police and his own heavily armed supporters against opponents, we must remember like Otto Wels, they can “take our lives and freedom, but they cannot take our honor…”

This is something that anyone committed to the principles of the Declaration and Constitution must take seriously over the next eight and a half months leading to the next Presidential election. If we fail, the effects will be felt for at least a generation, and the institutions of our government will be transformed in ways that the founders could only imagine in their worst dreams.

Democrats and Never Trump conservatives must keep this in mind. Nothing is guaranteed right now, it is quite possible that Trump and his cult like supporters in Congress, before the election, or if he is re-elected, with their now majority in the courts could enact something like the Enabling Act if we are not careful. We must be careful to watch for the major terrorist attack, or war that could lead to the implementation of already legislated laws, such as the Patriot Act, or executive orders that give near dictatorial powers to the executive, and which would, if they occurred, be supported by a majority of Americans.

Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:

”The mistake is to assume that rulers who came to power through institutions cannot change or destroy those very institutions—even when that is exactly what they have announced that they will do.”

Trump has said he would do that and his supporters are committed to what he says, but until now most Americans have refused to believe him, and them. Sadly, most still don’t. After all, once one ceases to resist what more is there to do, just go to the Cabaret.

As Joel Gray, the Master of Ceremonies in the musical and film Cabartet sang:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

Yes, ignore everything and immerse yourself in our entertainment and sports culture, as if nothing else matters. What does freedom matter if you have no troubles?

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Cabaret: the Perfect Film for Trump’s Changing America

 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I watched the 1972 musical film Cabaret. The film, based on the 1966 broadway musical could be a metaphor for the transformation of the United States under Trump.

The film and musical are set in 1931-32 Germany, the end of the Weimar Republic, the end of democracy, and the coming of the race based dictatorship of Adolf Hitler. Joel Gray, plays the very dark character of the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, reprising the role he played in the original stage musical. Liza Minnelli plays the role of Sally Bowles, an American expat selling her soul as a cabaret singer in order to become a famous actress. She becomes a lover of Michael York who plays Brian Roberts, a PhD candidate from Cambridge working in Germany as part of his degree studies, as well as Helmut Griem who plays the wealthy conservative baron Maximilian von Heune. Eventually the relationship of the three dissolves under the clouds of homosexuality, bisexuality, dishonesty, lies, abortion, and Sally’s hedonistic lifestyle in which she sacrifices everything about herself to become a movie star.

Finally, Sally drives Brian away, and he returns to England, while she ends up alone chasing her dreams at the Kit Kat Club, even as the Weimar Republic dies and the Nazis come to power.

I guess the most frightening part of the movie as how the film shows how ordinary people went from opposing the Nazis to supporting them. The opening of the film shows a Nazi being thrown out of the club by a bouncer, who is then set upon and beaten to death by other Nazi SA thugs.

Gray, who plays the Master of Ceremonies, is a very dark character who bends with the political winds goes from mocking the Nazis to a willing stooge, Griem, who plays the conservative Baron, hopes that the Nazis and Communists will fight it out, and that the conservatives can then control the Nazis. In a subplot, Fritz Wepper, who plays Fritz Wendel, a Jew who has moved to Berlin and been passing himself off as a Protestant, falls in love with Natalia Landauer, played by Marisa Berensen, a wealthy  Jewish heiress, who does not know that he is a Jew. It is only when she tells him that their love cannot survive because she is Jewish and he isn’t, that he realizes the extent of the lie he has been living. He ends up admitting that he is Jewish and they get married just before the Nazis seize power. Since this is a fictional work, we can only presume that the Landauer money, extorted from them by the Nazis helped get them out of Germany, but with the specter of the Holocaust looming one cannot say for sure.

In one part of the film, Max takes Sally and Brian on a road trip. They end up stopping in a rural Biergarten where a young man begins what initial seems like a very innocent song, called Tomorrow Belongs to Me” which is taken up by almost everyone in the audience. While it was a song written by the Jewish writers of the play and film, John Kanzler and Fred Erb, and was never an actual Nazi song it has become a Neo-Nazi anthem.

 

The sun on the meadow is summery warm.
The stag in the forest runs free.
But gather together to greet the storm.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
The branch of the linden is leafy and
Green,
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea.
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen.
Tomorrow belongs to me.
Now Fatherland, Fatherland, show us the sign
Your children have waited to see
The morning will come
When the world is mine
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs  to me
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow belongs to me

Meanwhile in Berlin the Kit Cat Club is adjusting to the rise of the Nazis. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song entitled If You Could See Her Through My Eyes in which he dances a waltz with what turns out to be a gorilla. The words and the song are haunting, as the audience, now more accepting of Nazi anti-Semitism laughs and cheers.

After returning to Berlin Sally and Brian are exposed to the pro-Nazi words and beliefs of their fellow boarding house residents. Brian argues against them but they have fully bought in to the propaganda put out by the Nazis.

I know what you’re thinking
You wonder why I chose her
Out of all the ladies in the world
That’s just a first impression
What good’s a first impression
If you knew her like I do,
It would change your point of view-
If you could see her
If you could see her thru my eyes,
Maybe they’d all understand…
Why don’t they leave us alone?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you,
Is there a crime to fall in love?
Can one ever choose where our heats lead us?
All we as is ‘Ein bißchen Verständnis’, a little understanding!
Oh, I understand your objection,
I grant my problem’s not small;
But if you could see her thru my eyes,
She wouldn’t look Jewish at all!

After the break up with Brian, Sally return to the club and performs the song Cabaret. She has abandoned everything for the sake of her career. The song is a complete abandonment to the moment, and encourages the audience to ignore the reality of what is going on.

What good is sitting, alone in your room?
come hear the music play!
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Put down the knitting, the book and the broom
It’s time for a holiday
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
Come taste the wine
Come hear the band
Come blow your horn
Start celebrating
Right this way your table´s waiting.
What good´s permitting some prophet of doom?
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret , old chum!
So come to the cabaret!
I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie
With whom I shared for sordid rooms in Chelsea
She wasn’t what you call a blushing flower
As a matter of fact she rented by the hour.
The day she died the neighbors
came to snick her
Well, that is what comes from
Too much pills and liquor.
But when I saw her laid out like a queen
She was the happiest corpse I´d ever seen
I think of Elsie till this very day
I remember how she´d turned to me and say,
What good is sitting all alone in your room?
Come hear the music play
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
Come to the cabaret!
And as for me
HA
And as for me
I made my mind up back in Chelsea
When I go………
I’m going like Elsie. 
Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
It isn’t that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum!
It´s only a cabaret, old chum!
And I love a cabaret!

But the words and visuals of then ending of the film are the most chilling. The Master of Ceremonies sings a song where the video shows the transformation of the audience. First the imagery shows no Nazis, then one, the a room full of Brownshirts as the MC signs:

Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so!
We have no troubles here
Here, life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful.
Even the orchestra is beautiful.

It reminds me of today, where in our entertainment culture we are encourage to ignore the reality that surrounds us. We are descending from a Republican form of representative democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship, and sadly most people would rather be bystanders waiting to see which way the wind will blow. Our media, entertainment, and yes even our insatiable need to fill our lives with the material wealth of the world, even if it means surrendering freedom.

Sophie Scholl, a young student at the University of Munich, and member of the White Rose resistance movement wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

I would rather be like Sophie than Sally, the Master of Ceremonies, or Max.

If you have never seen the film I encourage you to watch it, as we are in the midst of such a situation in our own country. History May not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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