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READING | "Hate is a Failure of Imagination"

  • Austrian Cultural Forum Washington 3524 International Court Northwest Washington, DC, 20008 United States (map)

2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the “Anschluss”, the annexation of Austria to Nazi-Germany. In the wake of the destructive Nazi-regime and World War II, six million Jews became victims of the Holocaust and were detained and killed in concentration camps. In commemoration, the ACF Washington is honoured to host the literature reading program „Hate is a Failure of Imagination“, presented by the founder and Executive Director as well as the Program Director of Elysium - Between Two Continents in New York, a non-profit organization dedicated to artistic and creative dialogue and mutual friendship between the United States of America and Europe.



with texts by Alice Herz-Sommer, Georg Kafka, Paul Aron Sandfort, Leo Strauss, Viktor Ullmann, and Ilse Weber

Under the patronage of Prof. Felix Kolmer, Advisor to the Foundation for Holocaust Victims

Concept and Introduction: Michael Lahr

Recitation: Gregorij H. von Leïtis

The recent wave of terror attacks on the one hand and of right-wing hate crimes on the other hand have drastically reminded us, how hatred can blind people and how much destruction and violence an inhuman ideology can unleash. The artists who were imprisoned in Theresienstadt have defied the Nazis’ hatred and contempt for them in their own way. The words of these artists can encourage us today, to break through the spiral of hate, violence and destruction.

The Nazis relentlessly stoked hate against the Jews. They tried to dehumanize them and degrade them to mere numbers. But the artists who were imprisoned in Theresienstadt, countered this hate – which Graham Greene so aptly described as a failure of imagination – with a powerful offensive of imagination. With their artistic phantasy, their creative power, their inventive energy they continuously proved wrong the national-socialist dictum, that Jews were sub-human and as such incapable of any real culture.

The literary collage “Hate is a Failure of Imagination“ is a testament to the power of imagination and to the profound love and humanity of the artists who were imprisoned in the ghetto and concentration camp Theresienstadt. The unshakable hope that human decency will prevail and that humanity will be stronger than all the attempts to crush it, this is the message conveyed by the texts of Alice Herz-Sommer, Georg Kafka, Paul Aron Sandfort, Leo Strauss, Viktor Ullmann, and Ilse Weber. Especially today it is more important than ever, to carry this message of hope, this strong positive signal out into the world. The life-affirming testimony of those artists can comfort, inspire and embolden us today.

In the infamous extermination machinery of the NS-Regime, Theresienstadt (or Terezin) played a very special role. Originally established as a collection camp for the Jews who lived in the so-called “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia”, it served as a “model ghetto” after the Wannsee Conference. It was a propaganda instrument to distract the world from the Final Solution. Especially prominent Jews and highly decorated Jewish veterans from World War I were brought to Theresienstadt. In the summer of 1944 a delegation of the International Red Cross visited Theresienstadt. For a certain period of time the inmates of Theresienstadt were granted certain privileges. They had the chance to be active artistically and could organize readings, concerts, plays, even cabaret performances as part of the so-called “Leisure Organization” (Freizeitgestaltung). But behind this cynical disguise, the systematic death machinery of the Holocaust continued to function without constraints. Of the 140,000 Jews deported to Theresienstadt, about a quarter died on site due to hunger, illness, malnourishment, bad hygiene, and exhaustion. 88,000 people were sent on transports to the extermination camps in the East.

Gregorij H. von Leïtis, Founding Artistic Director of Elysium, will recite the texts of the artists from Theresienstadt. For 50 years he has been working as a director at various theatres in Europe and the US. With Michael Lahr, he founded The Lahr von Leïtis Academy & Archive in 1995, whose president he is. Since 1992 Gregorij von Leïtis had been active as guest director at numerous theaters. His performance for piano and speaker of "The Lay of Love and Death of the Cornet Christoph Rilke”, one of the last works which the composer Viktor Ullmann was able to finish in the ghetto and concentration camp Theresienstadt, before he was deported to Auschwitz in October 1944 and murdered there, has been staged internationally in more than 30 cities. 

As the program director of Elysium, Michael Lahr has unearthed numerous works by artists who had to flee their home country under the pressure of the Nazi regime, or who were murdered. He is also the Executive Director of The Lahr von Leitis Academy & Archive, which holds materials of artists such as Erwin and Maria Ley Piscator, Egon Lustgarten, Alice Herz-Sommer and others; Chairman of the Erwin Piscator Award Society and the editor of The Bridge Journal.

Photo | (c) EBTC, Paul Aron Sandfort



Thu, April 19, 2018

7:00 PM – 9:00 PM EDT

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Austrian Cultural Forum Washington

3524 International Court Northwest 

Washington, DC 20008 

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