I. Buildings Integral to the Former Life and/or Persecution of Jews in Hamburg - Neustadt/St. Pauli.
No. 67 Raboisen.
The Thalia Theater was founded in 1843 by the French born Jew, Charles Maurice Schwartzenberger, known under his pseudonym of Chéri Maurice. The hundredth anniversary of the founding of the theatre fell in the year 1943, in Nazi Germany, during the Second World War. Chéri Maurice, being a Jew, was unmentioned at the celebrations. The theatre was no bastion of Nazi propaganda, but did co-operate with the Nazi dictatorship. Plays by Nazi dramatists were included in the programme, and the title of the programme guide was changed. The original title of Freihafen (Free Harbour) could have been interpreted as if the theatre were an island of freedom.
Following their rise to power, the Nazis sought to impose their concept of nationalist theatre. The Thalia Theater manager, Eric Ziegel, was not submissive to their policy. A major altercation occured at the beginning of 1934, at the premier of "Groß-Cophta", by Goethe. The Gestapo went backstage after the first act, and demanded the termination of the play: "So geht das nicht, Herr Ziegel, das ist eine Beleidigung" ("It's not on, Herr Ziegel, it's an insult"). What was alluded to was that an actor playing the conspirator in this classical play had parodied Hitler's speech and gestures. Ziegel decided the play should continue, but this was his last production.
Shortly thereafter, Ziegel, together with his Jewish wife, Mirjam Horwitz, departed Hamburg, and Germany. Other Jewish theatre members also saw no alternative to exile abroad. They could no longer feel at home in a theatre which staged a play by the Italian dictator Mussolini.
The theatre was once again involved in Resistence against the barbaric Nazi dictatorship, this time not on stage but in the cellar. The set-designer Otto Gröllmann concealed the secret documents of the Resistance group lead by Bernhard Bästlein, Franz Jacob and Robert Abshager, the largest and most effective Resistance group operating in the Hamburg area. Most members were Communists. In 1943, Otto Gröllmann was arrested and imprisoned awaiting trial. He used his temporary release from custody, following the massive air-raid in July 1943, to disappear. He is an example of the liberal tradition of the theatre, which was re-established after the war.
Chéri Maurice (Charles Maurice Schwartzenberger):
Charles Maurice Schwartzenberger was born on 29th May 1805, to Jewish parents, in Agen in south-west France. However, it was under his pseudonym of Chéri Maurice that he became part of Hamburg theatre history. This choice of career was unexpected, it being assumed he would enter the family business of liqueur making. The business was originally situated in France, and from 1826 onward in Hamburg. The family moved to Hamburg as here lived the largest French immigrant community, which represented a lucrative market for French spirits.
Even after the spirit of the enlightenment and the industrial revolution had toppled the old order it remained a stigma to be a foreigner and Jew in the first half of the 19th century. Many new occupations emerged, also open to Jews, like a liqueur factory established by the French family Schwartzenberger.
Charles' father soon established a second business, the Tivoli, in Basenbinderhof. It was a forerunner of today's Tivoli amusement park in Copenhagen, Denmark. It included clowns, fire-eaters, a 200 metre slide, and other attractions. In 1929, the twenty-four year old Charles was allowed to open a summer theatre in the Tivoli. Charles, who had assumed the pseudonym Chéri Maurice, attracted thousands of Hamburg citizens into his theatre with farces in Plattdeutsch (Low German), and French light theatre plays translated into German.
The young theatre director made a name for himself in the theatre world. After two years he was appointed co-director of the Steinstraße Theatre, and could now produce plays in the winter as well as the summer. He managed both theatres with artistic and financial success. In 1832, he acquired citizenship of Hamburg due to his business success and by being Christian, although of Jewish descent. A few days after this he married the middle class Emilie Möller.
Following the Great Fire in Hamburg, that raged from the 5th to the 8th of May 1842, the fire regulations became stricter and the Steinstraße Theatre had to close. Thereupon, the by now wealthy, Chéri Maurice built the Thalia Theater in Pferdemarkt (today Gerhart-Hauptmann-Platz). He managed this private theatre for half a century, and made it into one of the most established theatres in Germany. It was referred to as the "norddeutschen Burg", comparing the theatre with the Burgtheater in Vienna. People continued to mock the Jewish immigrant and his imperfect German, but artistic acceptance and enthusiasm were predominant.
All sections of society poured into his theatre, which had a seating capacity of 1,800. The Thalia Theater was not allowed to compete with the Stadttheater, thereby guaranteeing the latter's survival. Chéri Maurice was not allowed to stage plays or opera, but he took light theatre very seriously, and took it to a previously unknown peak of professionalism and success. As theatre manager he travelled all over Germany, and attracted the best actors and actresses to his theatre, so that he became known as the "Rattenfänger von Hamburg" (rat-catcher from Hamburg).
His staging of up to one hundred plays every year in his theatre did not appear to fully stretch this short, energetic man. He twice, additionally assumed the management of the Stadttheater to save it from artistic and financial ruin. However, the simultaneous management of two theatres proved too much even for this most dynamic of theatre managers, and he again concentrated on his Thalia Theater, and managed it until he was 80 years old. His son then became manager. When his son died unexpectedly, the 88 year old Chéri Maurice once again resumed the role of manager, for a season.
On 27th January 1896, Chéri Maurice died at the age of 90. He had been the most successful Hamburg theatre manager of the 19th century.
His bust stands in the vestibule of the theatre.