I’m planning to be doctor but after Great War wounds, needing to laugh, I bound onto cabaret stages of Berlin and tell funny stories and sing and in short time people line up to cheer. While Germany and much of world plummet into economic mire I rejoice in every performance, live in elegant apartment, and dine and travel first class.
I also yearn to be in movies and get many roles but directors won’t let me star. You’re quite charming, Kurt, even charismatic, but hefty man smoking fat cigars can’t be romantic lead. I can play anyone else, though, and appear in “The Blue Angel” under Marlene Dietrich, and also direct. I’m always entertaining and believe many Nazis understand. They’ve surely heard me sing “Mack the Knife.” Today storm troopers are singing “Horst Wessel Song” as march onto movie set. Smiling, I stand to offer autographs and cabaret tickets. “Get off the set, Jew, and don’t stink it up again.”
I walk away but know Germans will want me back. Meanwhile, I move to Paris. In great city I don’t need Hollywood like many German colleagues. When money becomes scarce I head to Amsterdam. No thanks, I still say to Hollywood offers. I’m doing Dutch airline ad that’s soon cancelled. Okay, I write to director Fritz Lang, fellow Germanic Jew. He doesn’t answer but agent does, warning actor like me may not be popular in United States and can’t recommend I relocate on speculation.
Fine. Dutch now pack theaters but I’m worried Nazi propaganda film “The Eternal Jew” uses shots of me as particularly repugnant sort, and soon I arrive at theater to discover it’s transport center for Jews, and I’m on train heading East. Don’t worry, Nazis say, you’ll be comfortable. I pray that’s true.
At Theresienstadt guards take clothes, watch, and remaining cash but people there are delighted to see Kurt Gerron ready to perform in plays. We have many actors, musicians, painters, and creative people here. At times it’s almost like home, in spiritual sense. Physically, we deal with more people, less food, more disease, and recurring whispers we could any moment be transported to terrible place in Poland.
That won’t happen. I’m on stage and people are cheering. There’s hope. Nazis are fixing up part of camp for Red Cross representatives who tour neat apartments inhabited by well-dressed people eating big healthy meals prior to going outside to stroll among flowers, and Red Cross folks say Theresienstadt’s wonderful.
Following successful live performance camp commandant tells me to direct documentary film, and then I’ll be free. I first ask council of elders who say, don’t feel guilty, survive. What thrilling experiences I have, orchestrating actors and elements of major production. Kids smile and eat bread and look happy and healthy like soccer players in courtyard game hundreds watch from pretty building around field. After game people go home to fine dinner and later in auditorium listen to great orchestra. I’m creating special place and ignore guard who calls me stinking Jew. I’ll soon be rid of him. Film’s going to win award I’ll receive when production ends in September 1944. Next month wife and I are put on train stopping at place where sign arcs over entrance: Arbeit Macht Frei.
Source: Documentary film “Prisoner of Paradise.”