Contemporary Witness Theatre

The project “Contemporary Witness Theatre” is aimed at the survivors of the Nazi terror regime as well as young people. It serves as a creative means of processing persecution stories by bringing victims of National Socialism together in a joint effort with students in order to create a play from the persecution stories that will be performed by the students at the end of the project. Owing to its intergenerational exchange, the witness theatre meets therapeutic purposes, while, at the same time, it works against oblivion, as it enables the documentation of individual persecution stories.

The concept of Contemporary Witness Theatre is in line with the project “Witness Theatre", which was developed by JDC/Eshel in Israel. JDC/Eshel is a non-profit cooperative, which is committed to the support of the relief organisation American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Israeli government in order to improve the living conditions of elderly people in Israel. In 2005, JDC/ESHEL launched the program "to tell in order to live" and has since initiated the construction of about 50 Witness Theatre groups. As a partner organisation of JDC/Eshel, the “Bundesverband” has begun to transfer and adapt the idea of the "Witness Theatre" to Germany. Just as in the Israeli version, in the German Contemporary Witness Theatre, survivors of the Nazi terror are brought together with students for the purpose of creating a play together from the persecution stories that will be performed by the students at the end of the project. Regarding the content, the concept conducted by the “Bundesverband” deviates from the Israeli "Witness Theatre" in so much as it is not carried out exclusively by Holocaust survivors, but also involves persecuted people from other backgrounds. Moreover, with respect to the participating pupils, it is peculiar that these are composed of descendants of victims, perpetrators and immigrants, who are not directly involved in the history of Nazi persecution.
Since the Contemporary Witness Theatre requires a high level of psychological resilience of both the survivors and the students, during the project phase a psychotherapist is on hand with help and advice. In addition, the stories of the survivors are edited by theatre education professionals and implemented dramaturgically. Because of this, the project is of particular importance for all participants. The young people have the opportunity to contribute in a responsible manner to a joint coming to terms with the past and to actively deal with the terror of the Nazi rogue regime and beyond a mere analysis of "facts and data”. Survivors are encouraged, through the processing of their experiences, to understand their own destiny as "meaningful" and regain confidence and trust in the generation that is growing up today. The Contemporary Witness Theatre thus fulfils therapeutic purposes while at the same time rendering a particularly lasting form of participation possible beyond the timeframe and the content of the project. The project also facilitates the documentation of individual persecution stories that would otherwise be irrevocably forgotten, because the scenic script and the theatre performance are stored electronically with the consent of the all those involved. The resulting material, which is composed with the assistance of theatre educators, is subsequently made available to the cooperating schools, where it can be used as a special element in history lessons about the era of National Socialism.