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A lost comedy cabaret from the Terezin ghetto is reconstructed and finally staged

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Before World War II, Karel Švenk was a pioneer of avant-garde theater in Prague. A young actor, director, composer, and writer, he had a bright future ahead of him.

Then the Holocaust began and Švenk was deported by the Nazis to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto-concentration camp in November 1941. Despite intolerable living conditions, cultural life thrived among the Terezin inmates. Theater and cabaret were a crucial part of this, and the well-liked Švenk was a leader.

He wrote six cabarets that were performed in the camp dozens of times each. “Terezin March,” his song for the finale of the first of these shows, became an unofficial anthem of hope among the inmates.

A seventh cabaret, “The Last Cyclist,” did not make it past its dress rehearsal when the camp’s Nazi-appointed Jewish leadership, the Council of Elders, banned it because of its explicit allegory to the Nazi regime and its agenda. The inmates could often get away with humor and satire, but this was a step too far, and the council members — who answered to the Nazis but sought above all to keep their Jewish brethren safe — feared a Nazi reprisal were the play to be staged.

Švenk’s original scripts and notes for all his Terezin cabarets were lost when he took them with him upon his deportation to Auschwitz on October 1, 1944. He died at age 28 on a death march from a slave labor sub-camp of Buchenwald in April 1945, just a few weeks before the war’s end.

However, thanks to the dedicated research and creativity of author, editor, and playwright Naomi Patz, “The Last Cyclist” eventually made it onto the stage in front of audiences around the United States and Mexico City. A filmed version of a New York production has been screened at film festivals and will be aired in the New York tri-state area on THIRTEEN’s Theater Close-Up on August 16 and 21.

“The project grabbed me and I stuck with it for years,” the New Jersey-based Patz said about resurrecting the cabaret.

“It is so captivating. It’s a hilarious comedy that makes people laugh, and it is disarming to the point of your forgetting where this was meant to be performed,” she said.

“The Last Cyclist” is about a group of patients in........

© The Times of Israel

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