Museum Europäischer Kulturen
"Circus. Freedom. Gleichschaltung" (policy of enforced coordination) is a special presentation by: “Diverging Fates: Travelling Circus People in Europe under National Socialism”, a collaborative project coordinated by the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland; the Project Group “Circus im Nationalsozialismus” (The Circus under National Socialism); and the Museum Europäischer Kulturen (MEK) of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
Multicultural and inclusive, circuses have always been a popular form of entertainment in Europe. The cosmopolitanism of the circus milieu, however, came up against the racial fanaticism of National Socialism, under which people of non-Germanic origin were evaluated according to a racial hierarchy. Circus directors ranged from those who profiteered from the persecution of their artistes to those who saved their lives. Various biographies illustrate how the cultural politics of the National Socialists affected circuses and their performers. The extraordinary story the German circus artiste, Irene Bento, is one example. In 1939, Bento was banned from her profession because of her Jewish descent. By concealing themselves as part of a travelling circus, she and some of her family were able to escape the Nazi extermination camps. The story of the circus under National Socialism is vividly told through a mixture of universal and personal history.
The subject of the circus under National Socialism has so far received little attention. Precisely for this reason, the “Circus im Nationalsozialismus” project’s exhibition aims to both inform and move. It is a contribution to a wider project of collective remembrance – one which is not only relevant for the present day, but must remain vibrant in future, when there will no longer be any living eye-witnesses.
The two-year pilot project, “Diverging Fates: Travelling Circus People in Europe under National Socialism”, which involves researchers from five different countries, seeks to bring the fate of the travelling circus people of Europe under the Nazi regime to the attention, not only of the university research community, but also of the wider public. A series of selected biographies will be presented on the project website.
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