CDE Studies 21

Ulrike Behlau-Dengler
Zakhor! Remembering the British-Jewish Experience in British-Jewish Drama after 1945

Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2011.
ISBN 978-3-86821-314-0, 494 S., kt., € 48,50 (2011)

The very existence of British-Jewish drama has long been an open question. In October 2000, David Jays noted that „Jewish writing is a neglected presence in British Theatre“ and, in 2003, Diane Samuels referred to the same problem at a panel discussion stating that only Jews seem to notice that „[Harold] Pinter’s a profoundly Jewish writer“. In 2011, the question has been rephrased – but seemingly not settled – as Pascal asks the question whether „writing Jewish“ might (still) be a problem. As this thesis shows, British-Jewish drama seems to be very much alive, and memory and the act of remembering itself have emerged as central topics within British-Jewish drama. This thesis isolates four central ‚time-spaces‘, or chronotopes (Bakhtin), around which strategies of remembering and thus definitions of ‚who are we as British Jews‘ have clustered since the end of the Second World War: the Jewish East End as the birthplace of British-Jewish identity for Jewish immigrants and their children between the 1880s and the Blitz; the Jewish communities‘ suffering during the Middle Ages both on the continent and on British soil – which is also read as a precursor to the anti-Jewish hatred that marked the Holocaust; the Holocaust and its reverberations both on the continent and on UK territory; and the hopes and struggles for a stable and peaceful State of Israel from the 1940s until today. These imagined time-spaces have emerged as cornerstones of British-Jewish collective memory and have been used to structure and assign meaning to the experience of Jewish life in Great Britain. The dramatisations of British-Jewish figures of memory by Kops, Wesker, Steven Berkoff, Pascal, Samuels and Pinter are aimed at both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, challenging Holocaust amnesia as well as simplistic and anti-Semitic representations of Jewish life. They do not intend to establish a dramatic sub or counter culture, but try to open up the monolithic self-definition of British collective memory to include a British-Jewish perspective as well, dealing with essential experiences and narratives of Jewish – but not just Jewish – life in Britain today.