Cataloguing the Martin Miller and Hannah Norbert Miller Archive

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July 2020

The survival of the smuggled scripts

Under the Austrofascist regime established by Austria’s ultra-right-wing Fatherland Front Party in 1934 and lasting until the German annexation in 1938, small unofficial theatres were one of the few public arenas in which criticism of the regime and the growing influence of Nazi Germany could be voiced from within Austria. Large theatres with auditoriums for more than 50 people were strictly regulated through a system of licensing, which compelled managers and artists to comply strictly with the regime’s cultural policy and present an uncritical view of social and political events.1

However, those theatre workers prepared to make do with simple, low-budget productions on makeshift stages with audiences of less than 50 could avoid the heaviest penalties imposed by the censor and perform plays by writers critical of events in Nazi Germany and Austria. Such theatres included the avant-garde ‘Theater für 49’, where Hannah Norbert-Miller performed in the expressionist play ‘Das Leben des Menschen’ in the spring of 1937, as well as the political cabaret theatre,  ABC Regenbogen Café, where Jura Soyfer was the in-house author.2

Feodor Weingart and Hanne Norbert in Das Leben der Menschen  at the Theater für 49 in Vienna, April 1937

Miller 3/4/1/6 Feodor Weingart and Hanne Norbert in Das Leben des Menschen at the Theater für 49 in Vienna, April 1937

Unfortunately many of the records from this fascinating aspect of Austrian theatre history have gone missing without a trace.3 This is particularly true for the political cabaret scripts, which, given the political circumstances of their creation and the fact that they were written for immediate performance, were rarely published or made more broadly available. In the case of the highly political scripts of Jura Soyfer, many were confiscated and lost for good when he was arrested in November 1937. Under National Socialism, moreover, the possession of his work was a great risk, and some of the records of his writing were burnt by his parents and friends out of fear.4 Consequently only fragments of some of his work from this time have survived. For example, much of Soyfer’s novel, So starb einer Partei, which was the work he most valued, was lost. The image below shows a leaf from one of the surviving bundles of typescripts which found their way into the Millers’ possessions.

So starb einer Partei003

Miller 1/2/4/2. Page from surviving fragment of Jura Soyfer’s novel, So starb einer Partei

So how did his writing survive and his theatre plays end up being performed in London less than a year after his death in Buchenwald? Above all, it was because some of his friends, family and colleagues bravely risked their lives to carry the manuscripts beyond Austria’s borders. Otto Tausig, the leader of the exile theatre company, the ‘Austrian Youth Players’, later wrote that in the suitcases of some of those who emigrated after 1938, handwritten poems, a newspaper article or an almost complete play could lie hidden between the shirts or books.5 

One of those courageous people who transported them was Helli Ultmann, Soyfer’s girlfriend. Ultmann made her way to exile in the USA via Paris and London, where she was in touch with Martin Miller and met him to pass on copies of Soyfer’s work. The letter below in the Miller Archive written by her in October 1939 to Martin Miller captures the moment when she arranged to pass on the smuggled material to Martin for the Laterndl:

Letter from Helli Ultmann

Miller 2/126. Letter from Helli Ultmann to Martin Miller, October 1939. By kind permission of Monica Andis, daughter of Helli Andis (née Ultmann).

Roughly translated, the letter reads:

I can come to London, I would very much like to attend your performance. Also let me know by return of post what I should copy down for you, I will then bring it with me, as I’m expecting my luggage to arrive tomorrow at the latest. I can actually bring you the chansons a few hours before the performance, so you’ll still have enough time to prepare them.

In all, two of Soyfer’s theatre scripts and seven of his song lyrics (such as the one below) ended up in the Miller collection. We cannot be sure which of the lyrics are the chansons referred to Ultmann in her letter, but for me the letter wonderfully captures a moment of triumph against Nazi oppression: when the bravery of those determined keep alive the memory of Soyfer and his political message won a small victory with the knowledge that his work would again be performed and celebrated in public.

Wenn der Himmel grau wird

Miller 1/2/4/1/7. Script of ‘Wenn der Himmel grau wird’ by Jura Soyfer

1 Barbara Nowotny, ‘Theater im Souterrain: Das politische Wiener Theater der 1. Republik’ (unpublished master’s thesis, University of Vienna, 2010), p28.
2 Viktoria Hertling, ‘Theater für 49: Ein vergessenes Avantgarde-Theater in Wien (1934-1938)’, in Jura Soyfer and his time, ed. by Donald G. Daviau (California: Ariadne Press, 1995), pp. 321-335.
3 Nowotny, p. 5. Hans Weigel also discusses this issue at multiple points in his book Gerichtstag vor 49 Leuten (Austria: Verlag Styria, 1981), for example, p. 33, p. 120 and p. 159.
4 Horst Jarka, Jura Soyfer: Leben, Werk, Zeit (Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1987), p.498.
5 Jura Soyfer, Vom Paradies zum Weltuntergang, ed. by Otto Tausig (Vienna: Globus Verlag, 1947), p. 9.

White House to become Brown House: the April Fool Führer

On April Fools’ Day 1940, a speech broadcast by the BBC to Germany and Austria apparently by Adolf Hitler himself seemed to raise the prospect of the United States being drawn into WW2 more swiftly than had been expected. Citing his desire to protect the Czech and Polish minorities in New York, and the importance of German science and technology in his discovery of America, the Führer set out his demand that the United States become a German protectorate. In one fell swoop he also announced plans to reinvent the New York skyline, remove the Statue of Liberty to alleviate traffic congestion, and rename the White House the ‘Brown House’.

Miller.1/1/1. Typescript of 'Der Führer spricht' ('The Führer speaks'), 1940

Miller 1/1/1. Typescript of ‘Der Führer spricht’ (‘The Führer speaks’), 1940

The broadcast was received with consternation in the United States, where it led the CBS network to contact the BBC in a panic to ask after its source.1 It came, after all, as the German military build-up to the invasion of western Europe was reaching its peak: the invasion of Norway and Denmark followed just a few days later on 9 April, and that of Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and France only a month later, in May 1940.

The speech was, in fact, a spoof, written and performed by Martin Miller and commissioned for a live radio broadcast on the BBC’s European service, whose directors were keen to use it as part of their propaganda war against Germany. The April Fools’ speech, ‘Der Führer spricht‘, was the first in a series of Hitler speech parodies which Martin wrote and performed for the BBC between 1940 and 1942. Last year a tape recording of the 1940 broadcast was added to the collection and and digitised, and from this a video with English subtitles has been created. This is the only recording of Martin’s Hitler parodies to have survived, although a post about another of Martin’s spoof speeches can be found here.

Miller 2/16. BBC contract for Hitler speech parody radio broadcast, 1940

Miller 2/16. BBC contract for Hitler speech parody radio broadcast, 1940

Martin had in fact written the speech earlier in the year for a performance at the Austrian exile theatre, the Laterndl (photograph below), where it was seen by around 6000 viewers in the course of its three-month run in the cabaret show Blinklichter. In the audience at one of the performances was the BBC’s Head of the German Section of the Political Warfare Executive, Richard Crossman, who subsequently arranged for Martin to repeat the performance for radio broadcast.2

Miller 3/1/1/2. Martin Miller as the Führer, Laterndl, January 1940

Miller 3/1/1/2. Martin Miller as the Führer, Laterndl, January 1940

Laterndl audiences were perhaps more used to viewing satirical sketches relating to current events in Germany and Austria, as this was the core material of the Kleinkunstbühne. For most British audiences, however, the use of satire in the theatre to stir up anti-Nazi feeling was relatively new. Even in the late 1930s stage representations of Hitler were banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, and a number of theatres were refused licences for plays which critically depicted events in Nazi Germany. Developments in Germany were at that time still considered to be ‘no direct concern of ours’, and it was felt undesirable that a theatre should become a centre of anti-Nazi feeling.3 Just three years before Martin’s parody of the Führer was commissioned by the BBC, a British actor was prosecuted and fined for his humorous caricature of Hitler at the Kings Theatre in Hammersmith. The sentence was reported with disapproval in Germany, where the Nazi paper, Der Angriff, commented that it was a ‘lenient punishment for impertinence’ and that ‘England does her duty lackadaisically’.4 One can only imagine the Nazis’ reaction to Miller’s brilliant and biting satire of 1940 – this time it was not reported in the Nazi press!

Miller 2/8. Letter from Julius Bab to Martin Miller, 20 April 1940

Miller 2/8. Letter from Julius Bab to Martin Miller, 20 April 1940

Martin’s ability to capture the Führer’s vocabulary, rhythm, intonation in a speech containing the same warped logic of a real Hitler speech made his name as an actor in circles well beyond those in London’s Austrian exile community. The letter above from 20 April 1940 gives some indication of the impact that the parody had on anti-Nazis in the countries under the direct threat of invasion. Julius Bab, the German theatre critic and journalist with whom Martin had worked at the Jüdischer Kulturbund in Berlin, wrote from exile in Paris to inform him that news of his parody been reported by the prominent French journalist and historian, Geneviève Tabouis, at a conference in the city two days earlier.

The letter (roughly translated) reads:

This G. Tb. [Geneviève Tabouis] held a conference on 18 April 1940 in the Marigny Theatre [in Paris]. It was oversubscribed and has to be held a second time. She talked about Hitler’s plans. In the course of this she said:

In London there is now an excellent Austrian actor, Miller, who, at a cabaret club, does a splendid imitation of Hitler. He declared (as Hitler!) recently: ‘Columbus discovered America with a German compass. So America actually belongs to Germany!’

She continued with her account, in great detail. To much amusement! I thought you would enjoy hearing about this!

There can be no doubt that Martin would have been pleased with this news of the impact of the parody. As well as the reports of the reaction abroad, several British newspapers reported on the spoof broadcast, including the News Chronicle, which featured the story on its front page.5 Most importantly for Martin, it would have been a way of fighting back against the evil of National Socialism. On a personal level it also secured his reputation as a brilliant impersonator and actor at the BBC, the most important broadcasting institution in the country that was to become his new home.


1 Daniel Snowman, The Hitler Emigres: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism (London: Pimlico, 2003), p. 134.
2 Charmian Brinson, ‘The Go-Between: Martin Miller’s Career in Broadcasting’, in German-speaking Exiles in the Performing Arts in Britain after 1933, ed. by Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove, The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, 5 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013), pp. 3-16 (p. 4).
3 Dominic Shellard and Steve Nicholson, The Lord Chamberlain regrets …: a History of British Theatre Censorship (London: The British Library, 2004), p. 117).
4 Shellard and Nicholson, p. 120.
5 Brinson, p. 5.

Lechner Edi at the Laterndl

Photographs, a compère script and a programme all bear witness to the Laterndl’s production of Jura Soyfer’s Lechner Edi schaut ins Paradies in February 1940, part of the cabaret show, Von Adam bis Adolf. This post will draw together this material to see what overall record they provide of the production. It also links to a recording of a song from the play set to music for the Laterndl performance by German exile composer E.H. Meyer. The recording was made at the event ‘Political Cabaret in Exile: Music from the Miller Archive’ at the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2013.

Miller 5/1/6. Programme for the Laterndl's third cabaret show, Von Adam bis Adolf, February 1940 (photocopy

Miller 5/1/6. Programme for the Laterndl’s third cabaret show, Von Adam bis Adolf, February 1940 (photocopy

As the programme below shows, of the ten items composing the show, Lechner Edi was number six on the agenda, immediately following the interval and more or less at the central point of the programme. Lasting 30-40 minutes, the play is good example of the Mittelstück genre of Austrian Kleinkunst cabaret, with which Soyfer became closely associated. Such playlets were usually sandwiched into the centre of a cabaret programme of more traditional and shorter cabaret numbers, usually between two intervals. The longer length of the Mittelstück allowed Kleinkunst writers to explore their chosen themes more deeply, the term (literally ‘middle piece’) being a reference to the position of such pieces somewhere between theatre and cabaret.1

Von Adam 2 and 3 joined1

Miller 5/1/6. Programme for the Laterndl’s third cabaret show, Von Adam bis Adolf, February 1940 (photocopy)

Although there is no script of the play itself in the collection, there is this English-language script (below) written for the compère, whose job it was (at least in the UK exile version of political cabaret) to give an overview of the plot for non-German audience members. In this case the compère script was probably written and presented by Hanne Norbert, whose English language skills in addition to her acting talents made her a great asset to the Laterndl.

Miller 1/2/1/2

Miller 1/2/1/2. Compère’s script for Jura Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, February 1940

As the script explains, the protagonist of the play is a young man named Edi Lechner (played by Peter Preses) who has been out of work for six years and is obsessed by the dream of finding employment. In the mid-1930s, when the play was written, unemployment in Austria was rife (around 25%), with youth unemployment a particular problem. For Edi’s girlfriend Fritzi, played by Marianne Walla, the idea of Edi ever having a job is so alien she laughs in disbelief when, in scene one (shown in the photographs below), he describes the work he used to do on machines before being made redundant.

Lechner photo002

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

Six years after he last worked, Edi is still bitter about losing his job, and blames the machinery he once used and controlled but which later replaced him. When one such machine, a robot called Pepi (played by Jaro Klüger), appears on stage and announces that now he too has been made redundant, Edi is angry and disbelieving, and accuses Pepi of stealing his job. Following Edi’s logic, Pepi concludes that the inventions and discoveries of technological and scientific progress are the root causes of Edi present unemployment. The solution he proposes, quickly taken up by Edi, is to undo those pivotal moments in history when such advances were made. Pepi offers to use his time-travelling capacity to transport Edi and Fritzi back in time and persuade the scientists, inventors, explorers and others responsible for progress to reverse their steps. This will, they naively conclude, rid the world of the curse of unemployment.

Peter Preses and Marianne Walla in 'Der Lechner Edi' 1940

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

The photograph below captures a moment of the trio’s journey back through time. It is interesting to compare the Laterndl photograph with this photograph of the first production of the play at the Viennese cabaret theatre, Literatur am Naschmarkt, in October 1936.2 The Laterndl photo suggests that the Kleinkunst style of limited simple decor and costumes was in this play taken even further than it was in the genre’s original context.

Lechner photo001

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

Soyfer’s ‘Wanderlied der Zeit’ (‘Song of Time’) accompanies the travellers on their trip through time, as they pass first through the years of the First World War. The programme above indicates that E.H. Meyer composed the music for the production and that the words were ‘spoken’ by Leo Bieber. A recording of the song from the 2014 Bloomsbury Festival using Meyer’s setting can be heard here.

The song has been interpreted by Horst Jarka as reflecting on the transience of human existence and the passing of time over which humans have no control.3  The last verse, Jarka argues, urges the protagonists to revolt against the crippling nature of this transience, and to gain clarity of vision about the past. However, at this stage in the play, Edi’s understanding of his position is still clearly shaped by his sense of predestination about historical development. As they travel further and further back in time, from Luigi Galvani to Galileo and to Christopher Columbus, Edi’s frustration increases as his sense of impotency grows in the face of the apparent inevitability of historical development. The photograph below shows Edi talking to a sailor (Martin Miller) on board Columbus’s ship, where he tries to persuade the explorer not to discover America, but is ultimately forced to accept Columbus’s argument that if he, Columbus, does not do so, someone else will.

Lechner photo004

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

Eventually Edi finds himself back at the very beginning of time: at the gates of paradise, just as humankind is about to be created. The photograph below shows him pleading with the guard (also played by Martin Miller) either to give him a job or to let him petition ‘management’ to abandon the plans for the creation – Soyfer’s Marxist slant on a biblical tale.

Lechner photo006

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

The final song, the ‘Moritat im Paradies’ (‘Ballad at the gates of paradise’), sets out Edi’s vision of the inevitable misery that will arise if humankind is created. Each verse of the song evokes a different figure of human unhappiness, as shown in the photograph below: a profiteer, a laid-off, homeless worker, a poverty-stricken mother, a prostitute and finally a vengeful killer brutalised by his experiences in WW1. Only by halting the birth of humankind in the first place can the experiences of such tormented lives be avoided, Edi asserts.

Laterndl performance of 'Der Lechner Edi' 1940

Miller 3/1/1/5. Photograph of Laterndl performance of Soyfer’s Lechner Edi, 1940

Edi’s attempt to prevent the very birth of the human race is the pinnacle of his sense of impotency over historical development, but in ‘unmaking’ humankind he is of course negating his own existence. Only Fritzi’s last-minute intervention, her affirmation of life, prevents the pair from being ‘uncreated’ along with the rest of the human race. Following her wishes, ‘management’ decides to go ahead with human creation, but on the understanding that humans have free will and a choice over their development. Soyfer’s message of empowerment becomes clear as it finally dawns on Edi that rather than trying to prevent historical development, he himself must actively steer the direction of change. The play has been seen as a metaphor for Soyfer’s rejection of the sense of fatalistic determinism which had weakened opposition to fascism, a message underlined by the play’s last line: ‘it’s up to us!’

1 See Österreichisches Kabarettarchiv ‘Zur Geschichte des österreichischen Kabaretts: ein Abriss’ , accessed 21 March 2014.
2Salzburg University, ‘Österreichische Exil-Literatur seit 1933’, accessed 21 March 2014.
3 Horst Jarka, Jura Soyfer: Leben, Werk, Zeit (Vienna: Löcker Verlag, 1987), p. 299.

Life before emigration: Martin Miller in Vienna

After leaving Reichenberg in 1931, Martin continued to tour theatres in Austria and beyond for a further three years. He was based at the Stadttheater in Aussig (by then, Ústí nad Labem in Czechoslovakia) from 1931 to 1933, at the Deutsches Theater in Mährisch-Ostrau (Ostrava, Czechoslovakia) from 1933 to 1935, and at the Theatre Municipale in Strasbourg from 1935  to 1936. The newspaper reviews in the collection of the productions in which he performed give some indication of the diverse  linguistic communities to whom he was performing.

Newspaper reviews of plays featuring Martin Miller in Czech, Yiddish and French, 1934-1938

Newspaper reviews of plays featuring Martin Miller in Czech, Yiddish and French, 1934-1938

Shown above are: a Czech review of a production of Jakob Wassermann’s Lukardis in Mährisch-Ostrau in 1934, in which Martin played a Russian revolutionary; a French review of a production of Fritz Schweifert’s Marguerite durch drei in Strasbourg in 1935/36, in which he played one of the leading lady’s three deceived suitors; and a Yiddish review of a production of Die Grenze. Ein Schicksal unter 600.000 (The Border. One fate amongst 600,000), translated from Danish and adapted by Awrum Halbert (under the pseudonym Albert Ganzert), performed at the Jüdische Kulturtheater in Vienna in 1936. In this play, the Jüdische Kulturtheater’s most successful production, Martin played a respected businessman who provides a role model for his grandson when his Jewish background is exposed and he is hauled before the courts in Nazi Germany.1

Martin Miller, c1935

Martin Miller, c1935

Martin had maintained professional and family links with Vienna over the years that he worked away. From about 1935-1936 until his exile in 1938, he worked on a more steady basis in Vienna. By this time he was not just acting but also directing the plays he was in, for example at the Neues Theater in der Praterstrasse and the Theater der Schulen in der Volksoper. The image below shows some of the reviews he kept of the productions on which he worked at this time.

Reviews of Martin's plays in Vienna (1935-1936), Aussig (c1932) and Reichenberg (c1930),

Reviews of Martin’s plays in Vienna (1935-1936), Aussig (c1932) and Reichenberg (c1930),

In 1936 Martin joined a small number of actors who performed regularly at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater in Vienna. The theatre had only just been established, and it employed mainly German Jewish actors in exile from Nazi Germany. It had one of the most politically active repetoires in Vienna at that time; its plays (like Die Grenze, mentioned above) often dealt with antisemitism and events in contemporary Germany.2 In 1937 Martin starred here again in another play focusing on anti-semitism: Ashley Dukes’ adaptation of Lion Feuchtwanger’s novel, Jüd Süß. The image below shows Martin Miller as Herzog Karl Alexander and Lisl Einberger as Naemie, the daughter of Josef Süss Oppenheimer. The caption reads ‘Naomi evading the hands of the Duke’; the first line is written in Yiddish and the second in Hebrew.3 The newspaper source is not known.

Martin Miller as Herzog Karl Alexander in Jud Süß, Jüdisches Kulturtheater, 1937

Scene from Jud Süß, Jüdisches Kulturtheater, 1937. Image from unknown Yiddish newspaper

As well as acting in regular plays, Martin also organised events at which he performed as a solo artist reciting from poems or acting out characters from plays. Perhaps this allowed him to focus on the character portrayals for which he had become known. The invitation below is for just such an evening at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater on 23 May 1936, at which Martin read and acted out characterisations of a range of Jewish figures in literary sources from Shakespeare to the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler. The handwritten message from him reads ‘it would be nice if you were there!’; unfortunately it is not known to whom this is addressed. A review in the collection praised this exploration of Jewish suffering over 400 years, and suggested that Martin was one of the best character actors of Jews in Vienna.

Invitation to a performance of 'Judenrollen' (Jewish roles) at the Jüdische Kulturtheater from Martin Miller, c19

Invitation to a recitation of ‘Judenrollen’ (Jewish roles) at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater from Martin Miller, c1936

As well as his work at the Jüdisches Kulturtheater, Martin now also began to perform in Vienna’s cabaret scene, which was rapidly becoming one of the few public spaces where political dissent could be expressed.4 Below is a review of a 1936 cabaret show in which Martin worked alongside Jura Soyfer, Friedrich Torberg and Peter Hammerschlag at the cabaret theatre, Literatur am Naschmarkt. The reviewer’s comments on Martin’s individual contribution roughly translate as

Martin brings forth a storm of laughter with his stunningly successful dramatic parodies of actors from Ferdinand Onno to Hans Moser, Alexander Moissi and Werner Krauß and to Max Pallenberg and Albert Bassermann.

The objects of Martin’s impressionist skills were all successful German or Austrian theatre actors in the 1930s, well-known at that time. Of those who had been based in Germany, all except the antisemitic Krauß had already left the country and gone into exile in Austria. Krauß, by contrast, had by this time had been honoured by the Nazis with the status of Staatsschauspieler (actor of national importance); he was soon to lend his acting skills to the Nazis by starring in one of the most antisemitic propaganda films ever made, Jud Süß. It can perhaps be expected, then, that he of all them came off worst from Martin’s cutting satirical impressionist talents.

Newspaper review of performance at cabaret theatre 'Literatur am Naschmarkt', 1936

Newspaper review of performance at cabaret theatre ‘Literatur am Naschmarkt’, 1936

 From September to November 1937, Martin performed at the ABC Theater in the cabaret show ‘Von Bagadad nach Vineta’. The central pieces of the show were Jura Soyfer’s sketches Vineta, die versunkene Stadt and Der treuste Bürger Bagdads. However, Martin’s individual contribution was also very well received by the liberal critics (possibly from the liberal Wiener Tag) who reviewed the show: ‘eine erlesene Delikatesse ist ein Vortrag Martin Millers, der vollendet kleine Wortkunstwerte Polgars bringt’ (Martin Miller’s presentation, which perfectly conveys the aphorisms of [Austrian journalist Alfred] Polgar, is a choice delicacy of the show). 

The annexation of Austria - German troops in Vienna. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-083-10 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons

The annexation of Austria – German troops in Vienna. Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1985-083-10 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de (, via Wikimedia Commons

Time was, of course, running out. Jura Soyfer, as mentioned in a previous post, had already been imprisoned in Dachau. Following the annexation of Austria in March 1938 Martin, as a Jew, was immediately forbidden to participate in the theatre. Cultural institutions in Vienna were were very quickly reorganised and ‘Aryanised’. On 11 March the Jüdisches Kulturtheater was looted and closed.5  According to Yates, ‘in the course of the summer of 1938 everyone working in the theatre had to provide documentary evidence of his or her ‘Aryan’ descent’.6 Eight  months later, on 1 November 1938, Martin emigrated to Berlin.

1 Brigitte Dalinger, Verloschene Sterne: Geschichte des jüdischen Theaters in Wien (Vienna: Picus Verlag, 1998), p. 116.
2 Brigitte Dalinger, ‘Jiddisches Theater in Wien, Berlin und Prag’, in Berlin – Wien – Prag : Moderne, Minderheiten und Migration in der Zwischenkriegszeit. Modernity, minorities and migration in the inter-war period, ed. by Susanne Marten-Finnis and Matthias Uecker (Bern: Peter Lang, 2001), pp. 271-287 (p. 285).
3 Many thanks to Rachel Bracha, Archive Co-ordinator at Archive Coordinator, World ORT, for her translation of the caption for this photograph.
4 W.E. Yates, Theatre in Vienna: a Critical History 1776-1995 (Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 222.
5 Salzburg University, ‘Österreichische Schriftstellerinnen und Schriftsteller des Exils seit 1933’,, accessed 3 April 2013.
6 Dalinger, ‘Jiddisches Theater’, p. 224.

The Laterndl re-alights at 153 Finchley Road

Three months after the government’s enforced closure of theatres at the start of the Second World War, the rules were relaxed as it appeared there was no immediate danger of bombing raids. In January 1940 the Laterndl reopened in new and larger premises at 153 Finchley Road in Hampstead, north London. The company’s first production there was their second Kleinkunst revue-style show, Blinklichter (or Beacons), which was composed of sketches by Albert Fuchs, Karl Stefan, Rudolf Spitz and Peter Preses. One sketch in particular was to spread Martin Miller’s name far beyond the bounds of the Laterndl and its audiences. His impersonation of Hitler at the Laterndl in this show led to his invitation to broadcast the speech on BBC radio.1

<em>Blinklichter</em> programme, 1940 (photocopy)

Blinklichter programme, 1940 (photocopy)

It was at 153 Finchley Road that Hannah first became actively involved with the Laterndl. Until then, Hannah had only been to the Laterndl as an audience member and had only met Martin briefly whilst working on a play in Austria. She accepted the role of English language conférencier (the term for ‘master of ceremonies’ in European cabaret) for Blinklichter, a job for which Fritz Schrecker and Martin Miller had tracked her down specially, knowing that she spoke good English.2 She then went on to take her first acting role on a London stage in two of the sketches in the company’s third Kleinkunstprogramm: Von Adam bis Adolf in February 1940.

Scripts for <em>Laterndl</em> shows 2 and 3, 1940

Scripts for Laterndl shows 2 and 3, 1940

The Laterndl’s new premises also saw the start of a programme of organised evenings dedicated to particular writers who had taken a critical stand against the growing National Socialistst threat to Austria in the 1930s. A series of evenings was held for Jura Soyfer, for example, who was an Austrian Jewish socialist journalist who had written plays for the cabaret stage in Vienna in the 1930s. Soyfer was known personally to some of the Laterndl players, and after his death in Buchenwald in February 1939 they were determined to keep alive his memory through the staging and reading of his works.  The three Welttheater shows performed in January 1940 were composed of his plays Der Lechner Edi schaut ins Paradies, Vineta, die versunkene Stadt and Der treueste Bürger Bagdads. For more information on Soyfer see

<em>Laterndl</em> events programme January 1940

Laterndl events programme January 1940

The last show to be performed at 153 Finchley Road was Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper in May 1940, one of a number of a number of full-length dramas the company would produce as part of their Weltliteratur evenings. However, the players were now confronted with a problem facing all refugees from Germany and Austria in 1940: the internment of enemy aliens.  Rehearsals saw the part of Mack the Knife played by three different male actors, as the first two actors were interned and had to be replaced. The loss of its main actors made it too difficult for the company to continue, and the Laterndl closed again, this time for 15 months.

1 Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove, ‘«Just about the best actor in England»: Martin Miller in London, 1939 bis 1945’, in Exilforschung: ein internationales Jahrbuch, ed. by Claus-Dieter Krohn (Munich: Text und Kritik, 1983- ), XXI: Film und Fotografie, ed. by Claus-Dieter Krohn and others (2003), pp. 129-140 (p. 130).
2 Archive of the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies, University of London, Exile Archive, Interview with Hannah Norbert Miller by Charmian Brinson, December 1995.

The opening of the first Austrian exile theatre in London

Some of the most interesting items in this collection are the scripts, photographs, theatre programmes and press reviews that the Millers accumulated whilst working in exile theatre companies in London in the late 1930s and 1940s. This post gives a brief history of the opening of the main theatre company with which the Millers were associated, which was also the first German language exile theatre to be established in London: the Laterndl (or Lantern).

The Laterndl was founded by three Austrian refugees who wanted to keep alive the tradition of Viennese theatre and provide a home for Austrian drama and literature: Fritz Schrecker, Franz Schulz and Franz Hartl (a.k.a. Franz Bönsch).  The latter, Franz Bönsch, later explained that they were driven by the desire to take part in the fight for an independent and free Austria. They also viewed the establishment of a German-speaking theatre as a way of relieving the uprooted and desperate exiles’ homesickness, giving them hope and a belief in the future.1

<em>Laterndl</em> advert

Laterndl advert 1939

 The Laterndl‘s first performance took place on 21 June 1939 with the role of director undertaken by Martin, who had arrived in London in March of that year. In these early days of the company’s existence, its home was the Austrian Centre near Paddington, a self-help organisation set up by Austrian refugees to provide assistance and advice to other exiles. The photograph below is the only photograph I have come across which shows the interior of the rooms where the Laterndl performed at the Austrian Centre. In it you can see Martin with Grete Hartwig watching a rehearsal of the first Laterndl production, Unterwegs (On the Road), a revue-style composition of nine short sketches. The photo gives some idea of the limited space the company had in which to practise and perform: the auditorium held 60 to 70 seats, and the stage measured just five by three metres.2

<em>Laterndl</em> rehearsal for <em>Unterwegs</em> at the Austrian Centre, 1939

Laterndl rehearsal for Unterwegs at the Austrian Centre, 1939

Unterwegs was typical of many of the Laterndl’s productions in the early years of its existence, when the group was heavily influenced by the Viennese version of cabaret known as Kleinkunstbühne. This was a politically-charged, often satirical form of revue theatre which had grown out of the politically and culturally repressive conditions of the Austrian capital in the mid- to late-1930s. The Laterndl’s Kleinkunst shows consisted of short plays and sketches written  by members of the group which attempted to stoke political awareness of the situation in Austria and Germany.

Cultural roots of the <em>Laterndl</em> 1939

Cultural roots of the Laterndl 1939

As the Laterndl’s published list of patrons and participants shows, the company was supported by influential figures in the British and Austrian cultural scenes from the beginning. It gained patronage from the playwright Ashley Dukes, the film actress Luise Rainer, the Times journalist Wickham Steed, and the London PEN Club (on which see for more information). Amongst the visitors on its opening night were the Austrian writer and novelist Stefan Zweig, the Austrian parodist Robert Neumann, and the English authors H.G. Wells and J.B. Priestley.3

<em>Laterndl</em> patrons and participants, 1939

Laterndl patrons and participants, 1939

Although the prime target was the German-speaking exile community, the comments below republished from the British press indicate that it was not only they who appreciated the contribution the Laterndl was to make to London’s wartime cultural life.

Media reaction to <em>Laterndl</em>, 1940

Media reaction to Unterwegs, republished in Laterndl advert 1940

The Laterndl’s first production was considered a great success and the company went on to perform it to full houses almost 60 times between June and August. However, these activities were curtailed by the outbreak of the Second World War in September, when all theatres and places of public entertainment were forced to close because of the potential danger from air raids. Even in the relative safety of London, the refugees’ activities were shaped by the actions of the regime from which they had escaped.

1 Franz Bönsch, ‘Das österreichische Exiltheater ‘Laterndl’ in London’, in Österreicher im Exil 1934 bis 1945: Protokoll des internationalen Symposiums zur Erforschung des österreichischen Exils von 1934 bis 1945, abgehalten vom 3. bis 6. Juni 1975 in Wien, ed. by Helene Maimann and Heinz Linzer (Vienna: Dokumentationsarchiv des Österreichischen Widerstandes und Dokumentationsstelle für Neuere Österreichische Literatur, 1977), pp. 441-450, (p. 441).
2 Richard Dove, ‘Acting for Austria: the Laterndl and other Austrian theatre groups’, in Out of Austria: the Austrian Centre in London in World War II, ed. by Marietta Bearman and others (London: Tauris Academic Studies, 2008), pp. 113-140, (p. 114).
3 Dove, p. 114.