Negotiating cultural identity on the stage: Maria Dronke, a German-Jewish actor in New Zealand.
1,100 Jews found refuge from Hitler in New Zealand before 1940. They experienced both geographical estrangement and cultural alienation in a British colonial setting still profoundly influenced by its settlement phase. How did the new arrivals adjust to the Dominion way of life? What factors aided their survival and acculturation at the "edge of the Diaspora"? The present article addresses aspects of acculturation and integration of German-Jewish artists in New Zealand, questions of cultural identity, and the retention of Germanness and Jewishness abroad, using the biography of the actor Maria Dronke as the lens through which to examine these issues.
For Jews trying to escape Nazi persecution in the months following the German Anschluss of Austria and the Reichskristallnacht pogrom of 1938, emigration was no longer a matter of choice but rather a matter of survival. About 130,000 people of Jewish descent had left Germany by 1938, followed in 1938-39 by another 118,000. (1) Among those who left Central Europe up until 1940, about 7,000 were accepted in Australia, (2) and a further 1,100 disembarked as refugees in the "little island country" of New Zealand. It can no longer be discovered how many refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe plied for immigration to New Zealand in the 1930s, as the archives recording the number of applications have been destroyed. In her study of Refugees from Hitler, Ann Beaglehole estimates that the applications were at least ten times as many as those ultimately accepted. (3) New Zealand's immigration policy in the years 1933-1939, based on the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act of 1920, aimed to enforce the principles of what was informally known as the "White New Zealand Policy," thus restricting the entry of immigrants of non-British origin: "New Zealand, a country of immigrants, has always carefully selected its settlers. Age, outlook, occupation, religion and race have been the criteria to choose immigrants" (4) Unlike Australia, New Zealand did not set a quota for refugees to be accepted on strictly humanitarian grounds after the 1938 Evian Conference, nor did it implement a standard set of rules for processing applications. The most important selection criterion remained "the suitability of the immigrant for absorption into the Dominion's population." (5) In September 1938 the New Zealand High Commissioner's Office in London made clear to refugees that only a very limited number of applicants for an entry permit would have a chance of being admitted to New Zealand;
The New Zealand Government is not at present encouraging immigration. ... In the case of persons not of British birth to parentage, it is necessary for such persons to obtain permits from the Minister of Customs at Wellington before they may proceed to the Dominion. The High Commissioner has received advice from his Government that it has recently found necessary to discontinue the issuing of such permits except in very special cases. It is considered, therefore, that it would probably be hardly worth your while making application. (6)
In retrospect, New Zealand historians are rather critical of the country's strict immigration policy and the public attitude towards refugees. Lazarus Goldman, in his book The History of the Jews in New Zealand, writes:
Desperate appeals from Europe flowed in pathetic streams to nearly every official Jewish and non-Jewish organization. Highly qualified professional men begged for immigration certificates, solemnly promising to do any kind of manual labour. After von Rath's assassination, the volume of heartbreaking appeals increased unceasingly some stating it would probably be the last letters they would be able to write, and pleading for mercy's sake to be allowed to come to New Zealand. (7)
Nancy Taylor, in The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-45: The Home Front, mentions anti-refugee attitudes in the New Zealand public based on fear of foreigners, the Depression, and antisemitism. She explains that New Zealanders were afraid that the newcomers would not be able to earn their own living or, conversely, would gain economic advantages for themselves while New Zealand men were away at war. (8) Anthropologist Brigitte Bonisch-Brednich points out that in the refugees' descriptions one can also read between the lines that there was a certain degree of resentment of foreigners in the 1930s. (9) Furthermore, the situation of German-Jews in Nazi Germany was generally assessed with naivete and political unawareness by the wider sections of New Zealand society, "There wasn't much anti [German] feeling really, I have to say that. And when it came to talking about the Nazis--'Yes, they said, it's horrible what they do about the Jews, but wasn't Hitler marvellous putting all the motorways in and giving work to the unemployed?' There was a kind of halo about Hitler, definitely." (10)
The antipodean journey of refugees from Hitler thus combined the circumstances and experience of geographical estrangement, known in the Australian context as the "Tyranny of Distance," (11) with cultural alienation. The refugees were mostly worldly, well-educated middle-class urban Jews, who found themselves in a British colonial country still profoundly influenced by its settlement phase. The colonial life patterns; the climate, the architecture of the cities posed difficult problems of adjustment to the Dominion way of life, as Bonisch-Brednich notes:
For most, arrival in Wellington or Auckland was a surprise, even a shock. ... In almost all interviews the city architecture is described as the first impression. The little houses built of wood and covered with corrugated iron, which seemed quite inadequate to European eyes, looked provisional and unstable to the new arrivals. The style of the colonial buildings in the business streets with verandahs and passages was also unfamiliar. (12)
Equally surprising were the first encounters with New Zealanders; their egalitarian behavior and the "do-it-yourself" attitude, reminiscent of the circumstances of life in the early settlement, were felt as a shock by many refugees. (13) Further difficulties arose from the limited opportunities to experience the arts. The strains of cultural isolation and monotony were likewise felt by refugees and the "new generation" of New Zealand artists striving to overcome the country's derivative, colonial culture in the 1930s--in his provocative manner, the critic James Shelley claimed in a review of the Canterbury Society of Arts exhibition that"[t]here is little evidence ... that anything is going on in New Zealand other than the flow of rivers along shingle-beds, the growing of trees, the sleeping of hills and the rolling of clouds" (14)
It is worth examining the range of the new arrivals' cultural adjustment in New Zealand and their responses to their refugee situation in the strange new surroundings: some refugees turned into exiles--people who identify with their country of origin despite their forced displacement, and plan for a temporary settlement in a new country, hoping for a regime change that would allow them to return home--"Erst seit ich im Pazifischen vertraure and versaure, weig ich, was Exil ist" ("Only since I waste away grieving in the Pacific do I truly know what exile is"), (15) wrote the poet Karl Wolfskehl in Auckland; others found themselves under increasing pressure to leave the past behind and create as "suitable immigrants" a new home in the new country (16)--referring to the American and Australian context; Klaus Neumann argues that assimilation pressures (similar to those in New Zealand) compelled many refugees to demonstrate their attachment and loyalty to the receiving society by forgetting their former lives and making the new country their new and only home: "They were made to believe that they could redeem themselves only as loyal, deserving immigrants, and that successfully assimilated immigrants, who wouldn't long for a return to their country of origin, would eventually be counted as equals;" (17) then again, others tried to rebuild their lives by embracing the culture of their adopted country and maintaining at the same time a connection to their culture of origin. (18)
A look at the cultural productions of refugees from Nazism in New Zealand provides a clear illustration of the complexity of lived exile and immigration experience. Theatre, writing, and the visual arts are particularly interesting as they contribute to the understanding of how meaning is produced by the artist, and at the same time remain a product of the cultural forces at stake in a society. Edward Said states that "the 'what' and 'how' in the representation of 'things', while allowing for considerable individual freedom, are circumscribed and socially regulated." (19)
This essay addresses against the background of an individual biography aspects of acculturation and integration of German-Jewish artists in New Zealand. In examining these aspects, I consider factors such as the functioning of internalized acculturation patterns, the isolation at "the edge of the Diaspora" in wartime, and the connection between artistic practice and identity developments, and I offer a small but representative sample from the artistic work of the actor Maria Dronke. Noteworthy about Dronke is not only the fact that she made a strong impact on New Zealand culture by training the first generation of professional actors, introducing the solo poetry recital to New Zealand, and engaging in many innovative stagings--referring to her retirement from teaching in 1957, the newspaper Evening Post commented: "When the time comes to write the story of cultural development in New Zealand, it will most certainly be found that this gifted teacher and performer, lecturer and scholar, had a catalytic, enduring and beneficial effect upon things associated with our theatre." (20) But she also wrote on issues concerning exile and displacement from her personal experience. The issues of negotiating cultural identity under exile conditions are thus reflected both in her writings and in the medium of a hybrid theatre that incorporates elements of the culture left behind and joins them with concerns important to a specific historical period and a new environment.
Identity has become a central topic in postcolonial criticism. In Cultural Identity and Diaspora Stuart Hall suggests two complementary ways of thinking about cultural identity. On the one hand, it can be considered as a fixed collective culture, shared by people who have history language, or other heritage in common. At the same time, it is something that can be gradually acquired by the individual and undergoes constant transformation, due to the interaction of ethnic origins, the social and cultural environment, and biographical developments: "Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a 'production which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation." (21)
A great number of refugees from Nazism who have settled in New Zealand are keenly aware of the instability of identity; as one commented, "And when you somehow eventually learn to cope with all those small problems, there is in the end the great problem: do you become a New Zealander or do you try to stay what you were?--what ever that may have been." (22) In Maria Dronke's case, as I will show, the quest for a new identity did not lead to rootlessness and instability, as it was recognized as an ongoing process, in which the elements of the culture left behind nourished the new developments.
Maria Dronke, nee Minnie Kronfeld, was born into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1904. The Kronfelds were middle-class secular Jews who lived in central Berlin, namely in the sought-after area of Bruckenallee 34 in Tiergarten, were eager to consolidate their status as Germans by striving for academic education and active involvement in German cultural life, and modeled themselves on the idealism of the Weimar classics. They sought integration into German society via cultural identification, a central motif of the Jewish integration discourse in the post-emancipation era. As George Mosse argues, "Jews had been emancipated simultaneously into the age of Bildung and middle-class respectability." (23) Dronke's accounts paint a colorful picture of the cultural life she enjoyed in the city of her youth. They also reflect, through their strong selectivity and self-assertiveness, the losses she experienced in her later life;
The beeches and copper-beeches of my childhood belonged to the Tiergarten a park which opened out barely a minute away from my home. "Deer-garten" was clearly a misnomer, for the only animals there were the iron-lions on the bridge which we passed almost daily on our walk to the Zoo. We lived opposite the Bellevue Park, inaccessible only when the Emperor lived there in his castle, which, luckily he did only now and then. In that park I walked and dreamed my time away, quite undisturbed. For no reason that I can see, my Mother thought it ansafe place. And its true, apart from the imperial gardeners no-one seemed to be there. I enjoyed the lilac-bushes, the trees, and the stillness of the park all by myself. The traffic-noises of the Charlottenburger Chausee which led to linter den Linden in one straight line, were left behind. (24) The earliest memories of important events are all connected with the director's box at the Berlin Philharmonic and the adjacent Beethoven-Saal. ... I was a guest of my father's close friend. Dr. Landecker, who owned the halls and regally presided over that box. Whom did I meet at the Philharmonie between my 14th and 20th year? To name just a few: the singers Joseph Schwarz, Sigrid Onegin, Gianinna Dusolini; the violonists Fritz Kreisler, Franz V. Vecsey, Adolf Busch (whose brother Willi was my dear colleague in Bochum); the great conductors Nikisch, Bruno Walter, Furtwangler; the pianist Edwin Fischer. (25)
However, the Kronfelds' social context and kinship network in Berlin was in greatest part Jewish. They played an active role in the Commission for the Poor of the Jewish Community in Berlin, and without addressing the subject of Jewish life in Germany publicly, they affirmed their Jewish identity whenever they sought it necessary, for example when they were confronted with negative stereotyping as Jews or with certain barriers erected by the authorities in promotions to higher positions in the state service. Their stance on the Jewish question is described in Dronke's assertive retrospect of the 1980s as follows;
I had a non-religious upbringing. All the same: all members of my family wanted to stay their ground; they took pride in the difficulties arising from their upright attitude. For example: my brother Walter who had been the best fencer in Berlin and a fine horseman did not obtain lieutenant's rank in the army till after he had been wounded in 1915 and consented to a transfer to the infantry. Their losses before Verdun had been so shocking that they willingly let him lead a squadron. (26)
Maria Dronke's own preoccupation with German cultural life led to focus her professional interests onto the theatre. By 1933 she had made a name for herself on numerous European stages, including those of Berlin and Vienna, playing under prominent directors, such as Max Reinhardt and Alfred Bernau. With her religious conversion in Vienna and change of name to Maria Korten in 1928, followed by her marriage to the German district court judge Adolf John Rudolf Dronke in 1931, her assimilation into German society was virtually complete. The young actor's forced endeavor to blend into mainstream society may be viewed as a reaction to the waves of antisemitism in the late 1920s--it is a well-known fact that Viennese actors were subject to strong assimilation pressures over the late 1920s and in the 1930s; furthermore, Dietz Bering argues persuasively that many urban Jews with a strong academic background reacted to antisemitism by a "polemics of name," changing their names even as adults.27 Ultimately, in 1933, when National Socialist policy made cultural exclusion not only a threat for artists of Jewish extraction but a reality, Dronke's professional involvement in mainstream culture was cur off; until Kristallnacht of November 1938 she lived "withdrawn into the shadows of our house (28) in Cologne, with her husband and her two children Peter Ernst Michael (born 1934) and Maria (Marei) Gabriele (born 1935). In the light of rejection and forced exclusion from the German cultural sphere she chose to affirm with tenacity her dual identity; on the one hand, she strengthened the ties to her circle of Jewish friends and proved that she was not prepared to conceal her Jewishness; on the other hand, she refused to consider the anti-Jewish limits of the German society as representative of all Germany, and tried to separate her abhorrence for Nazi Germany from her attachment to pre-Hitler German language and culture. Her unpublished poems, dated 1933/34, reflect the paradoxical but not incompatible identifications--symbolic ones with Judaism, cultural ones with Germany:
Du nie geschaute Heimat, meines Volkes Brunnen, Aus dem es stieg, nach dem es ewig drangt-- Wie strahltest du in deines Morgens Fruhe, AIs David konigsmachtig auf seinen Rossen ritt, Als Sulamtth auf leisen weichen Sohlen Die ihr noch leichte Erde federnd trat-- In meinem Ohr ist noch ihr Schritt-- Wenn du auch tief im Herzen mir grabst, deutsches Land-- Du, das ich nicht mehr bekennen soll. Sprache, darin ich jeden Laut wei [bate] und Klang und ihr Lied-- Land mit dem Duft der Linden und Felder--wie lieb ich Jede Tonung der Lufr und des Waldes und der Berge. --du Land, ... Bist du niche Heimat?!-- (You, homeland never looked upon, spring of my people From which it emerged, to which it eternally surged-- How you shone in your morning's break As David royally rode his steed As Sulamith on quiet soft soles Lightly walked cross your soil-- In my ear I still hear her tread-- ... And though you delve deep into my heart, German land-- You to whom I should no longer avow to. Language, of which I know every sound and tone and its song-- Land with the scent of linden and fields--how I love Every touch of the air and the forests and mountains. My heart knows the silence and brilliance of your churches And my knees their holy floors--you land, ... Are you not homeland?!--) (Dronke, unpublished poems)
One can infer from the recurring invocations of Heimat in Dronke's writings of the 1930s what psychic anxieties were present yet only indirectly expressed. As widely noted, Heimat is a crucial idea with which German speakers negotiate their understanding of the world in which they live; (29) it plays a significant role in constructions of self, identity and meaning; as Trickle argues, "In Heimat nature, ground, landscape, identity melt into one." (30) Consequently, invocations of Heimat are to be found where deep ontological, psychological, socioeconomic, and political shifts occur. In this sense, German landscape in writing "is not prose about the German's or any other Heimat; but it is a specifically German way of making oneself feel at home in the world"; moreover, "through the enjoyment of landscapes ... one can aquire and possess a German identity without having one." (31) Dronke's landscapes in writing may thus be viewed as artistic constructs used to provide the utopia of a wished-for experience of shelteredness and harmony, "an experience of disalienation in a spatially conceived world:" (32)
The poems of those years also endorse the idea that she responded to the dilemma of her existence with a conciliatory vision that outlasted as messianic thinking the Kronfelds' loss of Jewish faith:
... Heimat-- In der wit knien vor dem Messias, Der da schreiter auf dem Scernenbogen der Gezeiten Im gebreiteten, tragenden--in Seinem unendlichen Mantel der Liebe. (Dronke, unpublished poems) (... Homeland-- In which we kneel before the Messiah, He, who paces there on the starry arch of God's rides In his broad, borne, infinite cloak Of love. (Translated by Andrew Jackson and Monica Tempian)
Dronke's memory of Judaism is anything but continuous, as it went through the process of assimilation, and yet, Jewish Messianism, that particular element of religious tradition irrevocably linked to the dimension of exile, unfolds a striking spiritual power in her thinking and becomes the defining factor of her Jewish identity. One can find such moments of hope and reconciliation everywhere in what she wrote after 1933, and in her theatre performance following her flight from Germany in December 1938 and her arrival in New Zealand, via England and Australia, "on a fine wintery day on August 2nd, 1939--one month before war broke out." (33)
Immediately after arrival, the Dronkes had to come to terms with the conditions in the New Zealand labor market, hiring processes, housing conditions, and living expenses for a family with two small children. Whilst Wellington met their expectations of finding beautiful landscape in their new country, they shared with other refugees the acute impression of bad housing conditions: (34)
Was life difficult? Unbelievably so. lnvitations and invitations for the "interesting" and well dressed foreigners. No offer of work, nor a flat at a normal tent, for they were scarce in the Centennial year. No need to add that nearly all of the early acquaintances vanished from our lives! The real friends are not found in such a way. At first we had a flat 120 steps up in Oriental Parade: one dark bedroom for Lolein, the children and me--the verandah with a lovely view for John. In the fireplace danced little mice, delighting Peter and Marei. (35)
From the outset Maria Dronke was in the position of mediator between her German-speaking refugee family and New Zealand society because of her good knowledge of English and her occupational skills. As John faced enormous difficulties during the war years--the National Orchestra for which he had come out on a Musician's Permit did not start until the end of the war, nor was his legal training recognized, thus, he had to work in a woodwork factory and at the Rehabilitation League, producing artificial limbs--, Maria Dronke turned overnight from an upper middle-class wife in Germany to the breadwinner of the family in New Zealand. Theatre became an important income source for the family; it also became the space where the performer and director created and re-created her cultural identity, reevaluating who she was in the new situation in New Zealand.
Maria Dronke's theatre practice and public statements such as "I think this is my time to give out ... to help the young people coming on" (36) reflect that her expulsion from Germany and her "real exile" reinforced the feeling that mankind needed a messianic turn. Thus, during the war years, Dronke became heavily involved in the "project of building a better world" by connecting her responsibility toward her family with what she perceived as her responsibility toward the young generation of New Zealand artists. From 1939 onwards she trained in her Wellington studio the first generation of professional actors who emerged as prominent figures in the New Zealand theatre and overseas--Richard and Edith Campion, Barbara Ewing, Elizabeth McRae, Pat Evison, Dorothy McKegg, Bruce Mason, and Peter Vere-Jones. "At the time Maria started her studio," writes the actor Pat Evison, "there was no professional theatre in Wellington. Anyone with talent and enthusiasm and the desire to perform on stage belonged to one of the amateur companies." (37) And the playwright, theatre critic, and actor Bruce Mason recalls: "Already accomplished in English, she was quickly appalled by our rough island noises and set herself to turn them into music. She succeeded remarkably: the coarse Kiwi accent of the street would be miraculously brushed with the faintest hint of pure German vowels, which did our budding actors no harm." (38)
Participating in a community that shared the same culture and setting up a theatre, which may have nurtured a Schicksalsgemeinschaft or German-Jewish communal identity, was not an option to the Dronkes. Beaglehole points out that the total number of refugees was not large or concentrated enough to support social relationships as a community, (39) On the other hand, building transcultural networks during the war years involved developing a new set of identifications with the English-speaking world. There were naturally pressing historical and practical reasons for such decisions. As in other countries such as the U.S. and Australia, with the declaration of war German culture became synonymous with "the enemy," intense Germanophobia and spy hysteria were fueled by conservative newspapers. (40) The Aliens Emergency Regulations of October 1940, under which the government could investigate, deport, or intern aliens, placed German-speaking refugees under strict scrutiny. (41) As "enemy aliens" in a restricted category, the Dronkes had to register with the police, needed permits for traveling more than twenty-four miles from their residence or for longer than twenty-four hours, and were subject to restrictions on the possession of items such as arms, maps, radios, and cameras. Manifesting a strong German affiliation in the public culture would only have jeopardized personal freedom.
Dronke's search for a new identity and a fuller understanding of her adoptive country's language and culture hinged on cultural techniques such as reading and performance of verse--the pivotal acculturation mechanisms in the earlier Berlin story. Art became a means to understanding the new world. Pat Evison recalls her drama teacher buying books of New Zealand poetry, which she then had to carefully hide away from her strict housekeeper Lolein. (42) Looking for sources of inspiration in English literature and for opportunities to share her passion for poetry, Dronke turned to the works of Shakespeare, Shelley, Keats, and Gerard Hopkins, and "virtually created the solo poetry recital in New Zealand." (43) Her continental acting experience made her engage with plays that evoked religious and ethical ideals and explored a range of existential conflicts, offering her as director opportunities to express her fervent hope for redemption. The miracle play No Room, for example, presented in the historic year of 1944 as "a plea for the practical realization of the Christian ideal of behaviour in every-day lifer," (44) introduced to the audience the idea of a Civitas Dei: "A huge city is being built reaching from heaven down to the suffering earth of which the audience is a part as much as the players." (45)
However, Dronke did not completely discard her German-Jewish roots and the role models she took with her to the "farthest promised land." Her theatre practice attests to this; although she only performed and staged plays in English during the war years, she maintained a connection to her culture of origin through subtle cultural and intertextual references. Having to rely exclusively on the resources available in the local amateur theatre, Dronke chose to channel the enthusiasm of young actors by encouraging the development of community theatre and experimentations with symbolic-ritualistic mass-productions, as known from Max Reinhardt's theatre. For her staging of the miracle play No Room she explained, "The production of No Room' tries to weld audience and players together into one great community. It does away with the barrier of the box stage, with the audience looking through the peephole' of the removed fourth wall," (46) a clear reference to Max Reinhardt, of whom it has been said that his belief in the power of theatre to offer its audiences an experience which could counter the emotional poverty of modern society smacked a little of the evangelist, and was predicated on the need for community ritual. (47)
Dronke's mass-productions captured the attention of the New Zealand audience and were an unprecedented success, very similar to the success Rein-hardt had recorded in the U.S. with his 1924 Miracle production. The reviewer of The Auckland Star wrote:
Towards the grand climax the chorus lifted the great audience to fervid feeling in the music of Adeste Fidel's, and, finally, Holy Night, and almost to a response merging them with the players in the finale Just a slight lead would have been enough to have lifted the house to full voice, despite the strangeness and novelty of the first night. (48)
Another event proved the lasting impact of her Auckland production. Three years later, when Dronke decided to take her experimentation with mass-productions and the open stage one step further by staging T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral in Wellington's Old St. Paul's Cathedral, the Wellington press published an article that recalled the Auckland production, saying "Drama Society in Wellington Follows in Famous Tradition." (49) Murder in the Cathedral was called her most memorable production, (50) and so it must have been, for the force of her stagecraft was matched by an equally strong, perfectly timed Wellington earthquake occurring in the moment of Becket's murder. (51) The journal Landfall published Howard Wadman's rapturous comments; "This play was produced for the Religious Drama Society in Wellington by Maria Dronke I have no hesitation in saying that, for me at any rate, these performances were the outstanding aesthetic experience of the year." (52) The idea of reenacting history within a cathedral" was regarded as "a step forward" in New Zealand dramatic art, (53) It was certainly inspirational to a young actor and director such as Richard Campion, who throughout the 1950s managed to sustain national tours of the first ensemble of professional actors, The New Zealand Players Company, which often relied on open-stage experiments. In his view, "Maria Dronke was inspirational at a time when New Zealand felt so lonely, ... certainly a precursor for later evolutions in New Zealand theatre and its 'renaissance' in the 1960s." (54)
Around 1944/45, once the situation in Europe started to ease, Dronke began to carve out for herself the role of a cultural mediator. At a time when New Zealand authors such as Allen Curnow, A.R.D. Fairburn, Charles Brasch, Denis Glover, and Frank Sargeson were raising issues about the country's utilitarianism, its cultural homogeneity and conformity, (55) Dronke sought to further the cause of German, Austrian, and Jewish writers, kept abreast of English and French contemporary literature, and brought into the limelight emerging New Zealand poets. In her recitals and theatre workshops after 1944/45 she revived memories of her acting career on the European stages--poems by Heinrich Heine, Ernst Toiler, Rilke, and Hofmannsthal, scenes from Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm and Nathan the Wise, Goethe's Faust, Hauptmann's Elga, Hofmannsthal The Fool and Death, and Frank Wedekind's Schloss Wetter-stein, She introduced to the audience international literature of the 1940s and 50s by authors such as W. H. Auden, Jean Anouilh, and Robert Frost, poems by Karl Wolfskehl, and also New Zealand writings by Allen Curnow, R. A.K. Mason, A.R.D. Fairburn, Denis Glover, James Baxter, and Ursula Bethel'. By the time of her first Auckland recital in February 1944 she was already developing a national reputation, the New Zealand Observer noted: "It is probably unique in the history of Auckland that all seats for a poetry recital should have been sold out days before the event. It can happen here. It did happen here. It did happen with Maria Dronke's poetry recital last Friday night." (56) Newspaper reviews highlighted as salient features of her performance a close actor-audience relationship, expressivity, and vigor, and referred to her linguistic abilities in comments such as "Her diction was perfect and her slightly foreign accent made it quite attractive." (57) One can infer from such references to Dronke's "foreign accent" that her contribution to New Zealand culture came at a time when migrant voices, voices with an accent, were just beginning to be heard, and the context of multiculturalism, as it is known today was yet to emerge.
Dronke's persistent adherence to the fragments of cultural heritage from pre-Nazi times may be viewed as a strategy to preserve some continuity in a disrupted life-course but also as a symbolic gesture of opposition to the cultural decline in Hitler's Germany. Her statements of intent and theatrical practice raise the impression that everything she said and produced after 1944 had to prove that cultural segregation, as she had known it in the Hitler regime, was wrong. Thus, she established continuities between her culture of origin and of arrival, motivated by the desire to increase awareness of cultural diversity. She sought to promote New Zealand poetry as progressive and German-language culture of pre-Hitler times as humanist, in opposition to the generalizing negative notions prevalent during the war and, most importantly, in opposition to the denaturation it had experienced during the period of National-Socialist barbarism.
Many New Zealand poets were to form part of a group that was to enjoy the frequent soirees held in John and Maria's tiny cottage on Muritai Road in Eastbourne. They moved there in 1951, the property having been bought with money received as compensation paid to victims of Nazi persecution. Its warm, dark, book-lined interior was a rate haven in which local artists could partake of and enjoy lively and good-humoured debate on music, poetry and drama. Different disciplines were united from such meetings, when Maria requested composer Douglas Lilburn to write a piece for Allen Cut now's poem, "The Changeling," together with two classical works, and form "Three Poems of the Sea." (58)
In such terms Peter Vere-Jones described the lively creative atmosphere in post-war times and Dronke's contribution to cultural pluralism in New Zealand. At the same time, her choice of literature reflects that she was drawing on the continuously evolving cultural repertoire of the English-speaking world in the late 1940s and early 50s, whilst her possibilities for referring to the cultural memory of her country of origin were limited to the repertoire preceding her flight from Germany.
A passage in the literary travelogue Homecoming: To the Mystery Called Germany published in the paper Zealandia in 1953 voices the self-reflexive thoughts of a refugee, suddenly entranced by the calling of the past:
The only thing he was conscious of missing in the young country of his adoption was built beauty. ... Then--one morning as he walked there through a street, just an ordinary street--in that particular morning light the view became blurred. The houses seemed to slide and transform themselves till they looked like a certain street in Cologne. Thomas, blind with tears, had to admit--astonished at the discovery--a homesickness he had not known existed, so firmly had it been under control. (59)
Helpful terms for approaching the idea of exile in a broader framework, as is necessary in Dronke's situation, come from Hilde Spiel. In her study Psychologie des Exits (The Psychology of Exile), Spiel identifies the year 1945 as the date for the end of German-speaking exile, but also argues that in the case of those refugees who did not return to their homeland in 1945/46, there is need for an extended understanding of exile, taking into consideration the emotional disengagement from their country of origin. (60) The end of exile marks thus' the arrival of the exiles into the present" and the beginning of their integration into the receiving society. (61) In this sense, it can be stated that Dronke's first return to the Continent and visit in Germany in 1952 marked the end of her exile. It gave her the opportunity to connect the past and present of her country of origin and to affirm that refugees like her had been able to create a home in New Zealand. In response to the question "Would I want to go back?" she replies: "We declined it. Although John was offered the position of President of the Senate of the Court of Cologne, we didn't go ... . A curtain of tears would separate us from reality. No, we'll keep the memories and stay in New Zealand which has become home" (62)
It is from the perspective of a refugee turned immigrant that Dronke is remembering her native country and describing the impossible remigration to that country in her travel writing Homecoming. The text shows how substantial identity shifts may occur due to new cultural identifications, to the extent that multiple loyalties become possible. The author's alter ego, Thomas, is noticeably male--something Dronke shares with the famous German-Jewish exile woman writer, Anna Seghers, whose fictional main characters are almost all male. Finding the way back "home" has been made impossible for Thomas by the knowledge of the Nazi atrocities:
Thomas stood there on the railway bridge of Cologne overwhelmed by return. By returning home? No, not home, surely. What he had loved from childhood into youth, into manhood, that which he would never be able to stop loving, was lying in shambles-- Thomas, always critical of himself, kept a close guard on his feelings, as he stood there on char bridge between two lives. No, it was not from a sense of retribution, disguised as a sense of justice, that he saw the terrible logic of the shambles around him. (63)
The protagonist is in a state of semi-consciousness as he sets out on his contemplative wandering into the past. His search for sites of family memory and the evocation of leading figures of the past are all part of the effort to re-habilitate the past and understand the present:
He remembered his old religious teacher who had told his boys: "I looked at Him and He looked at me." ... Thomas felt his knees give way and leant against a pillar, wrestling with that mystery called Germany. He did not know how long; for rime was suspended. There, on his right hand, there had been the museum. His mind went through walls that were no longer to find the room to which he had been drawn again on that day which decided for him char he would leaved. (64)
Ultimately, the protagonist's daydreams coalesce into one great vision that weaves its web of historical and anecdotal memories:
Then, turning to the room's other wall you faced the slender drawing of the year 1400 or thereabouts, more powerful, more awe-inspiring in its fragility than the stark Plaque-Cross. On ivory ground a blood-red crucifix. Nothing but the bare outline of what had been a human body. No detail--nothing but blood streaming from the cross; Christ dissolved in blood. "May his blood come upon us and on our children ..." It had come down on them; unceasingly, Thomas thought with great pain. (65)
In the conclusion of the travelogue, however, a sense of hope seems to emerge. We read about Thomas, standing on the railway bridge of Cologne:
He knew ... that a lifetime's service was still small thanks for his debt of gratitude to England. He served her in one of her Dominions, a dear, a beautiful place. There he made ties of friendship stronger and warmer than he could ever have hoped for; the new soil was good for new roots. And for the treasures he had lost, he received new invaluable ones: the sea and the hills for his neighbours, and for his friends, the English poets of six centuries. His life broadened out ... (66)
Maria Dronke is exceptional in that she made New Zealand her home and found a voice as a German-Jewish refugee performing, directing, and writing in English, Her artistic initiatives show that her quest for a safe place "at the other end of the world" and a position in the New Zealand society also entailed actively remembering her culture of origin, what Neumann, in discussing the successful negotiation of a refugee's identity as an exile and as an immigrant, describes as "reserving a room in the new home for what they had lost." (67) The account of her successful integration in New Zealand holds great symbolic significance for all those scattered around the world by war and political turmoil. Her refugee experience culminated in reconciling German culture with the context of her life in the "farthest promised land" on the backdrop of Jewish messianic thinking. Following this major turning point, she established a connection to the contemporary German world, integrated into the Wellington community coaching actors and directors of the first professional theatre, the Downstage Theatre, over the 1960s, elaborating on Ger-man post-war drama, particularly on the Swiss playwrights Max Frisch and Friedrich Durrenmatt, taking university studies in languages and literature at Victoria University of Wellington, and enjoying a genuine circle of friends:
Maria and John Dronke share what is laughingly known as "retirement" at the Woburn Home, Lower Hutt. Retirement means attendance at every first night at Downstage or Circa and at every concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Their intellectual vigour and curiosity remains extraordinary. (68)
The more engaged revival of her Jewish heritage occurred during her travels to Jerusalem in her later life, after a safe place in the mainstream culture had been established. As late as 1982, a threat on a wider socio-political level such as the First Lebanon War would make Maria Dronke reaffirm her Jewish affiliation:
What is going on in Palestine? How are my lsraelis holding out? The heroic people. Not born warlike, but standing up to their moral imperative. "Why do you always go into the most dangerous spots of the fighting line?" "Because my name is Cohn, Lieutenant." How deeply I remember these things, from my early youth. They still cut into my heart, even now. ... I have lived through many people's heartache, and two world wars. 1 will soon turn 78 and have no wish to witness a third ... . I owe them [our Israeli friends in Jerusalem] a letter and long to hear from them. (69)
Her Jewish heritage became an important part of her daughter's background, who spoke about the "powerful experience of playing Anne Frank for Unity Theatre in Wellington" which was "far more than just a part' for her." (70)
Maria Dronke died on 28 August 1987, at the age of 83, at the Kairangi Medical and Convalescent Home in Lower Hutt, Wellington. For the diverse expressions of her art she bad been awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1979 and is still remembered today in New Zealand, most affectionately, it seems, for her teaching. At the same time, one gets the impression that the way in which the cultural life of New Zealand was enriched by refugees from Nazism has not yet been fully unraveled.
(1) Wolfgang Benz, "Die judische Emigration," in Claus-Dieter Krohn, Patrik von zur Muhlen, Gerhard Paul, and Lutz Winkler, eds., Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933-1945 (Darmstadt: Primus Verlag, 1998), pp. 5-6.
(2) Konrad Kwiet, "Australien," in Krohn, Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration, p. 163. For a detailed analysis of Australia's immigration policy, see Paul Bartrop, Australia and the Holocaust: 1933-45 (Kew: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 1994), pp. 22-169.
(3) Ann Beaglehole, A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand 1936-1946 (Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1988), pp. 11-12 (hereafter cited as A Small Price).
(4) Beaglehole, A Small Price, p. 4.
(5) National Archives, IC 20/86 part 1, memo for New Zealand Trade and Tourist Commissioner from Good, quoted in Beaglehole, A Small Price, p. 16.
(6) Letter to Dr. S. Rothmans of September 1938, quoted in Beaglehole, A Small Price, p. 15.
(7) Lazarus Morris Goldman, The History of the Jews in New Zealand (Wellington: A.H. & A. W Reed, 1958), p. 226.
(8) Nancy M Taylor, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-45, Home Front: The New Zealand People at War (Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, 1986), pp. 851-52. See also Beaglehole, A Small Price, pp. 11-22.
(9) Brigitte Bonisch-Brednich, Keeping a Low Profile: An Oral History of German Immigration to New Zealand (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2002), p. 34 (hereafter cited as Keeping a Low Profile).
(10) Bonisch-Brednich, Keeping a Low Profile, pp. 34-35.
(11) Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History (Sydney: Macmillan, 1982), p. x.
(12) Bonisch-Brednich, Keeping a Low Profile, pp. 28-29.
(13) Bonisch-Brednich, Keeping a Low Profile, p. 39.
(14) James Shelley,"Canterbury Society of Arts Annual Exhibition", Art in New Zealand, Vol. 6 (June 1934): 178. James Belich argues in his book Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders that the situation of the arts in the 1930s was a decline from an earlier, more promising situation in the 1910s due to emphasized conformity and puritan-ism ([Auckland: The Penguin Press, 2001], p. 335). On New Zealand arts, particularly literature and theatre in the 1920s-40s, see also Patrick Evans, The Penguin History of New Zealand Literature (Auckland: Penguin, 1990), pp. 73--123; Rachel Barrowman, A Popular Vision: The Arts and the Left in New Zealand 1930--1950 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1991) (hereafter cited as A Popular Vision).
(15) Karl Wolfskehl, Zehn Jahre Exil: Briefe aus Neuseeland, 1938-1948 (Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1959), p. 279.
(16) On the difference between migration and exile, see Maria-Luise Kreuter, "Emigration," in Wolfgang Benz, Hermann Graml, and Hermann Weig, eds., Enzyklopadie des Nationalsozialismus (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1997), pp. 296-299; also, Klaus Neumann, Thinking the Forbidden Concept': Refugees as Immigrants and Exiles," in Antipodes, Vol. 19, No. 1 (2005): 1-15 (hereafter cited as Thinking the Forbidden Concept).
(17) Neumann, Thinking the Forbidden Concept, pp. 6--7.
(18) Interesting in the context of the visual arts in New Zealand is the German emigre Margot Philips (born 1902 in Duisburg-Ruhrort), who emigrated to New Zealand in 1938 and developed as a landscape painter while working in close contact over the 1950s and 60s with the New Zealand avantgarde' painters Colin McCahon, Geoff Fairburn, Campbell Smith, Peter Tomory, and others. Her painting of "calm, peaceful, endless landscape" is said to have a peculiar rhythm that gives expression to "a very European view" of New Zealand--"a European being aware that she was at a remote edge of the world" (Janet Paul and Charles Brasch in Tim Walker, ed., Margot Philips--Her Own World [Waikato Museum of Art and History, 1987], pp. 56-57).
(19) Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Knopf, 1993), p. 79.
(20) "Noted Drama Teacher Retiring Next Month," Evening Post, November 14, 1957.
(21) Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora", in Jonathan Rutherford, ed., Identity. Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), pp. 222-223.
(22) Lucie Halberstam, in discussion with Ann Beaglehole, October 18, 1984 (Alexander Turnbull Library, Oral History Collection 0009/16).
(23) George L. Mosse, German Jews beyond Judaism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), p. 18. On the assimilation of German Jews into the German middle class see also Jacob Katz, "German Culture and the Jews" in Jehuda Reinharz and Walter Schatz-berg, eds., The Jewish Response to German Culture: From the Enlightenment to the Second World War (Hanover, London: University Press of New England, 1985), pp. 85-99.
(24) Maria Dronke, "Rosemary for Remembrance and Rue for Thought" (unpublished autobiographical notes, private collection, ca. 1981), pp. 6-7 (hereafter cited as Rosemary and Rue).
(25) Maria Dronke, "Historical Moments of My Life" (unpublished autobiographical notes, private collection, ca. 1980), pp. 6-7 (hereafter cited as Historical Moments).
(26) Maria Dronke, "The Cities: Vienna" (unpublished autobiographical notes, private collection, n.d), p. 1. On the discrimination of Jewish Germans in the Prussian army before World War I, see Werner T. Angress," Prussia's Army and the Jewish Reserve Officer Controversy before World War I" in Yearbook of the Leo Baeck Institute, Vol. 17 (1972), pp. 19-42.
(27) Dietz Bering, Der Name als Stigma: Antisemitismus im deutschen Alltag 1812-1 933 (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta 1987), p. 166.
(28) Maria Dronke, "And Nothing but the Truth ..." (unpublished autobiogtaphical notes, private collection, ca. 1981), p. 1 (hereafter cited in text as Nothing but the Truth).
(29) See for example, Peter Blickle, Heimat: A Critical Theory of the German Idea of Homeland (Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2002); also, Gert Mattenklott,"Heimat, Nation, Universalitat", in Rudiger Groner, ed., Heimat im Wort: Die Problematik eines Begriffs im 19. and 20. Jahrhundert (Munchen: ludicium, 1992), pp. 36-49.
(30) Blickle, Heimat, p. 126.
(31) Mattenklott, Heimat, Nation, Universalitat, pp. 36, 49.
(32) Blickle, Helmet, p. 17.
(33) Dronke, Nothing but the Truth, p. 9.
(34) This recurrent theme appears in the recollections of refugees cited by Beaglehole: "Wellington looked like a' run-down colonial city' to Fred Turnowski. He was especially struck by the corrugated iron roofs predominating in city and suburbs" (A Small Price, p. 31).
(35) Dronke, Nothing but the Truth, p. 9. Lolein was Maria's nursemaid who accompanied the Dronkes to New Zealand as their children's nursemaid.
(36) Maria Dronke, unidentified newspaper cutting (private collection).
(37) Pat Evison, Happy Days in Muckle Flugga: An Autobiography (Auckland: Harper Collins Publishers New Zealand Ltd, 1998), pp. 21-22.
(38) Bruce Mason, "A Marriage That Has Been Golden," Evening Post (18 July 1981): 17 (hereafter cited as Evening Post 1981).
(39) Ann Beaglehole, Facing the Past: Looking Back at Refugee Childhood in New Zealand 1940s-1960s (Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1990), p. xi (hereafter cited as Facing the Past).
(40) According to Beaglehole the newspaper Truth and Dominion consistently perpetuated negative views about refugees and other aliens, whereas the Press, New Zealand Herald, and Evening Post sometimes took a stand in favor of these groups (A Small Price, p. 158).
(41) Beaglehole, A Small Price, p. 89.
(42) Pac Evison, in discussion with the author, April 20, 2008.
(43) Mason, Evening Post 1981.
(44) The New Zealand Observer, "Miracle Play of To-day," November 22, 1944.
(45) The Auckland Star, "Miracle Play. No Room Season," November 16, 1944 (hereafter cited as Auckland Star 1944).
(46) Maria Dronke, unidentified newspaper cutting (private collection).
(47) John Louis Styan, Max Reinhardt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 8. This idea, central to Dronke's theatre practice, is emphasized as late as 1957 in her lectures on drama: "Drama, not as printed word, as literature, but drama alive, as realized in the theatre, has only been great in times of a strong community-life. ... Our time, reminding of the Tower of Babel, with people failing to understand one another, fighting for ideas, bitterly opposed to each other, our time longs for community more than any previous one ... The great producer Max Reinhardt tried to revive the community theatre. After the First World War he built an amphitheatre in Berlin, seating 5000, to whom he presented Sophocles "Oedipus Rex. Sophocles" 'Oedipus Rex'. Every summer he produced in front of Salzburg Cathedral Hofmannsthal's version of 'Everyman' and--specially written for the Salzburg Festival--the same poet's morality play 'The Theatre of the World,' based on Calderon's spiritual allegory. Salzburg became through these festivals an international meeting place" (Maria Dronke, "Drama and Community" [lecture Workers Educational Associations, Wellington, April, 1957]).
(48) Auckland Star, 1944.
(49) Dominion, "Murder in the Cathedral: Drama Society in Wellington Follows in Famous Tradition," April 30, 1947.
(50) Peter Vere-Jones, "Maria Drone", in James N. Bade, ed., Out of the Shadow of War: The German Connection with New Zealand in the Twentieth Century (Auckland: Oxford University Press New Zealand, 1998), p. 113 (hereafter cited as Maria Dronke).
(51) Marei Bollinger in discussion with the author, December 20, 2007.
(52) Howard Wadman, "Commentaries; Landfall: A New Zealand Quarterly (September 1947), p. 208.
(53) Freelance, "Step Forward in Dramatic Art", April 23, 1947.
(54) Richard Campion, in discussion with the author, June 27, 2008.
(55) Rachel Barrowman observes that "New Zealand society has been experienced by its artists as fundamentally materialistic, conformist and hostile to creative expression: a society which is 'practically devoid of cultural interests, and in fact almost despises them' as A New Zealand Artist opined in Tomorrow" (A Popular Vision, p. 45).
(56) The New Zealand Observer, "The Muse Afire: Madame Maria Dronke's Success," February 16, 1944.
(57) Evening Post, "A Play with a Message," February 5, 1944.
(58) Vere-Jones, Maria Dronke, p. 116.
(59) Maria Dronke, "Homecoming: To The Mystery Called Germany" Zealandia (June 18, 1953), p. 8 (hereafter cited as Homecoming).
(60) Hilde Spiel, "Psychologie des Exils," in Helene Maimann, Heinz Lunzer, Dokumetationsarchiv des Osterreichischen Widerstandes & Documentationsstelle fur Neuere Os-terreichische Literatur, eds., Osterreicher im Exi1.1934 bis 1945: Protokoll des Internationalen Symposiums zur Erforschung des terreichische Exits von 1934 his 1945 (Vienna: Oster-reichischer Verlag 1977), pp. xxi-xxxvii (hereafter cited as Psycbologie des Exits).
(61) Spiel, Psychologie des Exits, p. xxxvi.
(62) Dronke, Rosemary and Rue, p. 46.
(63) Dronke, Homecoming, p. 8.
(64) Dronke, Homecoming, p. 8.
(65) Dronke, Homecoming, p. 8.
(66) Drone, Homecoming, p. 8.
(67) Neumann, Thinking the Forbidden Concept, p. 7.
(68) Mason, Evening Post, 1981.
(69) Maria Dronke (autobiographical note, personal collection, 1982).
(70) Beaglehole, Facing the Past, p. 134.
Monica Tempian Victoria University of Wellington
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|Date:||Jun 22, 2011|
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