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unanimously defending human dignity

The Underwater Cabaret (May 5)

Dit bericht is ook beschikbaar in: Nederlands (Dutch) Français (French) Deutsch (German)

From Engelsberg Ideas:

On August 22, 1943, the first issue of a strange new magazine appeared in Enschede. The Underwater Cabaret took the form of a small booklet measuring about 13.5 x 10.5 cm. The cover was a collage of photographs cut from newspapers and magazines; the contents consisted of 18 hand-stitched pages of handwritten poetry. Each poem bitingly confronted a different topic regarding the Nazis, their crimes and the course of the war. One poem highlighted the miseries of everyday existence under German occupation. Another despised the propaganda of Joseph Goebbels. A third used nightmarish images to depict the psychological stress of life in hiding. The magazine’s sole author could attest to that stress, as he was a German Jewish refugee who had gone into hiding – or “underwater” – to stay alive a year earlier.

That refugee was Curt Bloch, and over the course of 19 months, from August 1943 to April 1945, he produced 95 issues of The Underwater Cabaret. Through his striking, almost surreal illustrations and the ribald satire and sharp wit of his poems and songs, he railed against Nazi terror, mocked key fascist leaders and Dutch collaborators, and defeated the downfall of the Third Reich. For years, his unique war work remained undiscovered, as unknown as its creator. In the last decade, it gradually began to see the light of day.

Now, eight decades after their “publication,” all the original copies of Bloch’s journal are at the heart of a fascinating exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin . My Verses Are Like Dynamite: Curt Bloch’s Underwater Cabaret shows a remarkable and courageous achievement and at the same time tells the story of an extraordinary man.

Born in Dortmund in 1908, Bloch worked as a lawyer before Hitler’s rise to power forced him to flee to the Netherlands. In 1942, he found shelter in the home of a mortician and his wife. Hidden out of sight in the crawl space above their attic with two other Jewish exiles, Bloch spent his days writing poems about current events. Eventually, he decided to distribute his poems in a weekly magazine. He called it Het Onderwater-Cabaret as a nod to the Dutch term for subs like him – “divers. With the help of messengers in the Dutch resistance, Bloch’s self-made, self-proclaimed “periodicals” found their way to his beloved and fellow refugee Karola Wolf and to other divers.

Bloch’s magazine informed, entertained and boosted morale. Bloch explained his main goal in a letter to Wolf. ‘If you contribute to making the German evil spirit ridiculous – ridicule is deadly! – then you not only help the German people, but at the same time you work for the good of Europe and the world.’ In the same letter, he expressed the hope that “through my poems I could play an educational role, especially in the spiritual and intellectual building of a new Germany.

Bloch spent the end of the war in the home of another couple in Borne. When the country was liberated, he finally came down from the sky. He moved to Amsterdam and married Ruth Kan, a concentration camp survivor. In 1948, they settled in New York where Bloch opened an antique store. He died in 1975 at the age of 66.

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