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WAR CIRCUS: BLUMENFELDS

The Blumenfelds are a very large and long established jewish circus family based mainly in Germany. They owned circus buildings and travelling shows. Their story has been researched by an Academic, Marline Otte. The Narrative here is extracted from her book: Jewish Identities in German Popular Entertainment, 1890-1933. Cambridge 2006

 

c. AUG 1914

   As you know Circus E. Blumenfeld, is a loyal German travelling circus, yes we have international artists from many countries, we have always been loyal to the Emperor, and our circuses are often frequented by the German nobility. We have seen now for some time a growing nationalistic sentiment in our audiences’, what with all the Kulturalnation talk, perhaps we should have seen the war coming, still it has taken us by surprise. When it happened, we were on a regular visit to Posnan and had to hastily pack up in the middle of a lucrative season. Within seven days seven of our sons had responded to the call to arms, The chapiteau and most of the horses were expropriated for army use, and the rest of the family has barely made it back to our home base.

   We are pleased that when the Emperor proclaimed Burgfrieden, that jewish non-commissioned officers are now able to be promoted and it is good to see that our patriotism is recognised. The Blumenfelds have always had a special relationship with the military, are German patriots, our sons are willing to demonstrate to make personal sacrifices. Our family has probably provided the most fighters for the fatherland form any circus. Not only have the gentlemen Emil Scherra and Adolf Blumenfeld answered the called to arms, but also the grandsons of the gentlemen: Leo and Arthur. They will enter the war and bring with them a true performance of chivalry in the new theatre.

   We have news that the Strassburger family, were touring in Sweden and most of their seasonal staff, Austrian, German, and French, have set off to the front lines. The future of the show is now in doubt, as is our circus in Magdeburg, it will go dark.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: O, M

 

c. SEPT 1914

   We have received more news in Das Programme, about circus artists and friends caught out at the start of the war. The Lorch family were engaged in England in Aug 1914, and were promptly arrested as hostile foreigners. After many assurances to the authorities that they would not leave the country, they secured their release, but now several months later and without means of employment they are still stranded. The people are increasingly hostile to them. There are also reports that many German acrobats who were in Russia at the outbreak of war have been deported to Wologda, a town situated about 550 kilometres east of St. Petersburg. The town is now teaming with performers trying to escape in all possible directions.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: O, M

 

c. SEPT 1916

   Blumenfeld E. Circuses in Germany. There is a general disappointment that the war is lasting so long. We feel this in the people. There are food shortages we are finding that with the economic crisis that we have lost much of the lower-middle class audiences. Savings have melted away. We are more than feeling a pinch. Yet we still continue our circus with our horses as the main acts, thankfully we still have Papuchen – our world famous operatic horse. Mean while we are disturbed by the news of the Army’s “Jewish census”, I think they mean to determine whether we Jews are shirking our military obligations or engaged in profiteering! Certainly our circuses cannot be perceived to be less than patriotic as we provide only the best in German imperial society: dignity, honour and chivalry.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: O M

 

 

c. AUG 1917 

   Berlin Circus has changed. “Berlin, your dance partner is death!” howl the advertising columns. Death has become the leitmotif in so many performances in the circus, and has replaced the old romantic military acts enjoyed before the war. Now almost every show features new thrills and contraptions. The anticipation of potential catastrophe dominates the ring, the prevailing mood is morbid, so the cannon catapults a man across the ring into a giant funnel, indeed in Circus Busch, Berlin, you can even see a man pedal for his life on a conveyor belt, always in danger of running into sharp spears set up at both ends. In the ring there seem to be evermore elaborate machines, by the day, as the circus is almost in an arms race with itself. These stunts are beginning to give the police concern for the safety of the audience and artists. So we are finding increased interest from the municipal officials and police administrators to try and curb these innovations. We are creating Todesartistick (death artistry) stars. Still the audiences, on the way to or back from the front, lap them up.

Yet more sinister is that still our loyalty is questioned, the Prussian Theatre Police regularly supervise theatres and circuses and seem to keep files on all protagonists in the entertainment industries including in circuses, whether they are major or minor. They want to know who attends the theatres and send agents to virtually every performance to ensure that we do not stray from the approved and censored scripts.

 

c. OCT 1918

Alex Blumenfeld has died in combat at the front. Two others, Arthur and Eugen Blumenfeld, have been decorated with the Iron Cross (second class) for their special deeds at the front.

Narrative extracted from Bibliog. Ref: O M

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