May 02, 2012
TEL AVIV -- "Welcome to Hitler's place," says a grinning young man with trim beard. But this is not Obersalzberg, the site of Adolf Hitler's mountain residence above Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. It's Rabbi Kook Street – near the beach in Tel Aviv.
The greeting is thus something of a provocation, one that Avi Gibson Bar-el tries to sweeten by offering visitors homemade apple strudel. They're invited to help themselves to a tea or coffee as well, and then move into the living room to one of the few and highly sought-after seats. The Führer is about to take the stage.
In Israel, interest in Hitler has grown in recent years, particularly in theater circles. The winner of the first prize at the Acco Theater Festival in 2007 was a play called "Hitler, the Robot and the Knife," in which a control-freak Jewish mom is portrayed as a female Führer.
In 2008 a one-man show called "Adolf" at Tel Aviv's Tmuna Theater traced the dictator's early years. And on now at the Gesher Theater is an adaptation of George Tabori's farcical Mein Kampf featuring the young Hitler and Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism.
But only actor, critic and director Amir Orian has attempted the role of the mass murderer (who was born in 1889) as a very, very old man – and he's staged the production in his own apartment. Known as The Room Theater or Teatron Hacheder, it's the only unsubsidized theater in Israel. The venue has survived for 26 years thanks to the money Orian makes running his theater school.
"The craziest idea ever.."
Anticipation builds in the small space; the audience wants to see how the famed thespian handles this. To create a distance between himself and his Hitler character, Orian, 67, who has long gray hair, opens the performance sitting in a manager's chair behind a table, telling theater-goers how the whole idea came about.
In 1986, he tells the audience, playwright Tova Rogel suggested writing a play about a very old Hitler who, it turns out, didn't die in Berlin in 1945. Instead he went underground. Using forged travel documents, he ends up in Israel, where his identity is finally uncovered and he is sentenced to death. By way of revenge, Nazis hiding out in various countries around the world instigate another World War -- and Hitler's plan for a Final Solution becomes his legacy.
"I was shocked and thought it was the craziest idea I'd ever heard," says Orian as he applies white make-up to his face and highlights his wrinkles with black. Fortunately, he leaves out Hitler's trademark mustache. "But on the other hand," he adds, donning a black coat and tie, "I thought ‘maybe there is something to it after all." That's when we started working out ideas." He clips on a wireless microphone and our trip to the dark side of the human soul begins.
During the performance, Hitler's metallic voice keeps getting louder -- and more and more disagreeable -- as he recounts the difficult times he experienced as a young man in Vienna before the outbreak of World War I. He recalls the compulsively meticulous ways he planned his daily schedule, admits to having a sweet tooth, and slurps chocolate pudding.
Now and again, he throws out quotations from Mein Kampf (Hitler's book was translated into Hebrew years ago) and also quotes various Israeli figures of note like the top Israeli general who called Palestinians "drugged cockroaches in a bottle." And the white-haired Hitler says: "Jews are the chosen people or, if you will, a Master Race."
Searching for Hitler's soul
The high point of a monologue that seeps in under the skin is Hitler's assertion that he is immortal. "I exist among you forever," he barks. "And I will continue to do so, even if I ask you to kill me!" He then repeatedly taunts the audience, louder and louder, with "Kill me!" He is not killed off, he claims, because all wars and immoral deeds are blamed on his existence. The performance is now at an end, and Orian disappears into the private part of the apartment as the CD in the living room theater plays Israeli military music.
After the show, a young man asks Orian how he approached interpreting Hitler. "I sat and watched videos for hours, until I literally threw up. I tried to find -- but could not -- the inner person beneath the mask. There was just this big void."
Orian says he hopes to be able to put this play on in Germany – with Hitler speaking Hebrew. He says his Hitler already made a short but historic appearance as a guest at the most important alternative Shoah event organized by artists for the past 14 years in Tel Aviv. It was the first time in Israel, he says, that a perpetrator – even if only a fictional one – has had his say along with the victims on a holocaust remembrance day.
Read the original story in German
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Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
October 22, 2021
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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