German 43: Exiles and Émigrés

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Photo of Felix BressartBressart, Felix

(Eydtkuhnen, Eastern Prussia 1892–Hollywood 1949)

Actor. Bressart began his career on the German and Austrian stage where he excelled as comedian in spoofs on the military and bourgeois society. As of 1928, he also appeared in films, often as comic relief for a rather reactionary message. In 1933, Hitler's rise to power forced him to emigrate to Switzerland and Austria, and in 1938 he arrived in the US. The industry quickly took note of the lanky comic "with floppy hair, soul-full eyes, and a big nose" (James Robert Parish). As a supporting actor he found employment in a variety of films, yet his abysmal humor is captured best in performances in films by Ernst Lubitsch, including as Pirovitch in The Shop Around the Corner (1939), and as Buljanoff in Ninotchka (1939) where he speaks the sentence which captures best the predicament of the Hollywood exiles: "They can't censor our memories." As Greenberg in To Be or Not to Be (1942) he comes closest to playing himself. In the role of a Jewish supporting actor in Nazi-occupied Poland he creates an allegory of the Jewish exile in Hollywood as a figure who may not be represented so as not to unsettle US politics of appeasement towards Nazi Germany as well as Jewish assimilation within the film industry. As he later commented on this role, "I was the Not-to-Be."

GERMAN 43: Exiles and Émigrés
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