I had heard that some had been so wrought up by the play as to become temporarily insane, and run about town haunted by wildest hallucinations.
— Joseph Krauskopf, A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play, 1900
In the 17th century, when the Bavarian village of Oberammergau was struck by the plague, its pious citizens came together and made a covenant with God. If he halted the disease, they would reenact The Passion of Christ every ten years for eternity.
When the deaths ceased, the villagers delivered on their promise. A makeshift stage was erected, and the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ was presented for the first time. The performance, like many others of its era, put the blame for Christ’s agonies on what was considered to be his evil opponents: the Jews.
Three hundred years after its inception, Adolf Hitler attended Oberammergau’s special Jubilee and declared the Play a cultural treasure.
The 1934 performance is the starting point for Regine Petersen’s image-text based narrative that unfolds on two levels: that of the world’s most prominent Passion Play and its inherent antisemitism, and that of daily life in the National Socialist village. Postcards of the Play’s protagonists are interwoven with travelogues, local police records and denazification protocols, gradually undermining their propagandistic function and blurring the boundaries between the solemn stage and a disquieting historical reality.
Composed as an allegorical tale with satirical nuances, Petersen’s Passion Play is a virtuosic reprisal of History’s passions for propaganda, populism and moral corruption in their shifting albeit ubiquitous manifestations.
About Regine Petersen
Regine Petersen (DE) is an artist and researcher with photography at the core of her practice. Her work starts with specific and often coincidental findings, which she uses as departure points to gain insight into more universal notions of memory, history, storytelling and ideology.