George Tabori

By Arnon Grunberg

On July 23 the theater director, playwright and writer George Tabori died.

Unfortunately, Mr. Tabori is not widely known outside Germany and Austria. His relative obscurity doesn't do justice to the quality of his texts. (I cannot judge the quality of Mr. Tabori as a theater director. I have never seen a play directed by him.)

The English version of Wikipedia lists Mr. Tabori as a Hungarian. He was born in Hungary, but he has never worked in Hungary, nor has he written anything directly in Hungarian.

The German version of Wikipedia states that Mr. Tabori is British. While he did obtain the British nationality in 1941, he never spent much time there. By the same token, one could declare that Mr. Tabori was American. In 1947, he moved to the U.S. where he wrote screenplays for, among others, Alfred Hitchcock.

A Dutch newspaper decided after his death that he was German, although many of his text were originally written in English.

Mr. Tabori's life is a good example of the absurdity of nationality. He himself said that an author must be a stranger.

In 1932, when he was eighteen years old, Mr. Tabori traveled to Berlin where he started working in the famous Hotel Adlon. Two years later, he was forced to leave. Although Mr. Tabori was raised Catholic, others considered him a Jew.

His father was killed in Auschwitz, his mother survived miraculously, and Tabori himself managed to survive in London.

Most of his texts deal directly or indirectly with the Shoah.

The philosopher Adorno famously declared that it was impossible to write poetry after Auschwitz. (Later, Adorno recanted this opinion.)

Mr. Tabori's work makes clear that it might not be possible to confront the horrors of Nazism with what we usually consider good taste.

Far from forcing his audience to repent, he forces his audience to laugh about the concentration camps.

In his play, My Mother's Courage, one Jew says to another on a train en route to Auschwitz, "Where is the dining car?"


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