German theater offers swastika-wearers free entry to a play on Hitler’s birthday

The theater in Konstanz causes outrage with an audience-participation element.

Visitors to the production, which purposely premieres on Hitler’s birthday -- April 20 -- will have to make an uncomfortable decision when they arrive at the theater.

The concept was proposed by Turkish-born director-author Serdar Somuncu, who has won some of Germany’s top theater awards, including the German Theatre-Literature Prize.

Somuncu wanted the performance to begin the moment tickets were purchased, according to the theater’s leadership. “The question raised is, how easily can you be corrupted? Would you wear a Swastika to save a few euros?” theater spokesman Daniel Morgenroth said.

“We wanted to encourage people to make up their minds when they purchase tickets in the same way they have to make up their minds to stand up to xenophobia, fascism and populism in the real world,” he added.

The concept aims to raise awareness of such dangers, he said, including anti-Semitism’s returning to Germany.

Up to a dozen people have opted to wear the Swastika for free tickets for each performance, Morgenroth said.

Useful social commentary or 'bizarre marketing gig'?

The piece to be performed is a far cry from the dictator’s manifesto of the same title. The 1987 play is a satire on Hitler’s life, focusing on his origins as a struggling art student in Vienna who is befriended by a Jewish man.

But many people question the need to use a symbol associated with the death of millions, even for artistic purposes.

The German Parliament voted in January to appoint an anti-Semitism commissioner, a new position, to combat the rise of what many see as a new wave of anti-Semitism in the country.

Ruth Frenk, who heads the local chapter of the Israeli-German society in the region, said she found the production’s concept “tasteless and unnecessary.”

“I do think it needs a discussion,” she told ABC News, “but we don’t need a Star of David or Swastika to have it when it’s in the news every day.”

Her organization put out a public statement criticizing the play’s debut on Hitler’s birthday, calling it “a bizarre marketing gig.”

While the use of Nazi symbols is prohibited by German law, they can, however, be used under rules ensuring artistic freedom. Despite the complaints received, the Konstanz public prosecutor’s office said Wednesday it would not launch an investigation into the production.

The reference to the Holocaust or Nazis used in an artistic context, although legal, is a hot-button issue.

The topic splashed across headlines in German media last week as the country’s Echo pop awards were doled out to a rap duo who incorporated lyrics many consider to be anti-Semitic.

In their music, Kollegah and Farid Bang say their muscles are “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners,” and include lines such as, “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming at you with a Molotov.”