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Max Ehrlich
Born Max Michaelis Ehrlich
December 7, 1892(1892-12-07)
Berlin, Germany
Died October 1, 1944 (aged 51)
Occupation Actor, director, screenwriter

Max Michaelis Ehrlich (7 December 1892 – 1 October 1944) in Berlin, was a German actor, screenwriter, and director on the German theater, comedy and cabaret scene of the 1930s. Ehrlich was murdered in The Holocaust at Auschwitz concentration camp in October 1944.



In the autumn of 1932, Ehrlich was at the high point of his career, one of Germany’s most beloved comics, masters of ceremony and cabaret stars. His creative accomplishments included leading roles in Max Reinhardt productions, the Haller-Revue, and other cabarets as well as stage groups. Also to his credit: forty-two movies, ten of which he directed, eight records, including chansons, operetta, comedy sketches and character imitations; numerous publications, amongst which his best selling book From Adelbert to Zilzer, a humorous collection of stories and anecdotes about sixty-two of his best known show business friends and colleagues.


Career in Nazi Germany

In 1933, the National Socialists seized power and stopped Ehrlich and his other Jewish colleagues from working in Germany. As a result, he left for Vienna, Austria to appear with the Rudolf Nelson Revue. However, there too, Austrian anti-Semites interrupted the show with cries of "Jews get out of Vienna". Consequently, the troupe left for Holland, stopping en route for stage appearances in Switzerland.

In 1935, homesick for his native land, Ehrlich returned to Nazi Germany. Jewish entertainers permitted to perform there, but within the framework of the Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Cultural Union) and exclusively in front of Jewish audiences. Ehrlich was named director of the Kulturbund’s light theatre departments. However, following the 1938 pogrom "Kristallnacht", he decided to leave Germany for good. Both of his farewell performances immediately sold out, so that a third presentation on 2 April 1939 was added. Here, in front of a full house of fans, calling out their affection and encouragement, Ehrlich made his final appearance in Germany.


Subsequently, he returned to Holland once again, and joined Willy Rosen's "Theater der Prominenten" (Theatre of Celebrities), until in 1943 –like so many of his colleagues– Ehrlich was imprisoned in the Westerbork concentration camp. While at Westerbork, he created and became director of, the "Camp Westerbork Theatre Group", a cabaret troupe that during its eighteen month existence staged six major theatre productions, all within the concentration camp’s confines. A majority of the actors were famous Jewish show business personalities, prominent artists from Berlin and Vienna, such as Willy Rosen, Erich Ziegler, Camila Spira, and Kurt Geron; or well-known Dutch performers, like Esther Philipse, Jetty Cantor, and Jonny & Jones. At its high point, the group counted fifty-one members, including a full team of musicians, dancers, choreographers, artists, tailors, make-up, lighting and other technicians, as well as stage hands.

Most of the shows combined elements of revue and cabaret –songs and sketches– but, on one occasion, the program included a revue-operetta, Ludmilla, or Corpses Everywhere—a production whose theme sadly was a pre-sentiment of the actors’ and other prisoners’ fate. While some scenes were implicitly critical, of course, the Theatre Group at no time produced openly political cabaret or directly attacked the Nazi regime. To do so would have violated the most fundamental condition for the troupe’s and its members' survival, as life in Westerbork was dominated by the persistent threat of deportation on the next transport to an unknown but deeply feared fate in the East. So, standing helplessly and unaided before the fascists’ executioners and their lackeys, the Theatre Group, of necessity, limited itself to entertaining its audiences and to momentarily distracting them from the surrounding horrors. But in so doing, it also gave their captive audiences renewed hope and the courage to face an otherwise unbearable existence.

Doubtlessly, this artistic activity provided the means for everyone concerned, audiences and actors alike, to retain a small measure of humanity, free their minds –if only momentarily– from the tragedy of daily life and nourish the illusion of survival.


During the summer of 1944, increasing numbers of transports carried Westerbork's prisoners to the extermination camps in the East. Of 104,000 camp inmates, less than 5,000 survived. In the last transport to leave Westerbork, on 4 September 1944, Ehrlich was number 151 on the list of victims. Eyewitnesses recount that, after reaching Auschwitz, he was recognized by a Hauptsturmführer. As a result, Ehrlich was subjected to an additional martyrdom: brought before a group of SS officers holding their loaded guns aimed at him, he was ordered to tell jokes. On 1 October 1944, Ehrlich's was murdered in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

On 12 April 1945, British troops liberated Westerbork. By then, only 876 prisoners were left: 464 men, 309 women and 229 children; only two were Theatre Group members.



  • In der Heimat, da gibt's ein Wiedersehn! (1926)
  • Familientag im Hause Prellstein (1927)
  • Herkules Maier (1928)
  • Die blaue Maus (1928)
  • Die tolle Komteß (1928)
  • Ihr dunkler Punkt (1928)
  • Liebfraumilch (1928)
  • Der schwarze Domino (1929)
  • Wien, du Stadt der Lieder (1930)
  • Hokuspokus (1930)
  • Die vom Rummelplatz (1930)
  • Der Korvettenkapitän/Blaue Jungs von der Marine (1930)
  • Leutnant warst Du einst bei deinen Husaren (1930)
  • Susanne macht Ordnung (1930)
  • Kabarett-Programm Nr. 2 (short film, 1931)
  • Kabarett-Programm Nr. 6 (short film, 1931)
  • Die Marquise von Pompadour (1930)
  • Der Tanzhusar (1930/31)
  • In Wien hab' ich einmal ein Mädel geliebt (1931)
  • Um eine Nasenlänge (1931)
  • Der Storch streikt. Siegfried der Matrose (1931)
  • Die schwebende Jungfrau (1931)
  • Der Schlemihl (1931)
  • Der Hochtourist (1931)
  • Goldblondes Mädchen, ich schenk Dir mein Herz — Ich bin ja so verliebt... (1931/32)
  • Der Glückszylinder (1932)
  • Wer zahlt heute noch? (short film, 1932)
  • Wenn die Liebe Mode macht (1932)
  • Herr Direktor engagiert (short film, 1932/33)


  • Revierkrank (short film, 1932)
  • Die erste Instruktionsstunde (short film, 1932)
  • Kaczmarek als Rosenkavalier (short film, 1932/33)
  • Hugos Nachtarbeit (1933)

Film writer

  • Es zogen drei Burschen.../Drei Seelen und ein Gedanke (1927)
  • Flitterwochen (1928)
  • Fräulein Chauffeur (1928)
  • In Werder blühen die Bäume (1928)
  • Die Wochenendbraut (1928)
  • Die tolle Komteß (1928)
  • Das Haus ohne Männer (1928)
  • Ein kleiner Vorschuß auf die Seligkeit (1928/29)
  • Mascottchen (1928/29)
  • Der Greifer (1930)
  • Hugo's Nachtarbeit (short film, 1933)


  • Original Max Ehrlich Family Documents (notably: Max Ehrlich's birth certificate, Ehrlich family wartime and post-WWII correspondence with the International Red Cross, personal letters from Max Ehrlich, etc.) from the Max Ehrlich Association Archive, Geneva Switzerland
  • Von Adelbert bis Zilzer, by Max Ehrlich; Eden-Verlag Berlin 1928
  • ZWISCHENWELT Zeitschrift für Kultur des Exils und des Wiederstands; Kabarett im Exil; ISSN 1606-4321; 20th year, Nr. 1, May 2003
  • Westerbork Drawings / Getekend in Westerbork, The life and Works of Leo Kok 1923–1945 / Leven en Werk van Leo Kok 1923–1945; ISBN 90 5018 107 4
  • Metzler Kabarett Lexilon, by Klaus Budzinski / Reinhard Hippen; J.B. Metzler 1996; ISBN 3-476-01448-7
  • Verehrt Verfolgt Vergessen, Schauspieler als Naziopfer, by Ulrich Liebe; Beltz/Quadriga 1992; ISBN 3-88679-292-7
  • GESCHLOSSWNW VORSTELLUNG, Der Jüdische Kulturbund in Deutschland 1933–1941; Akademie der Künste 1992; ISBN 3-89468-024-5
  • Berlin Cabaret, by Peter Jelavich; Harvard University Press 1993; ISBN 0-674-06762-2
  • JÜDISCHES THEATER IN NAZIDEUTSCHLAND, by Herbert Freeden; J. C. B. Mohr ( Paul Siebeck) Tübingen 1964
  • Theatrical Performance during the Holocaust, by Rebecca Rovit & Alvin Goldfarb; Johns Hopkins University Press 1999; ISBN 0-8018-6167-5


  • Heulen und Zähneklappern, Das Buch der Faulen Witze, by Max Ehrlich & Paul Morgan; Eden-Verlag Berlin 1927
  • Von Adelbert bis Zilzer, by Max Ehrlich; Eden-Verlag Berlin 1928
  • Special Max Reinhardt Jubilee edition: BLÄTTER DES DEUTSCHEN THEATERS, by Willi Schaeffers, Max Ehrlich & Paul Morgan

External links


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