Kurt Gerron


Berlin, May 11, 1897 - Auschwitz, October 28 1944

Where Has Kurt Gerron Gone? - an additional puzzle

When my father-in-law, the legendary Bandi Gut, was alive, he would make us Sabbath lunch every week and Sara would serve it in the dining room. There was one constant guest, an overwhelming presence: an enormous oil portrait of the German actor, Kurt Gerron, by the Israeli artist Shalom Sebba. Sebba was a good friend of Bandi and Sara and they had many of his works scattered around the house, works that eternalize the simplicity, conscious naivete, and hope in Israel after WWII, like the prize-winning "Sheep-shearing," and the sketches for the wall fresco of "Joseph and His Brothers" that was recently erased from Beit Hamlin. (For a tiny taste of what I'm talking about, check out the Hammersite auctions or Farkash Gallery. )But the painting of Gerron was different. Before the war Sebba had made his living in Berlin painting stage scenery and it was there that he met this amazing character. Gerron had become an enormous hit as the first person to sing "Mack the Knife" in the "Three Penny Opera," was probably making the film of the Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich and had many other reasons to be admired, and stands very secure and self-satisfied in his tuxedo and top hat, a long fat cigar between his lips. Sebba's own lost self portrait, done at the same time, has him sitting, thin, with cigarette and a felt hat over his eyes before a similar backdrop. But I knew nothing of this.

Only recently did I even discover who he was, and his life as i slowly discover it is pretty amazing.

The bare facts are these - he was born in Berlin, got wounded in WWI, and gave up on his plan to be a doctor for the stage. He made silent films and appeared in cabarets in Berlin and was a pretty big star by 1933 when he was forced to leave. Instead of going to Hollywood, he went to Paris then Prague and then Amsterdam, where he was picked up by the Nazis. From there he was sent to Westerbrook and Theriesenstat, where he directed the film "Hitler Builds a City for the Jews." Sent to Auschwitz, he was given preferential treatment and killed first, after he was made to sing his famous "Mack the Knife." It was the day before they stopped using the gas chamber in Auschwitz.

Now he doesn't seem to be much loved because of the smell of collaboration, but he must have had a really hard time morally with his decisions.

I'll be adding information slowly (It's hard to put together the 70 films he was in, the book about him, the 2 documentaries - both oscar nominations) but in the mean time, if you have some facts to contribute, please let me know.

For example, I don't know what happened to his wife, Olga, although it seems that she was gassed together with him. From a discussion with Gretta, who worked with Gerron (but not on Hitler's film because she was blond and they needed Jewish looking 'actors') I understood that Olga was with him through the Theresienstat nightmare. Gretta said Olga wore a great deal of make-up, a fact which has many implications for me.

I don't know if they had kids.

I don't know whether he had brothers and sisters, but a neice was interviewed for Prisoner of Paradise, so he must have had a sibling. His parents lived with them for many years. When did they die? How?

The moral dilemma Gerron had - of making a film for the Nazis - was real and is relevant today. Stills of his film here are on the site of 'revisionist' historians - or holocaust deniers. Poor Gerron - Gretta said that everyone in the film was killed - she wasn't allowed in the film because she didn't look Jewish enough for the propaganda and that's what saved her.

Every once in a while there is renewed interest in the various subjects in which Gerron was involved. Ha'aretz on April 23, 2004 discusses a next disk by Kobi Lurie of songs from Thereisenstat.

I'll try to add more. You're welcome to write me at gut22@post.tau.ac.il to suggest links.

July 21, 2004

I have made a strange discovery. People on Sunday (Berlin, 1929) is listed as having Gerron as one of the participants, but although I have seen the film a few times I can’t find him there. Where is Gerron?
The film was originally 2014 meters long but doesn’t exist in it’s original form and after reconstruction of the fragments is now only 1839 meters long. The rest of the footage was lost. Did Gerron accidently get lost? Did someone cut him out?


August 25, 2004

Saw Kurt Gerron's Variety (1925) today - He plays a trapeze artist whose wife betrays him with their partner. It's a silent film that has been redone many times by others - I think Burt Lancaster was the most recent reincarnation in "Trapeze." But in the more modern versions you don't see the details - the close-up of life's details like Gerron mending his wife's stocking, the slow determination to kill the betrayer, leave his wife and turn himself in. At the same time you don't see the moral dimension, the impossibility of justice, and love. It is an amazingly symbolic film for a man who ended up in the kind of moral dilemma he was in - making a film for the Nazis and getting murdered by them. (CORRECTION: I was so into this idea that i mistook Emil Jannings for Kurt Gerron, who really only has a minor role in this film - Thanks to Carlos Miranda for that observation. April 5, 2006.)

September 25, 2004

Today I saw "The Contender," the 1930 film about Max Schmeling, Hitler's hope for German sports. Schmeling plays himself, Gerron plays his agent - Benny Baker, and the manager is played by his manager. This curious blend of fact and drama is even more interesting in retrospect. Schmeling, who wouldn't join the Nazi party and was therefore drafted by Hitler and sent to suicide missions, actually saved Jews in the Holocaust (see the Auschwitz site. The number of points of Gerron's own fate that are touched on in the film - including Gerron himself saying "We want very much to go to America" - is terribly poignant. But the film is interesting on its own, for its shots of Schmeling in the ring, its honesty in Schmeling playing a younger, more foolish Schmeling, its blending of silent and talking pictures.


In December 2011 I received an email from S. Delman about Kurt Gerron. I promised then I’d post it, but then became involved with Charles Lewinsky’s novel Gerron, which drove me mad trying to extract the truth from his fiction in creating the novel. I thought then that I would find out more about these scenes and make a separate page but details have not been forthcoming, and I now post his letter – just to keep the facts available to all:

Liselotte Panofsky = Lea Delman, Karla Frenkel = Karla Rubin

1. My mother's parents (Lotte and Erich Panofsky) and she, and another friend of her (then, Karla Frenkel) were all in Theresienstadt ghetto.

2. My mother attended the Dreigroschenoper with Kurt Gerron in Theresienstadt when few SS officers entered the hall creating a very tense moment. The actors didn't know how to proceed and kept silence. After a short time, The SS officers left and the show was resumed.

3. During the making of the movie "Adolf Hitler gives a city to the Jews" she was filmed out in a fields and she was instructed to arrange the wheat for drying. My mother never got to see the movie.

4. My mother's family and her friend with Kurt and Olga Gerron, were all on the last transport from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz (EV-1761).

5. While marching for the selection, my mother heard Kurt saying to his wife Olga: I gave my watch to the SS officer but it didn't help. Her friend (Karla Frenkel) heard Olga crying and Kurt saying to her: Don't cry, we'll meet again soon.

Small details that add to the huge humanitarian tragedy.

Some More Photos

With Dietrich of course

Who is this woman? What is the film?

and here's another unknown

Gerron in poster for "Vaudeville"

This one is Gerron directing the film "Hitler Builds a City for the Jews." He was murdered when the filming was completed.



Kurt Gerron's Karussell 1999

Prisoner of Paradise 2002

the official web site It took forever for this film to be released - but it was worth the wait!


Roy Kift, "Camp Comedy," The Theatre of the Holocaust: Six Plays by Robert Skloot (Editor)

“Totentanz – Kabarett im KZ”. It’s about artists, singers and cabaret-stars Edition Mnemosyne

Reviewed by Pavlik Rodja

. The package includes a DVD (also in English, a CD with sketches and music from different artists – including Kurt Gerron – mostly from 1928 to 1945.

The following entry seems to exist only in the film archives in Jerusalem Cinemateque:0002543 KURT GERRON - SEINE CAGE WAR DER TOD
Documentary about the filmmaker who directed the propaganda film on Theresienstadt for the Nazis and was killed after completion.

Music and the Holocaust

Some Berlin Museum Memories of Gerron:

Jewish Museum

Jewish Museum

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