It was in Prague, during the early 1940s. The Czechs were firmly under the heel of Nazi Germany, but the city was still far from the front lines and many of the continuities of daily life remained. Bobby was six years old, in a family relatively well off by Czech standards. His daily routine included Roman Catholic devotions with his Czech governess, Miss Berta, and her disciplined tutorials in reading, writing and arithmetic. One day, as Bobby recalled it long afterward, Miss Berta took him on an excursion to the old city to see a passion play. It was street theater, with no elaborate staging, but vivid nonetheless.
There was a bent and ragged Jesus, his crown of thorns nearly slipping off his head, carrying his cross up to Calvary. All around him were creatures hideously disfigured and bent over in postures of craven fear and violence. With each step these masked creatures would pounce on our Lord and whip him until he fell forward, his cross on top of him. Then, with superhuman effort, he would rise, his cross on his back, and resume his journey. I was fascinated, frightened, and repelled by the scene.
It was in Germany, during the 1950s. The American troops were there no longer as an occupying army, but as NATO allies. James, in his teens, toured the German Rhineland with his devoutly Catholic mother, the wife of an American officer. He recalls:
For a long time I carried vivid images of Passion plays I associated with Germany, and I took them for renditions of a sacred truth. They were not the full-blown productions of, say, an Oberammergau, but the story of the death of Jesus, enacted as a pageant, with tableaux, choruses, and costumed actors, had stamped my adolescent imagination ... I thought of my mother and me standing together on planks, her clutching the rosary. When the white-robed figure of Jesus appeared ... she blessed herself. I remembered wanting to tell her once that it was only a play ... I remembered Pontius Pilate with his toga, laurel crown, and white enamel pan of water ... Jesus trailed behind ... his hair matted with blood from thorns that seemed real ... I remembered the mother of Jesus ... Mary's enemies would be forever mine. As much as I remembered the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who trailed along behind, the High Priest with his turban, and the Rabbis with their robes and hooked noses, I remembered the Jews with their conical hats and unsubtle horns, which made them like devils ... I remembered those "Jews" waiving their knotted leather cords above their heads, to whip down on Jesus. As the tableaux passed before us, in my memory, the Passion was being read over loudspeakers ... When the chorus of "Jews" cried out their "Crucify him!" I understood. Jews. Jews all. Jews forever with blood on upon them and upon their children (Carroll: 32-33).
The major point is clear. The dramatization of the suffering of Jesus the Christ can provide the opportunity to teach people to hate the Jews.
Mork, Gordon R.
"Christ's Passion on Stage: The Traditional Melodrama of Deicide,"
Journal of Religion & Film: Vol. 8
, Article 3.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/jrf/vol8/iss1/3