The Unknown Known

Kurt Hirschfeld’s biography is the exemplary story of a dedicated 20th century human. Born into a religious German Jewish family, he took an interest in literature at a young age. At the beginning of the 1930s, he made a name for himself as a dramaturge in Germany. As a communist and a Jew, he was forced to flee from the Nazis, but was turned away by Switzerland.

As a committed leftist, he thus fled to Moscow, where he was able to work for the theatre legend Meyerhold in the capacity of assistant director. But the Soviets shut the theatre down and killed Meyerhold. Hirschfeld, forced to witness the murder of his colleague at the hands of Stalin’s hitmen, fled the Soviet Union. With a lot of luck, he made his way to Zurich, where his talent was finally recognized. Thanks to the support of brave friends in Zurich, he became a dramaturge at the Schauspielhaus playhouse.

He brought many German talents to the theatre, such as author Bertolt Brecht or actress Therese Giehse. He allied himself with conservative Swiss creatives who also opposed the Nazis. Thus, the Schauspielhaus became the centre of cultural resistance against fascism in Europe. After the war, Hirschfeld built on this reputation and formed the Schauspielhaus into one of the leading German-speaking theatres. Staging early plays by Frisch and Dürrenmatt as well as American authors, he established the canon of modern European theatre.

But after his death in 1964, his name was forgotten. There are no films or books about him. Do his Jewish origins play a role in this reception? What is certain, however, is that the story of Switzerland’s role during the Nazi era has not yet been fully told. Together with Kurt Hirschfeld’s daughter Ruth and granddaughter Nurit, we visit his last living contemporaries and revive his legacy in the old playhouse. American theatre scholar Wendy Arons will place his work in the context of international theatre history.

Year: 2021
Country: Schweiz
Running Time: 90 Min.
Genre: Dokumentarfilm
Director: Stina Werenfels
Author: Samir
Co-Author: Felix Schneider
Producer: Werner Schweizer
Co-Producer: Herbert Schwering, Coin Film
Camera: Natascha Vavrina, Felix von Muralt, Manuel Häfele, Gabriela Betschart, Kacper Czubak
Editor: Rainer Trinkler
Sound: Dieter Meyer
Production Manager: Frances McStea
Cast: Ruth Hirschfeld, Nurit Hirschfeld

> Production Website