On March 30, 1918, the German Theatrical Group of the Krasnoiarsk Officer Camp staged its twenty-seventh production of the war: Johann Nepomuk Nestroy’s 1842 farce Einen Jux will er sich machen [He Intends to Have a Fling]. Like all of Nestroy’s plays, Einen Jux was written not in standard High German but in the spoken dialect of Vienna and Lower Austria, and it appealed on a sentimental level to the interned Austrian officers, the largest group of prisoners in camp. As is often the case with works in this genre, the farce includes its fair share of mistaken identities and narrow escapes, all happily resolved at the end by a triple wedding. In one of these escapes, during the third act, the young commercial apprentice Christopherl, wearing a lady’s hat and cloak to keep from being noticed by the police, is mistaken for the boss’s niece, Marie. Forced to continue the charade to avoid being arrested, Christopherl hears condemnation of the niece’s flawed mores and is labeled “a guilty young lady” for trying to elope with her suitor. “I am a guilty young lady?!” asks Christopherl/Marie semi-naïvely.
For the audience, the joke lies in the fact that Christopherl, despite being guilty of mischief, is not a young woman. They, in contrast to the characters on the stage, know that the bind for Christopherl in this situation is that his options are to be perceived either as a woman or as a lawbreaker. In other words, his alternatives are womanhood or jail, both distressing choices for a young apprentice. Opting for freedom, Christopherl pretends to be Marie until he feels safe enough to escape out the window and return to his previous identity.
Christopherl’s awareness that gender impersonation can keep him out of prison was undoubtedly shared by his POW audience. In Krasnoiarsk and forty-five other officer camps in Russia, inmates established highly elaborate theaters and relied on the talents of hundreds of female impersonators from among the POW population. These young officers not only performed the roles of women in almost every production, but in many cases they assumed feminine identities offstage as well. “This was the golden age of the female impersonator,” wrote POW memoirist Hermann Pörzgen, “when unfulfilled eroticism … reoriented the fantasies of the mass [of prisoners] toward a new object and channeled love, sorrow, adulation, and critique.”
The centrality of female impersonators in POW camp life has not yet been given much consideration by social and cultural historians of the Great War, including those who deal with gender topics. Despite sophisticated research done in the past two decades on shifting gender boundaries on the “home front,” and despite insightful work published on male camaraderie and sexual fantasy among frontline soldiers, little attention has been devoted to the lively and ubiquitous drag performances in POW camps. Other than occasional allusions to the famous drag scene in Jean Renoir’s 1937 classic La Grande Illusion, the few historical studies that deal with female impersonation focus almost exclusively on frontline all-male theaters (“concert parties” in contemporary British parlance). POW theaters, on the other hand, which were usually more elaborate and spilled over into everyday life, have yet to earn in-depth treatment by historians. In attempting to fill this gap, I hope to stimulate further research into issues of gender and sexuality—a practically new terrain for historians of the eastern front of World War I.
The theatrical activities of German-speaking POWs in Russia during World War I reflected the acute sense of masculine disempowerment experienced by the prisoners. The circumstances of captivity, including the physical separation of the ranks and the removal of insignia, heightened what was already a vulnerable situation for the POWs. Some of the men experienced capture by the enemy as a metaphoric castration and as a precipitous loss of status in the social and gender hierarchy. The all-male theaters that emerged in the Russian camps—die Plennytheater—were perhaps the most important medium for exploring and expressing the pressures of captivity. Beyond their immediate purpose of entertainment, POW theaters provided what was perceived by those involved as a therapeutic diversion from the mental and physical decay that came with imprisonment. In officer camps, the POW stage gave rise to an elaborate quasi-bourgeois theater life aimed at re-creating a prewar sense of comfort, power, and self-worth. At the center of this theatrical sociability were the female impersonators, usually young officers, who performed women’s roles on the stage and often in everyday life in the camps.
When the Plennytheater is examined in the context of theoretical literature about drag written by gender scholars over the past two decades, it can be analyzed in accordance with two major interpretive approaches: the first highlights the function of drag in maintaining gender and political hierarchies (the “safety valve” argument), while the second underscores its nonconformist and disruptive functions. Following the insights of Judith Butler, Lenard Berlanstein, and David A. Boxwell, I argue that drag is by definition ambivalent, and thus POW theatrical performances possessed both disruptive and normalizing potential. The Plennytheater was more than just a “safe space” that reaffirmed upper- and middle-class heterosexual masculinity. It simultaneously created powerful contrary undercurrents that sanctioned forms of homoerotic relations and transgender identifications, especially as part of what some POW memoirists called “the cult of the female impersonator.”
Captivity was a common experience for soldiers in World War I. During four years of fighting, an estimated 8.5 million soldiers fell into enemy hands—roughly one out of every nine men in uniform. This was only slightly less than the estimated 9 to 10 million soldiers who were killed during the war (750,000 of whom died in captivity). On the eastern front, more than 5 million soldiers from Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Romania became POWs, some of whom were interned until 1922.
Great War POWs, like prisoners in previous and subsequent wars, often related the moment of their capture in considerable detail. It is clear why so much attention was given to an event that may have lasted only minutes in a saga that went on for years: the moment of capture was the crucial pivot of the entire narrative, when the protagonists first came under direct control of the enemy and began a new chapter in their lives. As a narrative device, it was also an opportunity to solicit understanding from readers while dealing with issues of shame, fear, honor, and personal accountability. The sense of falling into enemy hands came across powerfully in POW correspondence (which was diligently copied during the war by censors), and even more so in the hundreds of memoirs that were written by POW officers and published in Central Europe during the interwar years. For these officer memoirists, life before captivity had purpose, honor, and the possibility of heroism, while interwar societies with their sociopolitical dislocations seemed to extend the falling sensation beyond wartime. As historian Peter Melichar noted with regard to Austrian officers, “the work of memory (Erinnerungsarbeit) became the focus of their activities” because “their whole form of existence was crucially linked to the past.”
Although the moment of capture cannot be viewed as a “rite of passage” in the usual sense (i.e., in the context of “life cycle” rituals), there are elements in it reminiscent of Arnold van Gennep’s original formulation of the term, which also included territorial passages. Specifically, the idea of “liminality”—the “no longer/not yet” phase in the passage, when a person has lost one identity but not yet acquired a new one—seemed to resonate loudly in the recollections of many captured soldiers. The Austro-Hungarian military chaplain Karl Drexel, for example, described being overcome by a feeling akin to anesthesia: “All I can remember is the darkness; the only thing I said to the people I knew was, ‘So you are here, too.'” The Turkish officer Mehmet Arif Ölçen told of being gripped by intense fright and a conviction that he would shortly be murdered by his Russian captors. Other prisoners reported feeling a profound sense of confusion that sometimes lasted weeks or more.
This confusion and fear about the future were exacerbated by the acts of humiliation that captors sometimes inflicted on their prisoners. For POWs captured by the Russian army during World War I, the most common form of degradation was being forced to hand over their personal effects: watches, rings, medals, and money were stripped away immediately upon capture, or in some cases were “bought” by Russian soldiers for a negligible amount of money. This process of divesting prisoners of their valuables and markers of individual identity is strikingly suggestive of what anthropologists call “effacement rituals … [for] liminal initiands.” The Hebrew expressionist poet Avigdor Hameiri, who as a Hungarian officer was taken captive during the Brusilov offensive of June 1916, described how bayonet-wielding Russian soldiers lined up prisoners and removed their valuables under a barrage of curses. U.S. Department of State delegates, who represented Austro-Hungarian and German interests until the United States’ entry into the war in April 1917, used more diplomatic language: “The first act by which the Russian power manifests itself toward the soldiers made prisoners of war is pitilessly taking from them all their property—an act ordinarily termed pillage.”
Even soldiers who were captured in a less brutal fashion experienced a noticeable sense of humiliation when they were first taken prisoner. Among officers, this feeling of disgrace emanated partly from a perception of not having fulfilled their duties as warriors, as well as from anxiety at the prospect of having to submit a formal explanation of their failings after their repatriation. POW physician Burghard Breitner regretted not being wounded during his capture and titled his memoirs Unverwundet Gefangen [Captured Unwounded], while Karl Drexel described in his memoirs how POW officers from the same units would work together to prepare an agreed-upon version of the circumstances of their capture. Increasingly isolated from the front line, the only wartime place where masculine vigor could indisputably be reaffirmed, officer memoirists felt vulnerable and defensive. Although these officers remained in the male military setting of captivity—and ostensibly removed from the realm of women on the home front—they felt insecure about their status as warriors. In the gendered spatial dichotomy of wartime, captivity seemed to float freely between the gender poles.
Prisoners sometimes expressed this sensation of fragility in their memoirs while describing the surrender of their swords to the enemy. The pathos invested in the recollection of this episode demonstrates how strongly the chivalric notion of masculinity gripped the imaginations of German-speaking officers. They did not respond as emotionally to the confiscation of other military weapons or insignia, including their guns. Beyond the removal of a millennia-old phallic symbol, the loss of a sword meant losing one of the most important pre–World War I representations of social hierarchy, military authority, and manly skills. The practice of the duel, prevalent before the war in Germany and Austria-Hungary among young men of bourgeois and noble background, linked honor and prowess to representations of medieval knightly masculinity. Being deprived of the means to achieve or defend this honor meant that for the duration of their capture, POW officers could not rely on prewar practices to reassert a sense of manliness. Thus it is not surprising that Lieutenant Hans Baumgartner—forty-two years of age at the time of his capture and a reserve officer—bade a mournful farewell to what he described as a “very dear friend, my sword”:
Many years ago, as a one-year volunteer, I drew it for the first time as I proudly commanded a small platoon. Later it accompanied me on weapons training through many a region and town, and after I became a Landstürmer [second-line reservist] and gave away the rest of my equipment, I kept it—rusty and shabby though it was becoming—for memory’s sake … [After being captured] I made sure it would not serve anyone else! A powerful flat strike against a tree trunk, and the blade was broken into pieces. My opponents would get only the sheath and stump as their booty.
For officers, capture was only the beginning of the loss of honor and authority. The experience of disempowerment continued during their evacuation to the Russian rear, and through the sorting process in the assembly camps in Kiev and Moscow. During this procedure, the officers were separated from their charges, and they would remain apart throughout the many years of internment. Although officers received far better treatment in captivity than did rank-and-file POWs—including decent monthly salaries and exemption from labor—they were now confined to their own world, unable to display their authority. Theirs was a privileged position vis-à-vis the enlisted men, but their fall was in many ways greater. The war ministries of the Central Powers protested that “officers were made to salute” Russian NCOs, and that it was “contrary to the military honor that officer prisoners of war are not permitted to walk on the pavements (sidewalks),” but to no avail. The head of the Political Section in the Department of POW Affairs of the Austro-Hungarian War Ministry concluded glumly, “under these circumstances, it seems difficult to explain why the unwritten—but never disputed—universal agreement to accord professional honor to officers was ignored in Russia.”
The realization that the knightly code of honor—perhaps the quintessential emblem of middle- and upper-class masculinity in fin-de-siècle Europe—was not respected and could not be defended was a nasty shock for POW officers. In terms of material well-being, officers enjoyed preferential treatment in comparison to rank-and-file prisoners, but it was those cracks and fissures in their privileged sense of superiority that may have hurt the most. The dejection they felt about their loss of status and their sense of masculine vulnerability would find expression in the elaborate theatrical performances produced in officer camps.
prisoner-of-war theater in Russia was part of the larger phenomenon of Great War soldier theatricals. As with frontline theaters, the impulse to perform in POW camps had much to do with overcoming boredom and numbing routine, while creating socially sanctioned “safe spaces” to express the anxieties and dislocations brought on by the war. This drive “from below” to provide entertainment and emotional relief could also offer, as David A. Boxwell recently argued regarding the western front, a “quasi-utopian space where the traumatic undercurrents … could receive at least partial salutary psychic and cultural propitiation.” Thus, from a functional point of view, theaters provided an important mechanism for articulating and confronting anxiety and trauma.
Camp theaters were initially makeshift affairs that utilized whatever could be rounded up. “Beds, tables, and similar items made up the scenery for such ‘theaters,'” wrote Hermann Pörzgen, “with backdrops made out of woolen blankets, all of which were put back at the end of the performance.” The need to improvise remained the rule in most non-officer POW camps in Russia, because the rank and file were required to work for their upkeep. The men spent most of the day employed in Russian agriculture or industry—usually for meager compensation—and had little time left in which to establish a high-quality theater. Moreover, they had limited personal means with which to support a permanent theater, while the communal funds donated by international charities or transferred from the home state had to be used for many other purposes as well (such as supplementing rations or buying additional medication). Nevertheless, the scarce documentary material still extant on the rank-and-file theaters suggests that they were rowdy and passionate affairs modeled after contemporary burlesque entertainment. Karl Franzowitsch, who had been a POW in the camp in Tiumen, described the exciting, albeit foul-smelling, atmosphere of the theater:
One cannot reconstruct this “air”! In the already densely occupied Germanskybarrack [sic], a platform was placed between two plank beds, and the number of visitors was easily ten times that of the regular occupants of the place. One could slice the air! It is difficult to report much about this “show,” which was more variété than theater; first, I arrived too late, and second, I was prevented from seeing or hearing much by the Makhorka [coarse Russian tobacco] coming out of the pipe of a Romanian comrade! … the fact that people also had to live and sleep in such “air”—which at -35° could not be ventilated at all, so that a thick, foggy cloud came in from the outside every time someone walked in, which blocked the stage and caused moisture to drip on the viewers—fills me today with gratitude and respect for this will to sacrifice.
The POW officer theater, on the other hand, developed into an elaborate, sophisticated, and in some cases fully professional enterprise in dozens of camps in Russia. Some camps had performances in several languages (primarily German and Hungarian), while others organized into “national theaters” (Austrian, German, Hungarian, and on rare occasions Turkish). Viennese Burgtheater actor Julius Karsten, director of the Novo-Nikolaevsk and Barnaul officer camp theaters, may have been a bit optimistic when he predicted that the POW stage would occupy an important chapter in the annals of twentieth-century theater history. Yet he was undoubtedly correct in pointing out that POW officer theater in Russia was unlike other soldier theatricals established during World War I.
There are a number of reasons why the officer Plennytheater was markedly different from the non-officer stage and frontline “concert parties.” On the most basic level, it was a question of spare time. According to the Hague Convention rules on the treatment of POWs, which were in force and were generally respected during World War I, captured officers were not required to perform any labor while in the hands of the captor power. This abundance of free time meant that they could dedicate themselves to diversions in ways not possible for either rank-and-file POWs or most frontline soldiers. Consequently, many officer camps had libraries, sports facilities, and educational courses, all offering the prisoners an opportunity to engage in what German-speaking bourgeoisie of the time venerated as Bildung (education/self-cultivation). Yet, as Julius Karsten argued, probably the only “Bildungsfaktor” with broad enough appeal to “draw everyone under its spell” was the theater.
In addition to free time, the other major resource available to officers was money. POW officers in Russia (as in other countries) received monthly salaries from their captors, which permitted them to live quite decently, at least until the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917. These monthly sums—50 rubles for a subaltern, 75 rubles for a staff officer, and 125 rubles for a general—enabled officers to set up a theater and support it by selling tickets. After the Bolshevik Revolution and throughout the Russian Civil War, officer salaries—when they were paid at all—were greatly reduced. However, officer theaters managed to stay afloat and even prosper by attracting non-POW audiences from the local population. Outside visitors would normally be charged more than forty times the regular price of admittance and would be encouraged to donate to the Plennytheater as “benefactors” or in exchange for “loge” or “first-class seats.” In all, forty-six German-language theaters were established in officer camps in Russia, with twenty having a permanent building used solely for performances. Some of these Plennytheaters employed ensembles of more than a hundred actors and musicians, while generating work for dozens of technicians, carpenters, and tailors. The theater in the central Siberian camp of Achinsk produced no fewer than eighty-eight different productions prior to its closure by the Bolsheviks in January 1920. It highlighted the talents of Emmerich Laschitz, “Siberia’s most famous female impersonator,” who played the lead women’s roles in many of the productions. Laschitz’s great success in Oscar Wilde’s Salome—”fin de siècle favorite phallic female,” according to Carl Schorske—attests perhaps to the degree to which POW officers used contemporary drama to articulate their own castration fears. Representing what Bram Dijkstra described as a “bestial virgin Jewess, whose dance revived the dead embers of carnal life,” the character of Salome touched on a variety of emotions experienced by the officers in captivity, including hatred of the “Russian” as a cruel “Asiatic” captor, the maso-chistic excitements of fettered manhood, dread of an imminent ignoble death, and a sense of Christian martyrdom.
The fact that Oscar Wilde’s controversial piece could be produced so easily in a Siberian officer camp while audiences in England had to wait until 1931 to see an official production of it underscores the third precious resource at the disposal of officer theaters: artistic freedom. During the first Russian revolution, in March 1917, and for three years thereafter, officer theaters operated with little interference from local Russian authorities, particularly in areas controlled by the White forces of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak. “Siberia, that fearsome specter of Russia,” wrote Pörzgen poetically, “proved to be a blessed and fruitful landscape for the theater. Nowhere else in the world could the German theater have met with such response as here.”
Performances involving masquerades and mistaken identity were especially popular on the POW stage in Russia. Risquébelle-époque staples by Arthur Schnitzler and Ferenc Molnár were produced in many of the camps, alongside classic German pieces by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Friedrich von Schiller and an impressive selection from leading European playwrights such as August Strindberg and George Bernard Shaw. The clear favorites among the prisoners were contemporary operettas by Johann Strauss the son, Franz Lehár, and Imre Kálmán. At Krasnoiarsk, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus had a sensational run of thirty-eight performances, each before a jam-packed (and paying) audience of 450 POW officers. The director of the German-language stage, Major Franz Rehor, reported that the success of Die Fledermaus rested equally on the talent of Richard Steiner, who had been a professional tenor in Vienna before the war, and the abilities of Ensign [Fähnrich] Birner and Lieutenant Magda, who sang the female roles. “Through vocal inclination and exact training, Ensign Birner excelled remarkably in the performances of Die Fledermaus. His ability to sing in falsetto enabled him to perform the part of Adele impeccably.”
In contrast to frontline theaters, whose activity was co-opted, financed, supervised, and finally organized by the respective armies, POW officers in Russia after 1917 were free to perform as they pleased. More than any other theater during the Great War, the officer Plennytheater was a reflection of the sensibilities, desires, and concerns of the prisoners, rather than a tool encouraged and controlled from above. It is this paradoxical sense of freedom amid captivity that makes the theater such a fascinating historical source for reconstructing the mental states and experiences of interned officers.
Among the multitude of subjective meanings that POW officers found in performing and viewing, one function of the stage runs prominently through their memoirs: its power to combat physical and mental decay (which were often viewed as inextricably bound). The raison d’être of the Plennytheater lay in its professed ability to counter camp lethargy, improve bad moods, and channel sexual anxiety without its leading to, as one ex-POW called them, “moral transgressions” (sittliche Verfehlungen). The prisoners learned that long-term incarceration could have adverse or even debilitating mental effects simply by observing some of their colleagues. Gloom, mood swings, suicides, and fits of madness were a part of daily life in this “compulsory community [Zwangsgemeinschaft].” “The prisoners themselves … labeled this changed spiritual composure ‘camp funk’ [Lagerfimmel].” The Swiss physician A. L. Vischer, who interviewed hundreds of POWs during the Great War, medicalized this funk as a “nervous disorder,” christening it “Barbed Wire Disease” [Stacheldrahtkrankheit or psychose du fil de fer]:
The disease manifests itself in a series of symptoms, varying in degree with the individual. Foremost is increased irritability, so that the patients cannot stand the slightest opposition and readily fly into a passion. A mania for discussion develops, but sound judgment is entirely lacking in the argument … they find intense difficulty in concentrating on one particular object; their mode of life becomes unstable … it has even been noticed among the interned that during meal times they will get up several times from the table and sit down again.
Vischer warned gravely that “many [prisoners] will return to their homes with a damaged mentality. Europe will thus be infiltrated with individuals of abnormal psychical tendencies, who will not presumably be without influence on the collective psychology of the community.” Vischer’s prognosis echoed pervasive fears among Central European psychiatrists that psychologically damaged veterans would return home and establish, as one practitioner put it, a “dictatorship of psychopaths” and hysterics. Although the prisoners themselves seldom viewed the situation in such grim terms, there was broad agreement that for “the threatening manifestation of mental derangement, there was only one solution: diversion! Diversion was the heart of the matter.” Thus, on the most basic level, the prisoners understood the theater as a distraction, not for the sake of amusement, but to add some activity to their daily lives and safeguard them from insanity.
This palpable fear of sanity loss had deep roots in fin-de-siècle European—especially Central European—discourses about abnormality, perversions, and degeneracy. More than just a direct response to the environment of the prison camp, it arose from a combination of prewar cultural anxieties and the perceived dangers of inactivity during long-term incarceration. Michel Foucault, Robert Nye, and Harry Oosterhuis have used different approaches to trace the expansion of medical discourses in late-nineteenth-century Europe, from the study of physical degenerative insanity to the examination of “sexual perversions” and various types of “social abnormality.” Technical studies supposedly intended only for medical professionals, such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia sexualis (eighteen editions between 1886 and 1924), were voraciously read and discussed by a nonspecialist public, even though the sexually explicit sections were customarily translated into Latin in an attempt to limit readership. The mostly bourgeois men who read these studies took a keen interest in medical analyses of “perversions,” and in hundreds of cases they willingly shared their personal stories with specialists.Fin-de-siècle degeneracy specialists increasingly linked together physical, mental, and moral illness. “Physicians took the initiative,” wrote George L. Mosse in The Image of Man, “in ratifying the equation between morality, health and sickness … and lent their medical authority to the creation of the moral and physical stereotype of the outsider.” An “abnormal” or degenerate individual could be recognized by certain forms of behavior such as alcoholism and lethargy, or, according to some theories, by the amount of energy expended on nonreproductive activities such as masturbation and anal intercourse.
This conflation of sexual and physical degeneracy is illustrated with unparalleled intensity in Avigdor Hameiri’s memoirs:
Beside us lie two POWs, who are locked in an embrace. “Look!” says Margalit [a fellow POW] in horror. I turn my head: the prisoners are fondling each other. Well, another curse hangs over us here [the camp of Uralsk]. What a terrible place this is … Now I see that our neighbors, the two prisoners, are both ill with scurvy. And they have performed this abomination [toeva] while sick. The nausea brings my stomach into my throat. This is the first time I have ever felt like this. Two human carcasses fondling each other in the bosom of death. I touch myself: What am I? Am I still a human being … I am told that the disease of male copulation [mishkav zakhar] is ubiquitous in this place, practically out in the open. Some prisoners walk around nearly naked in this putrefaction, and half-mad, they offer themselves to be “loved.”
In the minds of many POW officers, the theater functioned as a therapeutic diversion, an important antidote for abnormality and perversion. It energized the prisoners, gave them a sense of purpose, and directed their energies toward appropriate upper- and middle-class activities. The entire organization of the theater spoke of the desire to create a sense of bourgeois normalcy: a repertoire that could easily have belonged to any “respectable” stage in Central Europe; established box-office practices, such as selling season tickets and a choice of progressively priced seats (loge, first-class, second-class, etc.); a variety of fund-raising techniques, from a lottery to published lists of “benefactors”; and technical ingenuity applied to the creation of highly elaborate sets. Wherever possible, the theaters were designed to resemble well-known theaters back home. The Peshchenka stage, for example, boasted curtains that were an exact duplicate of those in the Raimundtheater in Vienna, including Friedrich von Schiller’s oft-quoted verse from Wallenstein: “Ernst ist das Leben, heiter ist die Kunst” [For life is stern, but art serenely joyous]. The Plennytheater of Krasnoiarsk may have outdone all the others, with its four-barrack theater complex including a buffet, a coffee shop, and “one of the barracks converted by a group of German and Austrian architects into an elegant restaurant with all the amenities, decorated in a modern style by the art dealer Lieutenant Kunft.”
The goal of maintaining an illusion of prewar comfort, power, and self-worth translated in officer camps in Russia into a rich theater life. This semblance of “bourgeois normalcy”—through the re-creation of former habits and lifestyles—also created a broad space both on and off the stage for one of the most interesting gender performances of the Great War: the POW officer female impersonator.
The notion that cross-dressing rituals in general and military drag in particular sustain class and gender hierarchies finds support in a great deal of anthropological and feminist literature. Anthropologists such as Victor Turner and James Peacock tended to view transvestite rituals as a way to make a statement about authority and gender roles. By representing a wide array of conflicts within the system, transvestite rituals allow for a limited release—a “safety valve”—”without questioning the basic order of society itself.” Social and political boundaries are then safely reconstructed at the conclusion of the ritual, and transgressions are once again proscribed. In the same vein, Marjorie Garber argued that anxieties about transgressing racial, class, and gender borderlines were projected onto the stage in U.S. military drag shows during World War II. The shows became an officially authorized safety valve, enabling such pent-up anxieties to be released in a regulated and safe manner:
To cross-dress on stage in an all-male context like the army or the navy is a way of asserting the common privilege of maleness. Borderlines like officers/”men” or gay/straight are both put into question and redrawn or reaffirmed: ‘woman’—the artifact made of wig, makeup, coconut breasts and grass skirt or sailor’s “frock”—offers a space for fantasies that are at once erotic and misogynistic.
Alisa Solomon concisely summed up this view by emphasizing the misogynist component in male drag acts and equating male-to-female cross-dressing with racism in minstrel shows: “Misogynist drag … like racist blackface, reassures, making fun of the socially subservient class by parodying it, always reminding the viewer that the power-granting penis remains—what a relief!—just beneath the skirts. This is slumming; in the end it restores and reifies the standing order.” It is interesting to note that despite the use of very different terminology and reflecting radically different sensibilities, POW memoirists and a distinguished group of scholars agree on the main functions of the drag theater: maintaining “normalcy” and thwarting changes to established order. Nevertheless, there are significant reasons for rejecting this thesis, both in principle and in its application to the POW theater in Russia.
In her immensely influential book Gender Trouble, Judith Butler argued for a more nuanced and complex understanding of drag. Despite acknowledging that drag can have misogynist overtones, she asserted that it “displac[es] the entire enactment of gender signification from the discourse of truth or falsity.” By this she meant that in established hierarchies (gender or otherwise), people are assumed to have a stable internal identity, or essence, which is manifested externally through the “body surface.” Individuals are then rewarded or hindered within social hierarchies on the basis of these readable “inscriptions” on the surface of their bodies. Drag, on the other hand, complicates the distinction between readable exteriors and stable identities, resulting in confusion about the “essence” of a particular body. Is the person wearing women’s clothing and using “womanly acts and gestures” indeed a woman “inside,” or is it the masculine body that is indicative of the “real” inner identity? In Butler’s view, the three dimensions of gender signification—anatomical sex, gender identity, and gender performance—are thrown into misalignment, along with “the claim [of hegemonic culture] to naturalized or essentialist gender identities.” With different emphases, Laurence Senelick, Lenard Berlanstein, and David A. Boxwell have all pointed to destabilizing elements contained in drag theater, even in transvestite shows sanctioned and organized by that most hierarchical of institutions, the army. As Boxwell suggested with regard to frontline theater:
While the spectacle of a soldier in drag functioned according to the “safety valve” model of cathartic ritual, the form and content of the drag performer’s “act,” strongly dependent as it was on multiple entendre, close physical contact with other men (both in and out of drag), and the illusion of eroticized, idealized and objectified femininity, disrupted the boundaries that contained the act as a necessary release in an all-male environment. A spectator’s desiring and approving gaze on a soldier in drag was not simply a matter of pleasure in a “surrogate” woman; rather, his gaze was directed at a fellow man in drag, a fellow soldier in his own military organization.
This ability of female impersonators to support normalcy and order while at the same time calling it into question is well illustrated in the case of the POW stage in Russia. Because imprisoned officers viewed the theater primarily as a means to combat “abnormality” and decay, the female impersonator in this interpretive scheme had the most important performative role: representing for prisoners what one of them called “the disappearing image of woman.” If the officer Plennytheater was to be a cultured bourgeois affair and not a rowdy rank-and-file variety show, the POWs performing women’s roles had to be perfect. According to theater director Alfred Steinpach, “a manly movement, a masculine shout, could have destroyed the illusion of a highly moving scene in a Sudermann, Hauptmann, or Ibsen drama and unleashed a torrent of merriment.” Thus, in Steinpach’s mind, “the female impersonator functioned as a hypnotist for the audience, using his art to bring them under the spell of his performance in a way that would make them forget that it was a man in front of them.” In her analysis of female impersonation on U.S. stages in the years 1890–1920, Sharon R. Ullman argued that performative perfectionism had to do with the desire to define representations of femininity and through it retain a sense of male control in times of social turmoil. Thus, the most successful impersonators in North America, such as Julian Eltinge and Bothwell Browne, were said to offer a “more authentic representation of femininity than women themselves could.” On the POW stage, even in comedies of error and other lighter pieces, the purpose was suspension of disbelief. The aim of the Plennytheater was not a burlesque-style drag act, the kind in which the performers remove their wigs to reassure the audience of their masculinity. Rather, female impersonators in Russia were encouraged to adopt a feminine persona and maintain it as much as they could, even off the stage.
“With extreme amazement,” wrote Hermann Pörzgen, “camp inmates observed the complete transformation of these young men over the course of their captivity.” In camp they were addressed only by their feminine names, and “through mimicry they were able to lose all traces of manliness.” Emmerich Laschitz, the famous impersonator of Achinsk, described how “each female impersonator had a circle of fans and admirers, whose assignment was to wash and iron undergarments and articles of women’s clothing. All the work was left to the chambermaid [Kammerkätzchen], even if that was a gray-bearded reserve officer.” Female impersonators received passionate poems and letters from other prisoners on a regular basis, dedicated “to the loveliest of all” or “to the beloved, fair and sweet.” POW officer Dr. Arthur Munk reproached “second-string actresses” and “chorus girls” in his memoirs for being “harlots” [Dirnen] who were not as classy as the star female impersonators.
Such unreserved behavior beyond the confines of the POW theater did not neatly fit the perception of the stage as an anchor of decency and culture. The clear expansion of “safe space” roles into everyday life required POW memoirists to use some verbal acrobatics to rework them into their framework of “normalcy.” This was done through two principal arguments: such actions were interpreted either as part of a theatrical “prima donna cult” or, conversely, as an important way to maintain the men’s desire for the “image of woman” and prevent homosexual acts.
The flowers, chocolates, and cosmetics received by female impersonators could easily be packaged by memoirists as typical prima donna adulation. After all, these performers were responsible for the success of the theater, and for their efforts they deserved to enjoy “some semblance of a decent life.” Female impersonators were described as throwing diva-caliber tantrums and behaving with extreme jealousy toward one another. Following the cliché about temperamental divas, “the director had to know how to handle his ‘ladies’ … and to fight against the capricious moods of the prima donnas.”
Since devotion to their task required female impersonators to internalize the “image of woman,” they could not help but become fussy about feminine matters: “the more a female impersonator lived in her role, the greater were her demands in this department [i.e., clothing]. And not just visible wardrobe pieces, but lingerie, too, especially lingerie; it could not be chic and fashionable enough.” Along the same lines, Alfred Steinpach described a “delicious scene” related to him by an English woman living in Russia who had volunteered to lend clothes to a female impersonator from the officer theater:
The delicate, girlish-looking youth sat down gracefully and gently on the chair offered to him. Bashful and timid like a teenage girl [Backfisch], he lowered his eyes, and his narrow hand wandered across the clothes, as though he wanted to make some alterations … the real lady was increasingly confused and no longer knew who was standing in front of her. The conversation developed exactly as it would have between two female friends.
Despite the attempts of memoirists to recast apparent transgressions as part of a socially acceptable cult of the prima donna, however, it appears that POW officer camps did exhibit what David A. Boxwell called “the gender disruption associated with modern warfare.” Emmerich Laschitz was quite clear on this: “In private contacts, I often experienced an exceptional gallantry that was not without an air of abnormality.” An officer who became “too fiery” in his adulation of female impersonators “had to endure all kinds of ridicule, until even he had to laugh about it.” Describing the impersonators and their admirers was a grammatical challenge for memoirists. Pörzgen vacillated between the feminine pronoun “her” and the masculine pronoun “him,” and was undecided on the use of quotation marks. Were the impersonators “ladies” or ladies? Were they “actresses,” actresses, or yet still actors? This morphological incertitude was indicative of the destabilization of a rigid gender dichotomy, and with it the sense of normalcy that the theater was ostensibly designed to create. Perhaps the most interesting way that the female impersonators upset the hierarchy was by affecting the relationship between the ranks. “What had once been clearly indicated lines of demarcation between the ranks,” wrote Alfred Steinpach, “were often crossed here, and the commanding voice of a high-ranking officer who had once so mercilessly roared ‘you cadet!’ while mounted on his horse became the softest of tones when that cadet later became a celebrated female impersonator.” POW generals reportedly vied for the affection of actresses, and one is described as having written a note saying, “you are like a flower, so delicate and pretty and pure.”
A second common way to counter the charge of “abnormality” was to depict the stage as a defensive measure against homosexual acts. Reinhold Messner went so far as to claim, “I do not know of one actual case of homosexuality, even of the passive kind,” adding, “the sensible men in Russia showed their capacity for woman love.” The rationale here was clear: female impersonators were so good at their craft that they managed to keep the “image of woman” alive in the camps and thus prevent the prisoners from engaging in homosexual relationships. The obvious homoerotic quality of the “promenade walks of ‘actresses’ arm in arm with their admirers” was actually a way of preventing overt male-male love. “For the prisoners,” wrote Pörzgen, “he was what he impersonated. He was the only woman that they saw through these long years, the only human being who could show them the grace of the other sex.” The female impersonator redirected the unsatisfied erotic drive of camp inhabitants, and the subject of their fantasy was as womanly as possible under the circumstances. Besides, argued Pörzgen, “homosexual epidemics broke out in camps only for short periods of time … they did not increase the attractiveness of the female impersonators, and their decline did not diminish it.”
Magnus Hirschfeld, the leading activist for homosexual rights in Germany during the first decades of the twentieth century, and who in 1910 coined the term “transvestism,” made short shrift of this reasoning. With colleague Andreas Gaspar and collaborators at the Institute of Sexology (Institut für Sexualwissenschaft) in Berlin, Hirschfeld argued that “same-sex intercourse [Verkehr]” was very common among prisoners of war, especially among officers who did not have much contact with local women. “Some of these [prisoners] … had a true ‘urning’ [i.e., homosexual] core, while others were pushed by sexual anguish [Sexualnot] to pseudo-homosexual practices.” In his mind, homosexuality and camp theater were joined together under the auspices of the stage and the conventions of a “big-city temple of muses.” The possibility of having some kind of love life behind the barbed wire offered “people robbed of their freedom a means of gratification for many years.” In the prevalent epidemiological jargon of the time, Hirschfeld concluded, “homosexuality could indeed be regarded as contagious in the [POW] camps.”
These diametrically opposed assessments of the link between homosexuality and the Plennytheater had much to do with the different interests of the writers. Hirsch-feld and his associates were eager to show that millions of men with no “urning core” were able to obtain satisfaction from homoerotic contacts—and from masturbation—in order to ameliorate “the senseless sorrows of captivity.” POW memoirists, on the other hand, wanted to present camp theater as an important inhibitor of homosexual acts. Alfred Steinpach thus finished his recollections by relating what he called “the final act in the human tragedy that was war.” As the war ends, the female impersonator returns home and is required to compete for a living with people who are not kind and generous. “And what of the admirers? Once back home, they no longer settled for a surrogate, because ‘real women’ had something that even the art of the female impersonator could not fake.” The fact that Steinpach was now using quotation marks to qualify genetic women indicates perhaps more than anything else the degree to which gender categories were challenged by the POW stage.
The Plennytheater was revived in Austria by returning POWs during the interwar years, which suggests that its influence and legacy continued well after the war had ended. Every year just before Christmas, it would hold its annual ball, “A Night in Siberia,” receiving front-page coverage in the official organ of the Association of Ex-Prisoners of War in Austria. It was only after the Anschluss of March 1938 and the Nazification of Austrian veterans’ organizations that the theater finally ceased to exist. In contrast to the frontline theaters, which were shut down by the respective armies after the war, ex-prisoners kept returning for two decades to their memories and experiences in Russia with the aid of the stage.
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The cross-dressing stage was and still is a complex phenomenon, perhaps more so than is allowed by some scholars. It is inextricably linked to the historical situation that its performers and audiences found themselves in, as well as to other focal points of identification such as class, language, and nation. The organizers of the officer theater in Russia were aiming to reconnect not only with a sense of masculine privileged self-worth, but also with a long tradition of German culture and European sophistication. By staging highly elaborate productions of Strauss, Henrik Ibsen, and Nestroy, with scores of actors and musicians, POW officers flexed their cultural muscle vis-à-vis their Russian captors. It was in part to counter the feeling of “complete impotence [Ohnmacht] and powerlessness in all aspects of life” that the officers staged such a display in the vast regions of Siberia and Turkestan (Russian Central Asia).
But it was not only the Russian captors who were asked to decode the performances taking place in front of them. The prisoners themselves had to interpret what they experienced on and off the stage, and decide for themselves how involved they wanted to be in this elaborate fantasy of big-city theater life. The astounding size and complexity of these theatrical productions left ample room for individual contemplation and imagination. The performances could be read in more than one way, as either supporting or blurring rigid categories of sexual identity and orientation.
The ambivalent nature of the Plennytheater reflected the ambivalent condition of officers as neutralized warriors. Removed from the epicenter of wartime masculinity on the front, POW officers wound up occupying a space that was not clearly defined in the dichotomous gendered world of the Great War. With no weapons and no “legitimate” wartime activity to pursue, their sense of self-worth depended, among other things, on their ability to articulate their doubts and fears. For some, the stage provided a way to reaffirm a sense of masculine power and upper-class superiority. Indeed, many memoirists thought the theater offered the most important ingredients for reconstructing a sense of privileged normalcy: purposeful activity, urbane sociability, and the presence of the “image of woman.” At the same time, however, the POW stage shook the foundations of fin-de-siècle heterosexual normalcy. It allowed a certain measure of homoerotic intimacy between prisoners, it accepted transgender behavior off the stage to a degree that destabilized pronouns, and it blurred the boundary between “normal” and “abnormal”: if “pathological” gender behavior in one context could be regarded as “salutary” in another, then the lines between the genders were not so clearly defined after all. It comes as no surprise, then, that some POWs found prison camp to be a liberating experience. Officers who felt at odds with normative sexual mores and prescribed gender roles could live—for a fleeting moment, at least—outside of what Judith Butler called “the heterosexual matrix.” Thus the star of the Siberian stage Emmerich Laschitz could look back at his time in captivity and regard it “as the happiest time of my life.”
I wish to thank Yoni Alsheh, Eyal Ginio, Billie Melman, Hannah Rahamimoff, Rami Rahamimoff, Orna Sasson-Levi, Tami Spira, and the anonymous reviewers of the AHR for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. I gratefully acknowledge the generous support of this research by the Yad Hanadiv (Rothschild) Foundation and its head officers, Ariel Weiss and Natania Isaak.
Alon Rachamimov is a Senior Lecturer in Modern European History at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He received his Ph.D. in 2000 from Columbia University, where he studied Habsburg and Central European history under the guidance of István Deák. His book POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front (2002) was awarded the Fraenkel Prize for Contemporary History for a first major work. He is currently working on a comparative study of POW theaters during World War I.
1 Although Einen Jux was never translated into English, it was adapted many times for English-language productions. Thornton Wilder adapted it twice—in 1939 as The Merchant of Yonkers, and again in 1955 as The Matchmaker—and once by Tom Stoppard, in 1982 as On the Razzle. Wilder’s Matchmaker was the basis for the most successful adaptation of Einen Jux, the Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman musical Hello Dolly! See Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, Einen Jux will er sich machen, Komödien Hrsg. Franz H. Mautner, with an introduction by Siegfried Diehl (Frankfurt am Main, 1995), 227–311.
2 Nestroy, Einen Jux, 285.
3 Hermann Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau: Das Bühnenleben der Kriegsgefangen Deutschen 1914–1920 (Königsberg, 1933), 78. All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
4 Maureen Healy, Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire: Total War and Everyday Life in World War I (Cambridge, 2004); Mark Micale and Paul Lerner, eds., Traumatic Pasts: History, Psychiatry and Trauma in the Modern Age, 1870–1930 (Cambridge, 2001); Belinda Davis, Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2000); Barbara Engel, “Not by Bread Alone: Subsistence Riots in Russia during World War I,” Journal of Modern History 69 (December 1997): 696–721; Ute Daniel, The War from Within: German Working-Class Women in the First World War, trans. Margaret Ries (Oxford, 1997); Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War (London, 1996); Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, 2 vols., vol. 1 trans. Stephen Conway, vol. 2 trans. Chris Turner and Erica Carter (Cambridge, 1987, 1989).
5 On the significance of the theater in exploring what Victor Turner called the “Social Drama,” particularly concerns of sexual and gender identity, see Martha Vicinus, Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778–1928 (Chicago, 2004), chap. 7; David A. Boxwell, “The Follies of War: Cross Dressing and Popular Theatre on the British Front Lines, 1914–1918,” MODERNISM/modernity 9, no. 1 (January 2002): 1–20; Charles Upchurch, “Forgetting the Unthinkable: Cross Dressing and British Society in the Case of the Queen vs. Boulton and Others,” Gender and History 12, no. 1 (April 2000): 127–157; Laurence Senelick, The Changing Room: Sex, Drag and Theatre (London, 2000); Martha Vicinus, “Fin-de-siècle Theatrics: Male Impersonation and Lesbian Desire,” in Billie Melman, ed., Borderlines: Genders and Identities in War and Peace (New York, 1997), 163–192; Lenard Berlanstein, “Breeches and Breaches: Cross-Dress Theater and the Culture of Gender Ambiguity in Modern France,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 38, no. 2 (April 1996): 338–369; Lesley Ferris, ed., Crossing the Stage: Controversies on Cross-Dressing (London, 1993); Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York, 1982).
6 A welcome addition to the historiography of gender and sexuality on the eastern front is Maria Bucur and Nancy Wingfield, Gender and War in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe (forthcoming from Indiana University Press).
7 The designation “German-speaking” refers solely to the language used by these officers. Many of them came from areas of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy where German was the mother tongue; some were citizens of imperial Germany; while others used another language as what was known in contemporary terms as their “language of daily use.” Therefore, the term “German-speaking” does not necessarily imply that these prisoners identified as “Germans” by nationality. As the language of high culture in Central Europe and as the lingua franca of the Habsburg officer corps (both professional and reserve), German was ubiquitously used and understood. On this issue, see István Deák, Beyond Nationalism: A Social and Political History of the Habsburg Officer Corps, 1848–1918 (New York, 1990), 5, 99–102.
8 The Russian term for prisoner of war is voennoplennyi. Hence das Plennytheater (die Plennytheater in the plural)is the equivalent of “prisoner theater” in Russian, and was used in this form in German texts, too.
9 In addition to the works cited in note 4, see Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, 10th Anniversary Edition (New York, 1999); Alisa Solomon, “It’s Never Too Late to Switch: Crossing toward Power,” in Ferris, Crossing the Stage; and Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (New York, 1992).
10 For estimates of the numbers of prisoners during World War I, see Alon Rachamimov, POWs and the Great War: Captivity on the Eastern Front (Oxford, 2002), chap. 1; Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War: Explaining World War I (New York, 1998), Table 42, 369.
11 See Rachamimov, POWs and the Great War, 31–44, 191–196, 221–222.
12 Robert Doyle, Voices from Captivity: Interpreting the American POW Narrative (Lawrence, Kans., 1994), 89.
13 In Austria-Hungary, the Office of POW Censorship alone employed close to 1,200 censors in 1916, who at the height of their activity read 455,000 articles of mail a day in thirty-five different languages. On the activity of the censor’s office and the uses of correspondence to access the opinions of prisoners, see Alon Rachamimov, “Arbiters of Allegiance: Austro-Hungarian Censors during World War I,” in Pieter M. Judson and Marsha L. Rozenblit, eds., Constructing Nationalities in East Central Europe (New York, 2005), 157–177; Rachamimov, POWs and the Great War, chap. 6; and Gustav Spann, “Zensur in Österreich während des I: Weltkrieges 1914–1918” (Ph.D. diss., University of Vienna, 1972).
14 Ernst Hanisch, “Die Männlichkeit des Kriegers: Das österreichische Militärstrafrecht im Ersten Weltkrieg,” in Thomas Angerer, Birgitta Bader-Zaar, and Magarete Grandner, eds., Geschichte und Recht: Festschrift für Gerald Stourzh zum 70. Geburtstag (Vienna, 1999), 319–325.
15 Peter Melichar, “Die Kämpfe merkwürdig Untoter: K.u.k. Offiziere in der Ersten Republik,” österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften 9, no. 1 (1998): 52.
16 Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (1909; repr., Chicago, 1960), 15–25; see also Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (London, 1969), chap. 3.
17 Karl Drexel, Feldkurat in Sibirien 1914–1920 (Innsbruck, 1940), 28.
18 Mehmet Arif Ölçen, Vetluga Memoir: A Turkish Prisoner of War in Russia, 1916–1918 (Gainesville, Fla., 1995).
19 Doyle, Voices from Captivity, 89. Even officers who had not fallen into enemy hands reported a feeling of apathy and a sensation of “sleepwalking” upon relinquishing their officer corps insignia at the end of the war. Melichar, “Die Kämpfe merkwürdig Untoter,” 56.
20 Turner, From Ritual to Theater, 26.
21 Avigdor Hameiri, be-Gehenom shel Mata: Reshimot Katzin Ivri be-Shvi Russia [Inferno on Earth: The Notes of a Hebrew Officer in Russian Captivity], revised, annotated, and ed. Avner Holtzman (Tel Aviv, 1989), 13–14.
22 “Resumé of Complaints Relative to the Regime Applied in Russia to Austro-Hungarian Prisoners of War,” June 27, 1916, July 10, 1916, National Archives of the United States, File no. 763.72114, Suffix 1800, 1.
23 Burghard Breitner, Unverwundet Gefangen: Aus meinem sibirischen Tagebuch (Vienna, 1921); Drexel, Feldkurat in Sibirien, 38–39; see also Rachamimov, POWs and the Great War, chaps. 1, 4.
24 Wartime psychiatry in Germany and Austria-Hungary tended to construe the frontline military world as “healthy,” while home territory with its female kin was “pathogenic.” See Paul Lerner, Hysterical Men: War, Psychiatry and the Politics of Trauma in Germany, 1890–1930 (Ithaca, N.Y., 2003), 168; see also Healy, Vienna and the Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 5–8, 258–262.
25 Reinhard Nachtigal, Rußland und seine österreichisch-ungarischen Kriegsgefangenen (1914–1918) (Remshalden, 2003), 36; for general works about the links between chivalry and masculinity, especially among officers, see Allen J. Frantzen, Bloody Good: Chivalry, Sacrifice and the Great War (Chicago, 2004), chaps. 6–7; Leo Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity (New York, 2003), pt. 6; Robert Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France (1993; repr., Berkeley, Calif., 1998); Ute Frevert, Men of Honour: A Social and Cultural History of the Duel (Cambridge, 1995); Deák, Beyond Nationalism, chap. 6; Hanisch, “Die Männlichkeit des Kriegers,” 313–338.
26 Frantzen, Bloody Good, chap. 7; Braudy, From Chivalry to Terrorism, 349–356; Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, chaps. 8–9; Deák, Beyond Nationalism, chap. 6.
27 Hans Baumgartner, “Kriegsgefangenschaft in Sibirien 1915–1921,” manuscript housed at the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv, Nachlaß Baumgartner B/268, 16.
28 During the separation of the ranks, the rank-and-file POWs often hurled insults at their former commanders. Hameiri, who described such incidents with great relish, remarked that the only consolation POW officers had in such circumstances was to promise to get even after the war. Hameiri, be-Gehenom shel Mata, 27.
29 “Resumé of Complaints,” 6.
30 Ernst Ritter von Streeruwitz, “Kriegsgefangene im Weltkrieg 1914–1918,” unpublished typescript, Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, Vienna, 2: 207. The six-volume study was edited in Vienna in 1928 and was based on wartime administrative documents.
31 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 61; Boxwell, “The Follies of War,” 5; the expression “safe spaces” comes from Upchurch, “Forgetting the Unthinkable,” 128.
32 Boxwell, “The Follies of War,” 5.
33 Ibid., 3–5. Boxwell’s analysis follows Victor Turner’s four-stage model of the articulation and resolution of social crisis: (1) forcing crisis into the open (breach), (2) recognition of crisis, (3) redressing crisis, and (4) resolution/conclusion. See Turner, From Ritual to Theatre; see also Paul Lerner and Mark S. Micale, “Trauma, Psychiatry and History,” in Micale and Lerner, Traumatic Pasts, 1–27.
34 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 62.
35 Ibid., 61–66; the rank-and-file camp in Tobolsk seems to have been an exception, with two large bands and a permanent theater troupe. See Karl Franzowitsch, “Anfänge des Gefangenentheaters,” in Hans Weiland and Leopold Kern, In Feindeshand: Die Gefangenschaft im Weltkriege in Einzeldarstellungen, 2 vols. (Vienna, 1931), 1: 138–140.
36 Franzowitsch, “Anfänge des Gefangenentheaters”; Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 61–66.
37 Franzowitsch, “Anfänge des Gefangenentheaters,” 138.
38 Professionalization meant that actors and musicians were engaged full-time in performance, receiving pay for their work and dividends from the theater’s yearly profits. See also below.
39 Julius Karsten, “Kriegsgefangentheater in Sibirien,” in Weiland and Kern, In Feindeshand, 1: 141.
40 On the “concert party,” see Boxwell, “The Follies of War,” 5; see also J. G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies, 1914–1918 (Oxford, 1990).
41 Hans Kohn, the future historian of nationalism and a POW officer in Russia between 1915 and 1920, immersed himself in the study of the Russian language and of Central Asian cultures. In his memoirs, published fifty years later, Kohn described his years in captivity “as the decisive years of my life,” not least because of the time available for contemplation and self-development. Kohn, Living in a World Revolution: My Encounters with History (New York, 1964), 89–90.
42 Karsten, “Kriegsgefangentheater in Sibirien,” 141.
43 See Rachamimov, POWs and the Great War, chap. 3.
44 Franz Rehor, “Das Offizierstheater in Krasnojarsk,” in Weiland and Kern, In Feindeshand, 1: 202–204; Karsten, “Kriegsgefangentheater in Sibirien,” 142–143.
45 On Salome, see Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (London, 1990), 149–168; Carl Schorske, Fin de Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York, 1981), 224.
46 Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Perversity: Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (New York, 1986), 386.
47 Showalter, Sexual Anarchy, 150.
48 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 11.
49 For the full list of plays produced by POW theaters, see Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 156–221; and Rehor, “Das Offizierstheater in Krasnojarsk,” 206–209.
50 Rehor, “Das Offizierstheater in Krasnojarsk,” 204.
51 Alfred Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheater,” in Weiland and Kern, In Feindeshand, 1: 145. Also in Der Plenny: Organ der Bundesvereinigung der ehemaligen öst. Kriesgefangenen, August 1924, 7. (There, however, the author’s name is misspelled as “Steinbach.”)
52 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 3.
53 Ibid., 4.
54 A. L. Vischer, Barbed Wire Disease: A Psychological Study of the Prisoners of War (London, 1919), 24–25, 50–56.
55 Ibid., 50.
56 Ibid., 25.
57 Lerner, Hysterical Men, 193–194; on the general public’s hostility toward veterans in interwar Germany, see Deborah Cohen, The War Come Home: Disabled Veterans in Britain and Germany, 1914–1939 (Berkeley, Calif., 2001), 63–64, 88–97.
58 Alfred Steinpach, quoted in Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 5.
59 Harry Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature: Krafft-Ebing, Psychiatry, and the Making of Sexual Identity (Chicago, 2000); Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France; Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (New York, 1997); George L. Mosse, The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity (New York, 996); Michel Foucault, A History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction (London, 1978), 117–119.
60 By the time of his death in 1902, Krafft-Ebing had produced fourteen editions of Psychopathia sexualis. Three more were edited by his student Alfred Fuchs, the last one in 1918, and a fourth one by Albert Moll in 1924. The book was adapted in 1937 and was reprinted twelve more times until 1962. Oosterhuis, Stepchildren of Nature, 185–194, 275.
61 Ibid., 174–194.
62 Mosse, The Image of Man, 80.
63 Nye, Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, 100–101.
64 Hameiri, be-Gehenom shel Mata, 341.
65 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 66; English translation of Schiller’s verse from Friedrich von Schiller, Wallenstein: A Historical Drama in Three Parts, trans. Charles E. Passage (New York, 1958), prologue verse 138, 7.
66 Rehor, “Das Offizierstheater in Krasnojarsk,” 203.
67 Natalie Zemon Davis, “Women on Top,” in Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford, Calif., 1965), 129–131; see also Berlanstein’s comments on Davis’s analysis in “Breeches and Breaches,” 340, 350.
68 Garber, Vested Interests, 58.
69 Ibid., 60.
70 Solomon, “It’s Never Too Late to Switch,” 145.
71 Butler, Gender Trouble, 174, 176.
72 Boxwell, “The Follies of War.”
73 Ibid., 12.
74 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 77. The expression in German is “Das schwindende Bild der Frau.”
75 Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheater,” 145.
77 Sharon R. Ullman, Sex Seen: The Emergence of Modern Sexuality in America (Berkeley, Calif., 1997), 51–55.
78 Ibid., 50.
79 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 83.
80 Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheater,” 144.
81 Quoted from Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 81.
82 Ibid., 82.
83 Quoted from Von Magnus Hirschfeld and Andreas Gaspar, eds., Sittengeschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges, 2nd rev. ed. (Hanau, 1982), 383.
85 See, for example, Rodion Markovits, Siberian Garrison, trans. George Halasz (New York, 1929), 280–283.
86 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 85.
87 Ibid., 83.
88 Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheate,” 144.
89 Boxwell, “The Follies of War,” 1.
90 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 81.
91 Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheater,” 145.
93 Markovits, Siberian Garrison, 281.
94 Reinhold Meßner, “Liebe in der Gefangenschaft,” in Weiland and Kern, In Feindeshand, 1: 146.
95 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 78.
97 Hirschfeld and Gaspar, Sittengeschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges, 382.
98 Ibid. The term “urning” was coined by Karl Heinrich Ulrichs in 1864 and was in wide use before “homosexual” replaced it. Hirschfeld considered it less pejorative than “homosexual,” because of the latter’s psychiatric and medical connotations.
99 Ibid., 386.
100 Ibid., 382.
101 Ibid., 386. Hirschfeld also endeavored to show that masturbation could alleviate the sexual sufferings of captivity.
102 Steinpach, “Der Damendarsteller im Kriegsgefangenentheater,” 145.
103 Pörzgen, Theater ohne Frau, 3.
104 Ibid., 90.
By ALON RACHAMIMOV