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A new musical spotlights the Nazi persecution of LGBTQ+ people

(New York Jewish Week) — Some 50,000 gay men and women were imprisoned by Nazis during the Holocaust. Of them, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 were held in concentration camps, and nearly all of those who were sent to the camps died there.

And yet, many stories of LGBTQ+ people who died in Nazi prisons are left untold. The numbers, while huge, shrink in comparison to the millions of Jewish people who died and were tortured at the hands of the Nazis.

This dynamic is why writer, director and actor Alan Palmer first learned about Nazi persecution of homosexuals completely by chance. In August 2016, Palmer — who is best known for his off-Broadway show “Fabulous Divas of Broadway” and his role on the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” — was performing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival when he stumbled upon an article about the specific targeting of gay men and women under Hitler. He found himself falling into a world of ever-deepening research, consumed by the idea that there were so many lost stories of LGBTQ+ people who died in concentration camps.

Inspired, Palmer decided to travel to Germany. There, he visited some concentration camps and saw pictures of the gay men who were imprisoned there. “I found these beautiful photos of these people who were Jewish and trans” and gay], Palmer said. “Being a writer of musicals by trade, the pictures started me on a journey of writing this new piece.”

This “new piece” is Palmer’s one-man play, “Chanteuse: A Survival Musical,” which he’s currently performing at Here Arts Center (145 Sixth Ave.). The play relates the story of Werner, a gay man in 1930s Berlin who assumes the identity of his landlady, a German woman who had died unexpectedly, in order to avoid persecution and imprisonment. A performer by trade, Werner reinvents himself as a chanteuse and begins singing for his supper, and survival, in the clubs of Berlin. “It’s fictional, in a way, because there’s no [single] person who had this experience,” Palmer told the New York Jewish Week. “However, each one of the pieces [in the play] is true.”

The play explores the precarity of survival and how intersecting identities complicate ideas about oppression and freedom. “There are heart-wrenching stories of Jewish families whose relatives were killed during these times. And some of those people were gay — but you don’t hear about them much,” Palmer said. “The reason is families didn’t talk about it back then. If Uncle So-and-so was sent away [before the round-ups of Jews intensified], no one talked about why. So all of these records of people who existed are just gone.”

Palmer plays Werner, a gay man in 1930s Berlin who assumes the identity of his landlady to escape Nazi persecution. (Russ Rowland)

Despite being raised in a Mormon community in Salt Lake City, Palmer said he’s long felt a kinship with Jews. “As soon as I left [home] I began to make lifelong friendships with Jewish people, mostly because of theater. You can’t have theater without Jewish people or gay people!” he said. “When I see the rise of antisemitism today I just think: ‘For gosh sakes, how can people keep attacking this group of people?’”

As “Chanteuse” unfolds, Werner, like so many gay men during that time, isn’t able to escape the long arm of the Nazi regime for long. He is eventually outed and imprisoned in a concentration camp, where he both experiences and witnesses brutal violence and dehumanization. “Even though the Jewish people are in another camp on the other side of the wall, there are still a small number of gay Jews on this side. On Friday evenings, the gay Jewish men pray,” he relates, in a touching monologue toward the end of the scene.

“Chanteuse,” written and performed by Palmer and directed by Dorothy Danner, is about memorializing those whose stories were lost. Throughout the play, Werner relates stories of LGBTQ+ prisoners as well as Romani people, people with mental and physical disabilities, and, of course, Jewish people he meets throughout his calamitous journey. It is also, however, about creating connections to the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and antisemitism in the current age.

To that end, Palmer curated a mini pop-up museum, displayed in the atrium outside the theater, that presents information about what happened to members of the LGBTQ+ community in Europe during World War II. “I envisioned people engaging before the performance and having the information sink in during the play,” Palmer said. “But it’s interesting to see how many people walk past all of these panels, and after the show they went out to the museum and actually spent time reading and viewing the history.”

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, gay men were “often subjected to physical and sexual abuse by camp guards and fellow inmates,” and some were “beaten and publicly humiliated.” Some of these prisoners were also subject to inhumane medical experiments or forced castration, according to the USHMM. These “pink triangle prisoners,” named for the badge they were forced to wear in the camps, were arrested for breaking an existing German law that made same-sex relations illegal in the country.

The exhibit draws direct connections between the use of the legal system and false medical science by the Nazis and the current rise in vitriol directed towards the LGBTQ+ community in America and around the world. While our government isn’t conducting forced castrations of gay men and women like the Nazis did, given the veritable flood of anti-LGBTQ+ (and particularly anti-trans) laws being passed by state governments across the United States, Palmer believes we should be paying very close attention to these legislative moves before it’s too late.

“History cannot repeat itself,” Palmer said. “People are being silenced. They’re being forced to hide. I’ve never lived in a closet, I’ve always been myself. My truth was always out there. The idea that people like me are being told they can’t live their whole truth is frightening to me.”

But bringing historical documentation into the experience isn’t the only way in which “Chanteuse” is a multimedia project — it’s also musical, with a score written by award-winning composer and arranger David Legg. “The music serves almost as a spoonful of sugar: It helps the information go down easier,” Palmer said.

Stylistically, the score implements melodic and harmonic elements of both early-‘30s-era jazz and traditional European Jewish music. The instrumentation (piano, tenor saxophone, percussion and upright bass) was chosen by Legg in order to facilitate this evocative musical landscape. “We ended up putting an underscore through the entire piece,” Palmer said. “It created a continuity, so you never feel it’s disjointed — dialogue, song, dialogue, song — the audience is never shocked out of the world we’re creating.”

And yet, Palmer insists that his created world is very relevant to the one we’re living in today. While it may seem unimaginable for something as horrifying as the Holocaust to repeat itself, Palmer said he and his co-creators want to remind audiences of the current trends towards authoritarianism around the world as they watch Werner navigate the terror of being gay in 1930s Berlin.

“Around the United States, we’re seeing more and more bans of drag performance, of gay media,” Palmer said.  “And I think drag, like any other art form, is a way of storytelling. It isn’t anything people should be afraid of.”

“This is a moment in which it’s important to say, ‘We all need to work together,’” he added. “You know, if every persecuted group stood strong together, we’d be surprised at how quickly things would turn around in a positive way.”

“Chanteuse” is being performed at Here Arts Center (145 Sixth Ave.) on Tuesdays through Saturdays through July 30. For tickets and additional info, click here. In order to allow broader access to the musical, 10 tickets priced at $10 are available for each performance on a first come, first served basis.

The post A new musical spotlights the Nazi persecution of LGBTQ+ people appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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US House Passes $95 Billion Ukraine, Israel Aid Package, Sends to Senate

House Speaker Mike Johnson speaks to members of the media at the Capitol building, April 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ken Cedeno

The U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday with broad bipartisan support passed a $95 billion legislative package providing security assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, over bitter objections from Republican hardliners.

The legislation now proceeds to the Democratic-majority Senate, which passed a similar measure more than two months ago. U.S. leaders from Democratic President Joe Biden to top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell had been urging embattled Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to bring it up for a vote.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure next week, sending it to Biden to sign into law.

The bills provide $60.84 billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish U.S. weapons, stocks and facilities; $26 billion for Israel, including $9.1 billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12 billion for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his thanks, saying U.S. lawmakers moved to keep “history on the right track.”

“The vital U.S. aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger,” Zelensky said on X.

It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress.

Biden, who had urged Congress since last year to approve the additional aid to Ukraine, said in a statement: “It comes at a moment of grave urgency, with Israel facing unprecedented attacks from Iran and Ukraine under continued bombardment from Russia.”

The vote on passage of the Ukraine funding was 311-112. But significantly, 112 Republicans opposed the legislation, with only 101 in support.

“Mike Johnson is a lame duck… he’s done,” far-right Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told reporters afterward.

She has been a leading opponent of helping Ukraine in its war against Russia and has taken steps that threaten to remove Johnson from office over this issue. Greene stopped short of doing so on Saturday, however.

During the vote, several lawmakers waved small Ukrainian flags as it became clear that element of the package was headed to passage. Johnson warned lawmakers that was a “violation of decorum.”

Meanwhile, the House’s actions during a rare Saturday session put on display some cracks in what generally is solid support for Israel within Congress. Recent months have seen leftist Democrats express anger with Israel‘s government and its conduct of the war in Gaza.

But Saturday’s vote, in which the Israel aid was passed 366-58, had 37 Democrats and 21 Republicans in opposition.

Passage of the long-awaited legislation was closely watched by U.S. defense contractors, who could be in line for huge contracts to supply equipment for Ukraine and other U.S. partners.

Johnson this week chose to ignore ouster threats by hardline members of his fractious 218-213 majority and push forward the measure that includes Ukraine funding as it struggles to fight off a two-year Russian invasion.

The unusual four-bill package also includes a measure that includes a threat to ban the Chinese-owned social media app TikTok and the potential transfer of seized Russian assets to Ukraine.

Some hardline Republicans voicing strong opposition to further Ukraine aid argued the United States can ill afford it given its rising $34 trillion national debt. They have repeatedly raised the threat of ousting Johnson, who became speaker in October after his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, was ousted by party hardliners.

“It’s not the perfect legislation, it’s not the legislation that we would write if Republicans were in charge of both the House, the Senate, and the White House,” Johnson told reporters on Friday. “This is the best possible product that we can get under these circumstances to take care of these really important obligations.”

Representative Bob Good, chair of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Friday that the bills represent a “slide down into the abyss of greater fiscal crisis and America-last policies that reflect Biden and (Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer and (House Democratic leader Hakeem) Jeffries, and don’t reflect the American people.”

But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who carries huge influence in the party, on April 12 voiced support for Johnson and in a Thursday social media post said Ukraine’s survival is important for the U.S.

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Amid Increased Pressure, Hamas Leadership Reportedly Mulls Leaving Qatar

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani makes statements to the media with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsThe political leadership mulls moving its base of operations out of Qatar, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. It is understood the Gulf state is increasingly pressurizing the terror chiefs to accept a hostage-for-truce deal with Israel.

The report quoted an unnamed Middle Eastern official as saying the Hamas politburo chiefs were mulling a move to Oman.

“The talks have already stalled again with barely any signs or prospects for them to resume any time soon, and distrust is rising between Hamas and the negotiators,” the source was quoted as saying.

“The possibility of the talks being upended entirely is very real,” another Arab official told WSJ.

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Abbas Threatens Ties with U.S. After UN Membership Bid Veto

PA President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank August 18, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool

i24 NewsIn a recent interview with the official WAFA news agency, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a stern warning, indicating that the Palestinian Authority (PA) would reassess its bilateral relations with the United States following Washington’s veto of a Palestinian request for full United Nations membership.

While Abbas has made similar threats in the past without following through, his latest remarks underscore growing frustration within the Palestinian leadership over perceived U.S. support for Israel and the ongoing conflict in the region.

In the interview, conducted in Arabic and later translated, Abbas criticized the US for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He accused the Biden administration of siding with the occupation and failing to uphold international law. Abbas emphasized that while the world supports Palestinian rights, the US continues to provide unwavering support to Israel, including military aid that “contributes to the suffering of Palestinians.”

Abbas’s remarks reflect a deepening rift between the Palestinian leadership and the US, particularly over issues such as Israel’s annexation policies and the status of Jerusalem.

He lamented the US’s abandonment of its promises and commitments, particularly regarding the two-state solution and achieving peace in the region.

The PA leader also highlighted the significance of Jerusalem, emphasizing its status as a red line that cannot be crossed. While underscoring the city’s Islamic and Christian sanctities, Abbas did not acknowledge Judaism’s historical ties to Jerusalem.

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