Tomorrow Belongs To Me.
On Sunday I went to the Paramount theater to see the stage play, “Cabaret,” and the story left me thinking.
The play’s setting is Germany in the 1930s. Like many stage plays there are stories woven into other stories. The story that struck me the most was not interpersonal; it was historical.
Germany had lost World War I in 1918, and the country was devastated by the cost of the war, a decimated generation, and a 33 billion dollar reparation ordered by the Treaty of Versailles. Because of these factors the country experienced hyperinflation until the mid-1920s. The inflation was so great that it took a wheelbarrow of German Marks to buy a single loaf of bread. Returning soldiers from the war felt that the government had sold them out, average citizens were disillusioned. Unemployment was high; food was scarce. Times were very tough.
Germany had been a prosperous country before the war. Highly industrial and well known for its universities, culture, and manufacturing prowess. Postwar Germans remembered the glory days, as they lived their current lives in deprivation. There was a general sense of discontent, anger, and a desire to blame. Blame the current government, blame the allies, blame minorities.
It was in this setting that Hitler came to power. His message was tailored to resonate with the populous. He promised a return to a great and powerful Germany. He blamed Germany’s hardships on groups that were perceived different, and not part of the mainstream. He scapegoated the Weimar Republic, which was the current German government.
“Cabaret’s” story beings before the Nazi’s rise to power, and much of it is set in the metaphorical Kit Kat Club. The Kit Kat Club was a place to escape reality and fulfill any erotic fantasy. Headliners, showgirls, and even the club’s waiters could be procured using the “modern” telephones that were on every guest’s table. In some ways, the Kit Kat Club mirrored aspects of Berlin during that period. The Berlin of the late 1920s and early 1930s was not only known as a center for music, film, and the humanities, but also as a free and wild destination.
As the play’s storyline progresses the plot shifts from the apathetic “anything goes” attitude of the Kit Kat Club to the Pan-Germanistic views of the Nazis. The promise of change and a return to greatness convinces common Germans to step in line and to embrace Hitler and his political party. This plot shift demarcated in the play by the stirring pseudo-anthem, “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”
A once powerful country, weakened by economic turmoil. A country that had been in a world leadership position by its economic and technological might, now struggling for survival. A people once prosperous, now suffering without jobs or a hope of a future. A potential leader with a promises to make Germany great again. A political party that pledged to get rid of individuals who were different, who didn’t belong because they were not part of the mainstream. A promise to take care of Germany and Germans, at any cost. The rhetoric that was all too irresistible to citizens who was sick of their current politicians and politics. The change happened one step at a time. The abhorrent became normalized. Actions justified, gazes averted. Freedoms eliminated by fostering fear. People eliminated by instilling prejudice. One step at a time.
But that was the 1930s.