Nov 2011

Britta Kallin

Intertextualities in Elfriede Jelinek’s Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel)Luis Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel, the Bible, and T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”

Elfriede Jelinek’s play Rechnitz (Der Würgeengel) (2008) examines the silence about a massacre at the Austrian-Hungarian border in the Austrian Burgenland that took place in the early morning hours of March 25, 1945. The countess Margit Batthyány, neé Thyssen, had invited around 30 guests on the evening of March 24, 1945, to her castle. After partying and drinking all evening, weapons from the castle were handed out. An unknown number of guests walked to the nearby town to use those weapons to kill Jewish workers who were assembled at the nearby train station. That night almost 200 already starving and weakened Jewish workers were shot to death for, as it seems, no other reason than amusement of the murderers. Various groups of SS soldiers and members of other National Socialist organizations who were invited as guests to the castle of Margit Batthyány supposedly committed the massacre. Two of those SS officers were Ortsgruppenleiter and SS-Sturmscharfürer Franz Podezin and Hans Joachim Oldenburg.[1]An SS man who was willing to give testimony in court and one Jewish survivor of the massacre were both killed under strange circumstances in 1946. These two murders have never been solved. Nobody in the town of Rechnitz (Rohonc in Hungarian) has come forward to describe the events that took place that night. The corpses of the Jews have not been found. According to reports, 18 Jewish laborers who dug the graves for the killed Jews were shot dead the next day.

When the historian David Litchfield published his book The Thyssen Art Macabre  (2007) and various articles containing details about the massacre in the British newspaper The Independent and the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2007, discussions took place in the German and Austrian media about the unresolved case. In the article in The Independent, Litchfield writes:

Six hundred Jews, assigned to strengthen the Rechnitz defences [sic], were housed in the cellars of the castle, living in appalling conditions. Many were arbitrarily beaten and shot, particularly by Podezin, while local people reported the countess derived obvious sadistic pleasures from observing these barbaric acts. (n. pag., 2007)

The massacre has become a representative case of the difficult relationship of Austria’s involvement with National Socialism and crimes committed by Austrians during that period.[2] Countess Batthyány died in 1989 in Switzerland and was never held accountable for the shootings and killings and never brought to trial. Her lover at the time of the massacre, NS-Ortsgruppenleiter Franz Podezin, who participated in the shootings, lived in Kiel till the mid-1960s before leaving for South Africa. He also was never accused of the crime because it seemed impossible to gather enough evidence.

In this article, I argue that Jelinek draws on several texts to highlight the interconnectedness of Western thoughts on human civilization, religion, brutality, and Austria’s role in relation to National Socialism to strengthen her case against those who cover up crimes of genocide and to disturb those who try to keep silent about those crimes. As in many of her other texts, Elfriede Jelinek uses a subset of literary sources in which she entangles her play Rechnitz. For example, there are a number of connections between the Jelinek play and Luis Buñuel’s movie, The Exterminating Angel (1962).[3] Another text is the poem “The Hollow Men” (1925) by T. S. Eliot, which explores the spirit of the time in Europe and the US after WW I. There are also parts of historians’ descriptions of the massacre and the findings of two documentary filmmakers, Margareta Heinrich and Eduard Erne, who filmed a documentary movie about the backgrounds of the massacre and the reactions of the towns’ inhabitants, entitled Totschweigen (1994).[4] Jelinek also includes passages from the Bible in her play that underline the contrast between the brutality of the atrocities and the Christian tradition in which the victimizers were educated. In Rechnitz, Jelinek also uses passages from Günter Stampf’s Interview mit einem Kannibalen (2008), in which the murderer Armin Meiwes, also known as the cannibal of Rotenburg, reports on locating, contacting, murdering, and eating his victim Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes. Meiwes was found guilty of killing and devouring his victim in 2004. He was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison. The following year the court changed the sentences from manslaughter to murder and Meiwes now serves a life sentence. Furthermore, Jelinek employs excerpts from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra (1883-85) for parts that deal with the philosophical debate about the existence or non-existence of God.

In addition, Jelinek includes a number of quotes from Euripides Die Bakchen (405 B.C.), a play that deals with Dyonisus who punishes Pentheus and his mother Agave because they refuse to worship him. While driven into an ecstatic frenzy, Agave and other women tear Pentheus’ body apart without knowing who their victims are. Dyonisus is the central character of the play who directs the other characters according to his wishes. In a review of Foley’s path-breaking study on Euripides, S.E. Scully quotes Helen P. Foley who writes, the poet “uses the ritual crisis to explore simultaneously god, man, society, and his own tragic art” (207). Scully continues, “In this ‘protodrama’ Dionysus, the god of the theatre, stage-directs the play (219)” (Scully 1987, 321). Due to its gruesome theme, the play Die Bakchen was for a long time overlooked as a serious engagement with theater’s forces. It was Nietzsche’s Geburt der Tragödie (1872) that revived an interest in Die Bakchen and the forceful chorus scenes were staged quite dramatically throughout performances in the 20th century.

Last but not least, Jelinek also incorporates the libretto of Der Freischütz (1821), written by Friedrich Kind for Carl Maria von Weber’s opera. The source of the Freischütz plot is a German folk legend in which a marksman agrees to a contract with the devil. The marksman receives bullets that do not miss the target, which the shooter aims at. In turn, the marksman will sacrifice his life to the devil. The connection here are the references to hunting, the deal with the devil that the Nazi soldiers seemed to agree on when shooting innocent Jewish workers, and the German nationalist undertones in the opera that was deemed the first German Romantic opera of its genre. David Boyden writes in An Introduction to Music, “This work … marked the emancipation of the German opera from Italian and French models … In addition to the magic and supernatural elements, the opera specializes in local color of the forest, peasants, rustic love, hunting, and hunting horns … the folk tale, the folk-song type of melody, and folk dances. These elements are rather naïve and nationalist in emphasis” (339). Also, the corpse of the hero Kaspar who sold his soul to the devil is finally thrown into the Wolf’s Glen (“Wolfsschlucht”). The similarities between Wolf’s Glen and Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair (“Wolfsschanze”) are telling. While the victims disappear in a mountainous, dark valley in Der Freischütz, the almost 200 victims of Rechnitz disappear in the soil that Hitler’s men forced a group of the Jewish workers to dig up. Furthermore, the name of Agave is reminiscent of Agathe; Agave acts as the female hero in the play Die Bakchen and Agathe is the heroine in Der Freischütz. In addition, besides the fact that Der Freischütz is based on a German folk legend it also draws on the dichotomy of Appolonian and Dyonisian elements of theater and nature’s powers. Another source that Jelinek employs at the end of her play is the interview “Jammern ist nie eine gute Idee,” printed in Die Weltwoche, in which Hans Magnus Enzensberger talks about his book on the German military persona general Kurt von Hammerstein, Hammerstein oder der Eigensinn: Eine deutsche Geschichte (2009). Jelinek analyzes several of Enzensberger’s laconic comments in the interview about the role of the Holocaust in current day German schools and public debate.[5]

The parallels between Luis Bunuel’s Angel Exterminador (1962) and Jelinek’s play are not as evident as some of the quotes of other sources. First, the setting of the film and the play are similar because in both cases a hostess or host invites guests to a party in a mansion. In the movie, all guests wear formal dress code. The men wear tuxedos and the women wear evening gowns as they are all coming back from an opera they watched that evening. The narrative line of Exterminating Angel is not linear but here, Bunuel, plays with the limits of cinematic freedom. The movie is considered one of his many surrealist films where the spectator is confronted with continuity errors, repetitions, inconsistencies, and contradictions which are mirrored in Jelinek’s play.[6] The film depicts class conflict in its extreme, neither the bourgeois nor the servants can identify with the opposite group. A female guest at the party describes a train wreck in which “the third-class compartment, full of common people, had been squashed like a huge accordion,” and calmly continues, “The suffering of those poor people didn’t move me at all.” The female actor asserts, “The lower classes seem to be less sensitive to pain.” Similarly, Jews, Gypsies, and other minorities who were persecuted by the Nazis were not considered human and less susceptible to pain. The sheep in Exterminating Angel represent the thoughtless humans who are sacrificed when following religion or other groups such as the Nazis. After the guests seem to be trapped in the living room of the host’s house in Bunuel’s movie, they slowly lose all civilized behavior and turn into brutal savages when they demand the death of the host. They break down walls to get to water pipes and one couple commits suicide. They find solace in dreams, magic, chicken legs, and narrative. Marsha Kinder writes: “Their mysterious inability to leave the room is experienced as failure of will — perhaps no more mysterious than the one that prevents citizens from changing the totally corrupt economic, social, and political system on which their own privileges (and the miseries of the servants and other have-nots) are based” (n.pag.).

While there is no rational explanation for the guests’ frivolous behavior in Bunuel’s movie, there is also a lack of explanation for the behavior of the guests at Margit Batthyány’s party in her castle in Rechnitz. [7] Yet, the guests in Bunuel’s movie do not commit crimes like the soldiers who shot the Jews. At the end of the plot, Bunuel’s guests are miraculously allowed to leave the house. Yet, a few days later again they are trapped inside a church with a large group of other churchgoers. There is no end to the absurdity of Bunuel’s plot. In his movie, one guest comments on a loud noise that sounds like shattering glass he hears in another room and he expresses anti-Semitic sentiments. The guest explains, “That might have been a Jew.” Marsha Kinder writes “The Exterminating Angel demonstrates how religion provides an underlying justification for some of the worst injustices of the bourgeois social order” (n.pag.).

In one scene in Bunuel’s movie, a couple that just met at the party and has fallen in love with each other commits suicide in the bathroom, the only other room where the guests are going to the toilet, to have sexual intercourse, or commit suicide. After a female guest discovers the dead couple, she tries to shut the door to the bathroom but a hand sticks out that she cannot get back into the tiny, closet-like bathroom. A hand (without a body) reappears shortly after this scene to haunt the woman who just woke up from a bad dream. She then tries to poke the hand that moves around the room with a knife. The scene is interrupted when another woman shrieks because someone tried to hurt her hand with a knife. It is not clear from the plot if the hand is meant to be a fantastical twist of the woman’s mind, the one who discovered the dead couple. The hand here represents the undead that return by getting into the business of those still alive. In Rechnitz, Jelinek uses the hand as a separate object that has its own force and also to taunt the living as a symbol of the undead:

Sonst werden die doch gefunden, die Toten, 180 Stück, das ist keine Kleinigkeit, die alle umzubetten, das können wir uns später in Ruhe überlegen, jetzt erst mal rein mit ihnen, das Blut hätte diese harte Erde doch wirklich vorher etwas erweichen können, da schaut ja noch eine Hand heraus und dort ein Fuss oder was ist das. (129)

In Bunuel’s and Jelinek’s works, two classes of society are involved. The servants in Bunuel’s movie leave the scene before the situation escalates with the exception of one male servant who remains at the house and finally shows the guests the exit door. In Jelinek’s play, she recalls the situation at the castle of Margit Batthyány who employed a number of servants. The cellar in Batthyány’s castle was used to house Jewish workers who had been sent to work on the “Ostschutzwall” which was supposed to be built in 1945 to keep the Russian army from advancing any further. According to reports, the Jews were kept in inhumane conditions and were beaten and otherwise tortured without reason.  In Rechnitz, a messenger reports: “Ich glaube, auch die Dienerschaft hält dicht, weil sie das schließlich weiß und muss“ (137). As the documentary Totschweigen also shows, Batthyány’s servants did not mention anything about the abuse of the Jews because their role was to keep quiet about what is now considered human rights’ abuses.

One of the more striking intertexts in Rechnitz is T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” that was written in 1925 and has since had a major influence on the culture of the United States. It has made its way into a number of literary and cinematic works as well as computer games. The poem is also read in the Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now (1979) where Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent to find and eliminate Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who is said to kill the Viet Kong indiscriminately one by one. In reference to its literary source, the movie displays the primal violence of human nature and the brutality of the soldiers’ hearts.

Jelinek makes use of Eliot’s allusions to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness (1899) in which an amoral British man loses himself in the African wilderness and commits terrible crimes only to realize the horror on his deathbed. Similar to Eliot, Jelinek draws allusions to the Conrad novel, Eliot’s description of the death of cultures, and the modern man as hollow and corrupt. She also alludes to the scenes in Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now in which Marlon Brando reads Eliot’s poem and reflects on the destructive and evil nature of mankind. In the following, I will outline intertextual references in Jelinek’s Rechnitz, taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” by highlighting passages in bold that are directly taken from the English poem or passages translated into German and included in Jelinek’s play:

Gedenket unser, wenn überhaupt, nicht als verlorene gewalttätige Seelen, sondern denkt an uns nur als die hollow men, the stuffed men, vollgestopft haben sie sich, haben wir uns, wieso sind sie, wieso sind wir dann hohl, wieso sind die dann aber Höhle und wir nicht? Hohlenmenschen? Höhlenmenschen?, was weiß ich, was das ist, wer wir sind. Und die Herren P. und O. müssen wir auch noch mitnehmen, geht ja alles in einem Blutaufwasch, denn das sind die echten hohlen Menschen, in die geht alles rein. Oder sind es die anderen, die hohl sind, weil schon fast verhungert? Hohl gegen hohl. Auf einen Totenacker hat sie ihr Weg geführt. (R 61-62)

Jelinek plays with the expression “stuffed” as in “stuffed after being emptied,” the Jews who have not been given enough to eat in contrast to “stuffed as in satiated,” “full after a meal,” the meal that Podezin and Oldenburg celebrated at Margit von Batthyány’s castle. Jelinek offers contradictory images: the stuffed men are those who ate a lot because they are hollow and without essence in contrast to those who are starving. The original part of the Eliot poem reads like this:

Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men. (I, Eliot)

The computer-generated translation, which Jelinek used to translate the text, reads slightly different. Jelinek mocks the inability of the computer software that translates the poem into words that are assembled in incorrect grammar:[8]

Nicht als verlorene heftige Seelen, aber nur als die hohlen Männer die angefüllten Männer. (CGT)

Jelinek uses Eliot’s paradoxical imagery at the end of the first stanza of “The Hollow Men” who are hollow and simultaneously stuffed. She projects the image on the victims who are starved as well as on the victimizers Podezin and Oldenburg who are stuffed from the food at the party but hollow inside and uses the word play of “hohl-Höhle” to draw on their barbaric, uncivilized life.

Jelinek quotes complete sentences from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” “Sie [die Geschichte, B.K.] hält eine Vorlesung. Between the conception and the creation between the emotion and the response falls the shadow” (65). This is part of Eliot’s original poem’s fifth stanza. Eliot uses this as a rhythmic dance as part of the mulberry bush/prickly pear sequence with its repetitive lines, two of which end with the biblical reference “For Thine is the Kingdom”:

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long (V, Eliot)


Repeatedly, Jelinek uses images of shadows that depict the undead who lament the living’s lack of interest in justice for all. “[D]ass diese letzten Hilflosen also abgeknallt werden, anstatt dass man zuerst an die Rettung der eigenen Haut denken würde, die ja viel mehr wert ist in death’s twilight kingdom, und auch die Zeit ist viel wert, es ist nämlich höchste Zeit” (R, 66). In “The Hollow Men,” Eliot plays with the biblical expression from the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever,” with which the prayer ends. Instead of praising the kingdom without hesitation, Eliot develops a new kingdom of death’s twilight that is neither just nor bright.[9]

Similar to Eliot’s allusions to the Lord’s Prayer with the lines “For Thine is the Kingdom” and the crippled line at the end of the poem, Jelinek also refers repeatedly to the Bible in her play Rechnitz: “Also, wer der Herr, mein Hirte, ist, das weiß ich nicht” (R 161). “Man hebt bei Dunkelheit eine Grube aus, und dann legt man das eben hinein. Dann spricht man den Psalm 23. Der ist schön. Ich glaub, den magst du auch. Man betet danach das Vaterunser. Dann schaufelt man die Grube eben wieder zu” (R 202). Psalm 23 is sung by Jews and Christians alike. Jews sing it at the third Shabbat meal on Saturday afternoon. Sephardic and Hassidic Jews also sing it on Fridays. It is also read at Jewish and Christian funeral services:

Der Herr ist mein Hirte, mir wird nichts mangeln. Er weidet mich auf einer grünen Aue und führet mich zum frischen Wasser. Er erquicket meine Seele und führet mich auf rechter Straße um seines Namens willen. Und ob ich schon wanderte im finsteren Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück; denn Du bist bei mir, dein Stecken und Stab trösten mich. Du bereitest vor mir einen Tisch im Angesicht meiner Feinde. Du salbest mein Haupt mit Öl und schenkest mir voll ein.

Gutes und Barmherzigkeit werden mir folgen mein Leben lang, und ich werde bleiben im Hause des Herrn immerdar. (Lutherbibel, 1984)

Jelinek rewrites the Biblic message by twisting its meaning and adding a doubtful voice and critique of the Christian message: “Ich glaube, es heißt richtig: Im Hause meines Vaters sind viele Wohnungen” (R 203). The original Bible quote reads: “In meines Vaters Hause sind viele Wohnungen. Wenn es nicht so wäre, so wollte ich zu euch sagen: Ich gehe hin euch die Stätte zu bereiten” (Joh. 14, 2; Lutherbibel, 1984).

Jelinek’s take on the Biblical passages subvert their meaning: “Dann sagt der Herr: Ich bin der Weg und die Wahrheit und das Leben. Niemand kommt zum Vater als nur durch mich“ (R 203). In the Bible, it reads: “Jesus spricht zu ihm [Johannes]: Ich bin der Weg und die Wahrheit und das Leben. Niemand kommt zum Vater denn durch mich“ (Joh 14,6; Lutherbibel, 1984).

The most frequently quoted passage from the New Testament demands that the Christian faith is the only true religion. In the last sentence of Rechnitz, Jelinek again inverts a line from the Bible in which God is asked for help. He assures his followers that he will be there for them. Jelinek twists the line around by negating it: “Und wenn ihr etwas bitten werdet in meinem Namen, so werde ich es nicht tun” (R 204).  While the Bible reassures its readers: “Und wenn ihr etwas bitten werdet in meinem Namen, so werde ich es tun” (Joh. 14, 14; Lutherbibel 1984). The questions by family members, historians, and Jelinek to find out the truth about the shootings of the Jewish workers has not been answered.

Despite the fact that the text is a play, a narrative voice carries the reader through the text. An actor will take that role on stage to tell the story of the dead and the victimizers. At one point, when the narrative voice reflects on Margit Batthyány as an art collector as well as art and its purpose for mankind, the voice refers back to Eliot’s poem.

Kunst ist prinzipiell und unerklärlich. Nur zwei, drei Leute verstehen sie. Sie ist ein Phänomen, sie ist sichtlos, sinnlos, nutzlos. Die Augen kommen immer wieder mal vorbei, doch umsonst, sie wollen sich was anschauen, aber sie sehen nichts, weil die Kunst sich geweigert hat, sich zu sammeln, sightless, useless the eyes reappear as the perpetual star multifoliate rose of death’s twilight kingdom the hope only of empty men. Die Leeren. Ja, die Leeren sind irgendwo eingegraben worden” (R 74).

In Eliot, it reads:

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men. (IV, Eliot)


Jelinek uses the third stanza of the fourth part in its entirety as a run-on sentence by only changing one word: unless becomes “useless” in Rechnitz. While Eliot leaves the option open that the rose can appear, Jelinek’s narrator describes it as unnecessary.

Aber wenn Deutschland auch nur flüstert,  kracht es schon überall. Wenn aber gleich zwei Deutschländer mit einem leisen Wispern, einem Wimmern von Millionen Stimmen, ineinanderstürzen, dann gibt es keinen bang, dann gibt es eben genau dieses gewhisper, und danach traut sich keiner mehr zu flüstern. (R 76)

The two German countries, Germany and Austria, joined forces under Hitler and the whispering of millions of Jews and other victims can still be heard. So no one dares to speak but they only whisper in light of the tragic history of the Shoah. Eliot’s original reads:

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless (I, Eliot) …
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. (V, Eliot)


The last stanza in Eliot’s poem again plays with the musical allusions of the children’s song “Here we go round the mulberry bush” and its repetitive lines. In “The Hollow Men,” however, Eliot changes the twist of all kids falling down to the world coming to an end in a dreadful state rather than in a powerful, imposing state. The whispering reoccurs several times in Rechnitz as the narrator recalls the whisper of the gassed and burnt victims in the sky. The act of whispering is particularly important in Jelinek’s oeuvre as she repeatedly connects the author/writer and a way to interfere while speaking about the content of her plays. The act of speaking is a dialectical dilemma for Jelinek because she has been asked to stop talking, commenting, etc. but cannot keep silent in light of her knowledge about the brutalities of the war and the brutalities in current day Austrian and German society.

Moment, man sagt mir: 180, an die 200 Wehrlose, ich sollte lieber sagen: vollkommen Wehrlose, um das Vollkommene daran mit Worten und Werten noch zu betonen, keines, keener bleibt übrig, sie fallen um wie Kegel, diese hohlen Menschen, nein, nicht Höhlenmenschen, das sind die hohlen Männer, die wir die angefüllten Männer sind, die zusammen das Oberteil lehnen, das mit Stroh gefüllt wird. Leider hat der blöde Computer das Gedicht nicht so schön übersetzt, ich hätte es besser gekonnt, aber im Prinzip stimmt es, was hier steht, es steht hier als Vorbote eines Gedichts. Ein Gedicht, das Ganze! Eigentlich sehen diese Höhlenmenschen aus wie richtige Menschen, nur eben hohl, weil sie nie etwas gegessen haben, hohl ihre getrockneten Stimmen, wenn sie zusammen flüstern, sie sind ruhig, sie schreien nicht, und als Wind im trockenen Gras oder in gebrochenem Glas der Füße der Ratten Überschuß in unserem trockenen Keller bedeutungslos. (R 96-97)

Jelinek here returns to the first few lines of Eliot’s poem:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rat’s feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar. (I, Eliot)


Jelinek uses both Eliot’s poem and a female narrator’s voice from a documentary, a woman who recalls the night of the massacre in Totschweigen. She reports on the victims who do not scream, that she could only hear bullet shots through the night. Jelinek continues to draw on Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and the references in Rechnitz multiply and become more intense during this first part of the play.

… da stehen sie nun, bestellt und auch abgeholt, die, die mit direkten Augen uns gekreuzt haben, zu anderem Königreich des Todes erinnern sich an uns, aber dazu werden sie keine Gelegenheit haben, sie wurden uns zum Erschießen übergeben, und wir üben das Schießen aus, das ist unser Privileg. Das ist das Privileg der Menschen, welche nicht hohl sind, welche so angestopft sind mit Stroh, stuffed, im Gegensatz zu den andren, die nicht angestopft sind, jedenfalls nicht mit Stroh. … Es macht nur Spaß, wenn man sich vorher ordentlich einen ansäuft, soviel Zeit muss sein…das ist wie Tageslicht auf einer defekten Spalte dort, die sich schließt, ist ein Baum, der wächst, nein, ein Baum, der schwingt, und Stimmen sind im Wind, die entfernteres und erster als ein verblasener Stern singt, jetzt weiß ich nicht, meint der Sternsinger oder wen oder was? (R 98-99)

The computer-generated translation reads almost identical with a few minor differences:

Die, die mit direkten Augen gekreuzt haben, zu anderem Königreich des Todes erinnern sich an uns… Tageslicht auf einer defekten Spalte dort, ist ein Baum, der schwingt und Stimmen sind im Wind, der entfernteres und ernster als ein verblassender Stern singt.[10] (CGT)

Jelinek adds the personal pronoun “uns” – die uns gekreuzt haben – in the sense of “they have killed us.” She also changes the German translation of Eliot’s original English “The Hollow Men” back into a more elegant translation of the original:

Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star. (II, Eliot)


Jelinek changes the “column” as a column in the text to a “defekte Spalte” in the translation as something that is alive and can close again, associating the “Spalte” with women’s genitalia. Here, Jelinek plays with the sexual allusion of a moving cleft. Furthermore, she changes the grammar such that the sentence is incorrect as the “Stimmen” in the wind connect to a singular verb “singt” instead of “singen,” unless “singt” refers back to “Spalte.” While the computer correctly offers “verblassender Stern,” Jelinek changes the fading star to “verblasener” – verblasen meaning “blow or backfill” as well as the allusion to “aufgeblasen” which means “bloated,” “inflated,” and “pompous” referring to the attitude of the guests who shot the Jews. The Nazi shooters wrongly but confidently assume that it is their right to take the lives of the already tortured Jews. The voice’s final question if the computer means “Sternsinger” refers to children or adults who dress up as the Three Kings. Particularly in Southern German tradition, they dress up as the Three Kings and go from house to house between Christmas and January 6 to collect money for charitable donations.[11] A passage where Jelinek uses a longer quotation from Eliot stands out in the middle of the play:

die Augen werden nicht dabei sein, die Augen werden nie dabei sein, bei der Gedenkfeier in der Senkfeier, in der Senkgrube, in dieser hohlen Senke dieser gebrochenen Kiefer, dieser zerbrochenen Knochen. Und eingraben müssen wir das alles auch noch, eingraben in dieser Senke, dieser Senkgrube, in diesem letzten der Treffpunkte suchen wir 60 Jahre später oder so, vielleicht 70, 80, 180?, etwa 60 Jahre schätze ich mal, aber es können auch mehr sein, suchen wir diesen letzten der Treffpunkte, suchen wir ihn, zusammen tastend, und vermeiden die Rede, indem wir sie halten, die Rede immer wieder halten, die irgendwann von diesem Fluss des Gedächtnisses erfaßt werden wird, am Strand dieses tumid Flusses, sightless heute, sightless morgen, es sei denn, die Augen wieder erscheinen, aber nicht einmal im Traum uns erscheinen diese Augen. (R 101)

The original text from Eliot, however, reads:


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms


In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star… (IV, Eliot)


The computer-generated translation of “The Hollow Men” provides us with:


Die Augen sind nicht hier dort sind keine Augen hier in dieser Senke der sterbenden Sterne in dieser hohlen Senke dieser gebrochenen Kiefer unserer verlorenen Königreiche

In diesem Letzten der Treffpunkte suchen wir zusammen tastend und vermeiden die Rede, die auf diesem Strand des tumid Flusses erfaßt wird

Sightless, es sei denn die Augen wieder erscheinen, wie der unaufhörliche Stern (CGT)

Jelinek composes several changes in her version of a translation from the English original and the computer-generated translation in this paragraph. She turns the valley from “Senke” back to “Senkgrube” or “Grube” where the dead Jews were buried. Since the right location of the graves is still not known, the organization Refugius holds a memorial service once a year near the Kreuzstadl, a remembrance celebration to which Jelinek refers with “Gedenkfeier.” Jelinek changes “Avoid the speech” to “Rede vermeiden, die Rede immer wieder halten” as a warning not to forget and a reminder to remember the dead by speaking up against the silence that surrounds the victims. She also changes the “beach of the tumid river” to a “Fluss des Gedächtnisses” a “river of thought” that does not stay still but keeps moving and thus searches for and remembers the dead. Jelinek constructs the imagery of the “eyes” in Eliot as the eyes of those who claim they did not see what happened during that tragic night in March 1945 in Rechnitz. Thus, Jelinek does in Rechnitz what she does best among contemporary post-dramatists. By invoking Luis Buñuel’s movie The Exterminating Angel, quotes from the Bible, and T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” among other references to texts from literary, religious, and philosophical canons, she manages to awake the dead to haunt the living. Rechnitz rightfully reminds audiences in Germany and Austria of sins that have not been forgiven because no one acknowledged the guilt in the first place of committing the murders, no one has been held responsible for the crimes, and no one has asked for repentance for the deadly shootings that killed close to 200 Jews, a mass murder committed seemingly as pure amusement for some of Margit Batthyány’s cruel party guests.



1 There is not much information available about the lives of Franz Podezin and Hans Joachim Oldenburg and what happened to them after the war.

2 See Sandra Kegel, who did an interview with Litchfield, the article on “Massenmord” in the Spiegel, Martin Pollack, and Rudolph Walter’s articles.

3 The subtitle of the Jelinek play Der Würgeengel is the German title of the movie Exterminating Angel.

4 Compare Die endlose Unschuldigkeit. Elfriede Jelineks Rechnitz (2010), edited by Pia Janke, Teresa Kovacs, and Christian Schenkermayr. It includes contributions from historians, literary scholars, historical background information, performance reviews, and an interview with Jelinek about the writing process of the play.

5 For reviews of some of the performances of Rechnitz, see Christine Dössel, P. Jandl, Norbert Mayer, David McNamee, Barbara Petsch, Sylvia Stammen, Barbara Villiger Heilig, and Mirko Weber.

6 See Martha Kinder, n. pag.

7 Compare the responses by family members of Margit Batthyány, Sacha Batthyány and Dominik and Ladislaus Batthyány.

8 “Leider hat der blöde Computer das Gedicht nicht so schön übersetzt, ich hätte es besser gekonnt, aber im Prinzip stimmt es, was hier steht, es steht hier als Vorbote eines Gedichts“ (R 96-97)

9 Compare Z. A. Usmani, “The Hollow Men” 18-23.

10 In italics, I highlight the words in the translation from English to German in the CGT (computer-generated translation) of the Eliot poem that also reoccur in Rechnitz.

11 There are several other instances in Rechnitz, where Jelinek draws on Eliot’s poem. Due to space restrictions, I cannot analyze all of them in this article (R 121, 131, 144, 148, 151, 152, 156, 157, 158, 163, 167, 185).



Works Cited

Batthyány, Dominik and Ladislaus E. “Sehr geehrte Frau Jelinek!” Die Presse 22 May 2010.

Batthyány, Sacha. “Das Grauen von Rechnitz.” Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin. 16/2010.
—. “Ein schreckliches Geheimnis.” Das Magazin 12 December 2009.
Boyden, David D. An Introduction to Music. New York: Knopf, 1956.

Bunuel, Luis. Dir. The Exterminating Angel. Criterion Collection, 1962. DVD.

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Dössel, Christine. “Die Obszönität des Bösen.” Süddeutsche Zeitung 30 November 2008.

Eliot, T.S. “The Hollow Men.” 1925. Poetry X. Ed. Jough Dempsey. 13 Jul 2003. 20 Oct. 2011 .

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Jandl, P. “Im Schatten des Kreuzes.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung 18 October 2008.

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Petsch, Barbara. “Massaker mit Ei.” Review of Rechnitz Performance. Die Presse 1 December 2008.

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Weber, Mirko. “Du eklig’s Austria: Uraufführung in München: Elfriede Jelinek’s Rechnitz.” Review of Rechnitz Performance. Stuttgarter Zeitung 1 December 2008.

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