Bertolt Brecht’s The Private Life of the Master Race consists of seventeen scenes of various lengths and interspersed songs. These scenes are independent of each other in that no character appears more than once; they also take place in a variety of social milieus and in different German cities and regions. Still, the scenes are essentially arranged in chronological order from 1933, the year the Nazis came to power, to March, 1938, the date of the bloodless annexation of Austria. In their totality, they do convey a sense of life under the Nazi dictatorship during the pre-World War II years.
Brecht had left Germany in February, 1933, shortly after the Nazis came to power; as a leftist playwright, he was no longer safe. During the first phase of his exile he lived in Denmark, where he wrote The Private Life of the Master Race. Brecht composed the individual scenes on the basis of newspaper accounts and eyewitness reports. The relatively precarious conditions of exile explain, in part, the rather unusual publication and production history. In 1938, increasing political tensions on the eve of World War II ended the planned publication in Prague of twenty-seven scenes.
Brecht arrived in the United States in 1941; Eric Bentley’s translation of seventeen scenes—as The Private Life of the Master Race—was published in 1944. Although each of the scenes appears to be autonomous, they are related to each other via the overarching themes of fear and misery in Hitler’s Germany. Moreover, their interrelation is emphasized by the quadruple appearance of a Panzer (actually, a tank rather than an armored troop-carrying truck) at the beginning and the end and between scenes. The Panzer carries German soldiers who do not correspond to the heroic image propagated by the Nazis; rather, their faces are white with fear. They act as a chorus and provide comments on the action; in this way, the connection between Hitler’s preparations for war, which are referred to in various scenes, and World War II is established.
A number of scenes approach the length...
(The entire section is 860 words.)