2 December 1933
Fritz Ritter’s membership card for the Cultural League of German Jews
As member “no. 181” Fritz Ritter was among the first to join the Cultural League of German Jews, which was founded in July 1933. By mid-December its membership had grown to 18,491, reflecting not only the Berlin-based organization’s extraordinary popularity with the Jewish population, but also the high level of solidarity among German Jews in a time of increasing social discrimination.
Fritz Ritter was born in Vienna and, after serving in the military in the First World War, became an actor. During the Roaring Twenties he performed in theaters in various German cities, above all in Munich and Berlin. Among other prominent roles, he played one of the beggars in the premiere of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.
But when the Nazis assumed power, Ritter’s theatrical engagements came to an end. Under the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, issued in April 1933, he was no longer permitted to perform in municipal theaters. Furthermore, as a “non-Aryan,” Ritter was denied admission to the Reich Theater Chamber—the equivalent of an occupational ban.
The establishment of the Cultural League brought new opportunities. The organization funded its work through membership dues. For 2.50 reichsmarks a month, members received a subscription entitling them to attend three of the league’s events. Due to his contributions to the league’s cultural program, Fritz Ritter was not subject to this fee. As his membership card states, he was “exempt from payment” as a “member of the house.” His status may also have been the reason the document is filled out so sloppily (even his signature is missing). Ritter was a well-known figure and showing his card was probably a mere formality. In December 1933 he performed in Shakespeare’s Othello in the Berliner Theater on Charlottenstrasse, the Cultural League’s stage. The play was the league’s third major production following Nathan the Wise and The Marriage of Figaro.
At the end of its first year, the Cultural League had good reason to be proud of its achievements. It had organized a total of 538 events, including 201 theatrical evenings, 69 operas, 117 concerts and 127 lectures. The following year Ritter performed not only at the Cultural League in Berlin, but also at its offshoots in other German cities. In 1935 there were thirty-six of these local and regional cultural leagues united under an umbrella organization.