Max Ehrlich
masks-2.gif (31054 bytes)  



Home Up






On April 2nd 1939 Max Ehrlich makes his farewell stage appearance in Germany and leaves for Holland, marking the start of his Dutch Exile.

There, he joins Willy Rosen’s cabaret troupe, “Die Prominenten”, in The Haag. The Spa Season at Dutch seaside resort Scheveningen begins in mid-May, and Volle Kraft Voraus (Full Steam Ahead), the troupe’s new show, is set to premier on May 18th.

Max Ehrlich and Willy Rosen have been close professional as well as personal friends since a very long time. Even during the years while Max directed the KuBu (Jüdischer Kulturbund), Willy regularly provided songs and music for the shows, as well as frequently returned from abroad in order to make guest appearances on the Kubu’s stages.

Other troupe members include film diva and soubrette Rosy Barsony, actress-singer Rita Georg, film and operetta star Oskar Denes, film star Franz Engel, Viennese operetta star Fritz Steiner, singer Claire Eiselmeyr, jazz pianist Eric Ziegler… and new talent Herta von Langen.


The Cabaret’s name, Die Promentinenten (The Celebrities),  is appropriate because most of the troupe indeed are celebrities. However, it also is common knowledge that two of the most popular stars from Willy Rosen’s troupe, Sigfried Arno and Szoeke Szakall recently have immigrated to America, where they will go on to successfully pursue film careers in Hollywood. So it’s welcome news when the May 17th 1939 article in newspaper Het Volk  states that new troupe member, “Max Ehrlich, is one of the “best-known comedians in the World”.

Still, after the past five years during which Max Ehrlich served as director of the Kubu’s (Juedischer Kulturbund) Kleinkunstbuehne (light theater department), it’s frustrating now for him to assume the role of simple cast member. Contrary to his good friend Willy Rosen, who above all relishes the job of artistic director, Max Ehrlich is an “Organizer” in the broadest sense and also “needs” to apply his talents beyond the nightly cabaret performances...


ife goes on full of hope and  we accompany it on its way..."

"When I got up this morning, the first thing I did was look out the window. "What were you looking for" asked my neighbor?... "I only looked to see", I answered, "Whether I was living overseas yet."

  Louis Davids 
                                 June 1939



But at least Max Ehrlich - like almost all of his Exile colleagues - feels safe from Nazi persecution here! Like the overall Dutch population, they are convinced  that "neutral" Holland somehow is immune from German invasion; and even when World War II breaks out the following September, for many it will feel like something happening far away in foreign lands. Willy Rosen has a visa for Cuba in his passport but will continue saying, "What am I going to do over there?" Instead, German-speaking cabaret in the Netherlands will continue along in its habitual non-political style.

One rare Exile stage artist who remains untouched by all the optimism is Dutch cabaret star Louis Davids. His fears, stoked by the ever-escalating persecution inflicted on Jews in Germany, have become a waking nightmare... one to which he senses that a rude awakening in the Netherlands is imminent...

But, Louis Davids does not live to see his nightmare's realization. Unexpectedly on July 1st 1939 he is dead.

The funeral-goers include many of the who's who from Exile cabaret: Rudolf and Herbert Nelson, Dora Gerson, Otto Wallburg, Franz Engel... Max Ehrlich, in the name of his German colleages, delivers the eulogy.


  Summer Season 1939   1940   The Cabaret Artists  

The programs from only three of the four revues staged by the Prominenten during the Summer Season 1939 appear to have survived, and currently are preserved in Dutch archives: Scheveningen Lacht (Scheveningen Laughs), 1000 Worte Humor (1000 Words of Humor) and Tempo! Tempo! 

The latter revue includes Willy Rosen’s new tune, “Aber die Traenen in meinen Augen, die siehst du nicht” (but you don’t see the tears in my eyes), which goes on to top the 1939 season hit-parade; and newspaper Het Volk, in an article on July 26th 1939, doesn’t hesitate to characterize Die Prominenten as the best cabaret in Scheveningen… surpassing their main competitor, Rudolf Nelson’s Revue, which also is appearing in this same resort.  

Celebrities are to be found in the Prominenten Cabaret’s audiences as well! Notably, during one of the first performances of Tempo! Tempo! French singer Maurice Chevalier, accompanied by world-famous tenor Richard Tauber, are amongst the spectators. 

Immediately seizing the opportunity of this illustrious presence, the troupe improvises several additional numbers during the performance. Max Ehrlich isn’t shy about doing his Richard Tauber impersonation… and, all the while, Tauber whispers the translation of each word into Maurice Chevalier’s ear … as is reported in Het Volk’s July 31st newspaper article the following day! 



Nothing is known of the Prominenten’s appearances during the Winter Season that followed. However, since elsewhere World War II has commenced, it’s extremely unlikely that they were touring outside Holland at that time. More probable is that they weren’t working together during those months, and instead were appearing individually in various different troupes.

By April 1940, Max Ehrlich is engaged at the Theater Carré in Amsterdam. At the same time, Erich Ziegler is accompanying dancer Cilli Wang at the piano during a one night show, Deligentia, in The Haag.

Meanwhile, Willy Rosen is preparing for the upcoming Season in Scheveningen, which he plans to open with a new revue, Lache Bajazzo (laugh clown Bajazzo)... a colorful mix of cabaret numbers similar to previous ones. However, this show never will make it past its premier on May 8th 1940!

On the front page of the revue's program, Willy Rosen writes:
  "We hope the public also will remain faithful to us during the 1940 Season [...] For those who want to forget their worries, come to us, the cabaret without politics. (Without politics, that's the policy we've strictly followed over the past three years and that's what we will continue to do). If you enjoyed yourself this evening, then tell all your friends so that they can find the same joy; and if you didn't enjoy yourself, tell all your enemies, so that they can come here and feel aggravated."  

In fact, there is little doubt that, as before, the public will remain faithful to The Prominenten during the up-coming Season; their newest revue is everything one has come to expect from them. But, impending events will make it all happen the opposite way!

Early on the morning of May 10th 1940, the German Army invades the Netherlands... and within six days takes complete control of the country.

On the morning of May 14th 1940, some Jews still manage to flee Holland by ship. But by afternoon this no longer is possible as by now sunken ships block the harbors.

Max Ehrlich tries to escape via IJmuiden Harbor; but the ship he's on is attacked from the air and must turn around and return.


At this time, not only the German cabaret artists in Holland  preponderantly are Jewish, but also their Dutch colleagues as well.

Henrietta Davids in her 1948 memoirs, "Mijn levenslied", tells how these stage artists in almost no time were back to work.

Newspaper Het Volk's May 27th . edition announces that "Entertainment has returned to Amsterdam". There's a variety show playing at the Theater Carré, and Henriette Davids is in the troupe.

On the other hand, the Nazis sieze the Tuschinski-Theater just twelve days after the invasion and redeploy it for propoganda purposes... Although officially they claim that they have purchased it.

Under the Nazis' Heel

On July 1st 1940, the Nazis begin imposing oppressive measures on the Netherland's overall Jewish population.

Notably, Jewish merchants must visibly post that their shop is Jewish owned,  and all businesses under Jewish ownership must register as such.

In October 1940, the nazi occupiers order all civil servants to provide certification that they are "Arian"... following which, in November 1940, all Jewish civil servants are fired. Shortly thereafter all Jewish faculty members at Universities also are dismissed.

As of January 1941 all Jews are required to register with the Authorities, at which time a large red "J" is stamped in their passports. They also no longer may attend cinemas, donate, blood or own radios.

On February 13th 1941, upon the instigation of Jewish Community leaders in Amsterdam, the Nazis institute the Joodsche Raad (Jewish Council) to "self-manage" the Jewish population.

Initially only Jewish religious organizations are subservient to the Council's control; but within a short time all Jewish organizations and issues are dealt with by them.

From May 1941 on, services provided by Jews and those provided by gentiles must be strictly segregated.

Finally, the ordinance of September 15th 1941 prohibits Jews from frequenting any public event, park, restaurant, theater, concert, librariy, museum or other insallation not reserved solely for Jews... And with that, as well as the other persecutory regulations and actions already put in place, the exclusion of Jews from public life in the Netherlands is now total, following the example set in Germany.

Protest by the general Dutch population regarding these measures, perhaps understandably, are almost inexistent; however, one notable exception is the "February Strike" by Amsterdam's dockworkers, following the arbitrary arrest of 400 Jewish men... an undertaking which nonetheless receives absolutely no coverage in Het Volk, the labor newspaper, albeit notification that "one  must return to work by the following day" is published there.

Even the Dutch resistance, which notably organizes hiding places for Jews to go "underground", only appears in 1943... by which time almost all the deportations already have been carried out.

  Some employees of Abraham Tuchinski collaborate in this action; and Tuchinski himself as well as his closest staff members will be deported to Auschwitz and Sobibor from where they never will return.

The night of the invaison Die Prominenten, Willy Rosen's troupe, are in Scheuveningen set to appear on stage . They cancel their engagement, "Lache Bajazzo", but in mid-June 1940 begin staging revues once again... Though at this point Willy Rosen and Erich Ziegler work solely from behind the scene, and no longer appear on-stage.

Following Scheuveningen, they appear in the Haag, then Amsterdam's Savoy-Caberet, followed by Utrecht... all  without any reference in the program to Willy Rosen's name. But in December 1940 the troupe again is officially permitted to appear in Amsterdam's  Beatrix Theater, under Willy Rosen's direction.

At first there's no news of the Rudolf Nelson Troupe's destiny. But, in Herbert Nelson's 1984 memoirs, "Gestern ist noch nicht vorbei" he describes how he spent the night after the invaison talking his parents out of taking their own lives.








                                 Send mail to with questions or comments about the Max Ehrlich Association or this web site.            
                                 Copyright © 2000, 2008 Max Ehrlich Association
                                 Last modified: January 5th 2012