Research Impact


Jewish lives in the history of photography, music, and theatre

Professor Michael Berkowitz’s research demonstrates the importance of Jewish lives to the histories of creative economies.

Women dancing lit by blue light

12 April 2022

Building on his research into Jewish photographers (including: "Émigré photographers" in Insiders-Outsiders: Refugees from Nazi Europe and their contribution to British visual culture, 2018), Professor Berkowitz produced three stagings of the comic opera, The Tsar Wants His Photograph Taken by Kurt Weill and Georg Kaiser (1928). The stagings were directed by Leo Doulton, with a total audience of 570.  

Professor Berkowitz’s research into the Jewish engagement with photographic technology and science, specifically the link between Kodachrome and Jewish musical history (including: “Kodachrome’s (rather) Jewish musical history” in Colour & Poetry: A Symposium, 2019), served as the main basis for a new musical, Man & God. Written by Doulton and composed by Jacob Dorfman, it was performed as a work-in-progress in York, Leeds, and London in 2019 to a total audience of 140. 

Stimulating wider public engagement 

Media coverage demonstrated how both productions informed a wider public about these obscured aspects of European culture. A substantial 2019 article in the Guardian identified how the revival of The Tsar “marks a significant act of defiance against the Nazis, even eight decades after the once-popular comic opera was pulled from the German repertoire by the authorities”, demonstrating new awareness of what the crusade against so-called ‘degenerate’ Jewish influence entailed.  

Professor Berkowitz served as a key consultant for the Wiener Holocaust Library exhibition Berlin-London: The Lost Photographs of Gerty Simon (30 May – 15 Oct 2019), wrote the Foreword for the exhibition catalogue and gave a public talk on Simon and other Jewish women photographers. An abridged staging of The Tsar took place in the exhibition space. 

Professor Berkowitz’s research led to long-term collaboration with the Lithuanian Embassy (London), including concerts and recitals as part of the annual Litvak Days events programme (December 2013—May 2020). These events celebrated and explored the culture and memory of the Lithuanian Jewish (‘Litvak’) community and each attract audiences of between 60 and 200. 

The performances of both the opera and musical involved 52 performers and creative practitioners in total, broadening their musical experience and fruitfully developing their professional practice. Doulton’s directorial practice, in particular, has been enhanced by working closely with Professor Berkowitz, calling it “a really rewarding creative partnership” that has “influenced me a lot, particularly in terms of how rigorous I am in researching productions, and going to primary sources rather than other people’s interpretations of them”.  

Research synopsis

Enhancing cultural understanding of and raising ‘Jewish questions’ in the history of photography, music, and theatre through performance and dialogue. 

SUMMARY: Professor Michael Professor Berkowitz’s research demonstrates the importance of Jewish lives to the histories of creative economies, particularly the integral parts played by migrants and refugees during the first half of the twentieth century to photography, music and theatre. This research has led to the co-development of two stage productions – a revival of Kurt Weill’s opera The Tsar Wants His Photograph Taken and a new musical, Man & God – which have stimulated new interpretations, new works, and new trajectories for creative practitioners. His research has enabled cultural institutions such as the Wiener Holocaust Library and the Lithuanian Embassy to stimulate public engagement with significant historical and cultural issues.  



  • Image credit: Frank Dabba Smith