Every spring since 1634, visitors have come to Oberammergau, a small Bavarian village, where each year without fail, in spite of wars, plagues and history, the villagers enact the Passion Play. Sounds like a quaint tradition, though probably pretty kitschy by now, right?

The particular version of the Passion performed in Oberammergau, however, depicts Jews as evil betrayers, hungry for blood. Hitler himself praised the Obergammerau Passion for its portrayal of "the whole muck and mire of Jewry."

In this fascinating book about the festival, James Shapiro, an English professor at Columbia University who specializes in literary portrayals of anti-Semitism, has chosen the village of Oberammergau itself as his text. Oberammergau appears, at first glance, to be a perfect example of the deeply entrenched folk anti-Semitism which scholars like Daniel Goldenhagen argue made the Holocaust possible in Germany. But Shapiro's description, while letting no-one off easily, ends on a hopeful note, with the performance of a revised, much less virulent Passion for the year 2000 taking place at the end.

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