Peter Weiss

The Investigation - Oratorio in 11 Cantos

(German title: Die Ermittlung)
ca. 240 pages
Peter Weiss
Foto: Peter Weiss
© Andrej Reiser

Peter Weiss (1916–1982) was a German writer, painter, graphic artist, and experimental filmmaker. He is best known for his plays “Marat/Sade” and “The Investigation,” as well as the monumental three-volume historical novel The Aesthetics of Resistance. Born in Germany in 1916, he began his career as visual artist, studying at the Prague Art Academy in the late ’30s. After the German occupation of the Sudetenland, his family moved to Sweden, where Weiss would spend the rest of his life, becoming a Swedish citizen. His work won many major German literary awards, including the Buchner and Mann Prizes, and Peter Brook’s production of “Marat/Sade” received the Tony Award for Best Play. Weiss died in 1982.

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Between December 1963 and August 1965, the Auschwitz trial was held in Frankurt/Main. In it, the ones responsible for the functioning of the machinery of annihilation stood in front of a tribunal.

In this play, which was premiered in fifteen theatres in East and West Germany simultaneously in 1965, Peter Weiss re-constructed the facts about the hell on earth that was Auschwitz, which had been brought to light during the trial, in cantos, among them the cantos of The Loading Ramp, The Camp, The Bunkerblock. In those cantos, perpetrators and victims are confronted with one another, and in that way the horror of the death factory is revealed, especially since the reconstruction of individual experiences is neglected and emphasis is placed on the functional aspects of the camp. At the same time, Weiss shows the possibility of similar events recurring and the necessity of preventing this.


»Peter Weiss has created the most impressive literary manipulation of the subject. His play The Investigation. Oratorio in 11 Cantos brings to paper and to the stage that which can be expressed about the trial and the cruelties that were tried there in a highly artificial yet direct manner.« Damstädter Echo

»Peter Weiss is one of the most interesting dramatists writing now […] To accept his work plain is to miss the whole point; he seems to want to put on stage huge explosions of the instinctual life, instincts that have become politicized, but are not merely politics.« Elizabeth Hardwick, The New York Review of Books

»Must be counted among the most important European authors of the 20th century.« The Complete Review

Other publications

Die Ästhetik des Widerstands/The Aesthetics of Resistance (1981)

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Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade/The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat (1968)

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Abschied von den Eltern/Leavetaking (1961)

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