Busch, Ernst

(1900-1980)
   Actor. Busch began his career as an actor with the Kiel City Theater in 1921. He moved to Berlin in 1923 searching for work, but found little on offer until 1927, when the Volksbühne offered him several roles. By that time, however, he had established himself as a cabaret singer in numerous Berlin venues. In 1928 Erich Engel and Bertolt Brecht cast him in Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera), and he appeared in Georg Wilhelm Pabst's 1931 film version. In the late 1920s, Busch had begun recording songs extolling class consciousness and the German Communist Party, many of which were part of his cabaret act. Up to the National Socialist election victories and their ultimate takeover of government in 1933, he had the image of a genuine working-class hero instead of an actor.
   Busch fled to Amsterdam in March 1933 and later to London; in 1934 he presented his cabaret act in Zurich and Paris, and in 1936 he toured the Soviet Union. In 1937 Busch fought against Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War, but with the Nationalist victory in Spain, he escaped again to Amsterdam. Busch was in France when the Germans conquered that country, and he was arrested and interned in various camps. In 1943 the Gestapo in Paris sent him to Berlin, where he was tried for high treason and sentenced to death. There is substantial evidence that Gustaf Gründgens intervened on his behalf and got his sentence reduced to four years at hard labor. At any rate, he was still alive in the Moabit prison when Soviet troops conquered Berlin in April 1945.
   Busch began working steadily at the Deutsches Theater in 1945, and in 1946 he was instrumental in helping Gründgens gain his release from Soviet custody, since Busch's credentials as a Communist Party member were impeccable. He worked with Brecht beginning in 1949, appearing in several Berliner Ensemble productions, most notably playing Azdak in Der kaukasische Kreidekreis (The Caucasian Chalk Circle) in 1954. In 1957 he played the title role in Engel's Berliner Ensemble production of Leben des Galilei (The Life of Galileo) at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm.
   Busch's career as an actor flourished until late 1960, when he had a serious falling out with the leadership of the Socialist Unity party that ruled East Germany. There were reports that he had slapped the face of Erich Honecker, the rising star of the party who was later to become its boss. The contretemps with Honecker did little to advance Busch's work as an actor, and most observers at the time felt that Busch's retirement "for health reasons" (he lived another two decades) lent credence to reports that he had become persona non grata with the regime. Still, the shooting for the film version of Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder (Mother Courage and Her Children), with Helene Weigel reprising her stage work in the title role, was already complete, and the film's release in 1961 was allowed to proceed despite Busch's prominent presence in it (he played the cook).
   Busch's recording career continued unhindered through the 1960s and 1970s. He was considered, even by party stalwarts, to be the interpreter of Hanns Eisler's (1898-1962) music nonpareil, and Eisler himself described Busch as "the singing heart of the German working class."

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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