Wagner and Hitler        

copyright © 2000, 2002 by Larry Solomon

Wagner's Racist Operas, the Blinding Truth

Wagner caricature by K. Klic, Humoristlische Blätter, Vienna, 1873 All Jews should be burned at a performance of Nathan the Wise.{1}

Only one thing can redeem you (Jews) from the burden of your curse: the redemption of Ahasverus -- total destruction.{2}

"cursed Jew-scum" {3}

I have cherished a long repressed resentment about this Jew money-world, and this hatred is as necessary to my nature as gall is to blood.{4}

By removing [Jewish] vermin, I don't necessarily mean destroying them . . . There are many ways, systematic, and comparatively painless, or at any rate bloodless, of causing races to vanish . . . We may take systematic measures to dam their great natural fertility . . . By doing this gradually and without bloodshed, we demonstrate our humanity.{5}

The Jew is the parasite in the body of other nations.{6}

The Jew must not be destroyed, because then "we should have to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an absract one."{6b}

hich of the above statements were by Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) and which were by Richard Wagner (1813-1883)? Most would agree that all of these statements share the brand of racism, and they use "Jew" as an expletive. It would come as no surprise if we discovered that they were all Hitler's. Hindsight is always the best sight, but the fact is that all but the last three came from Wagner. If they were Hitler's no one would be offering excuses. However, since they were Wagner's statements, his apologists react defensively. After all, they say, what actual harm did Wagner really do?

I hope to show in this essay how devastating Wagner's legacy was, and in some ways still is. The evidence comes from the composer himself, from his "music dramas", diaries, letters, and essays. The fact is, that although Hitler was responsible for ordering the destruction of millions of innocent Jews and other "aliens", it would be difficult to find public statements by him calling for greater destruction than the above by Richard Wagner. In fact, scholars are still trying to find Hitler's order for the Holocaust, and most of his public statements were more moderate than those cited by Wagner.

Wagner apologists have had to acknowledge Wagner's racism, since there is no way to deny something that was so well documented by Wagner himself. Recognizing that they cannot defend him on that ground, they then deny that any racism is expressed in his "music dramas". Some, after peeling away the veneer of fairy tales, are horrified at what they discover in the dramas, as was Thomas Mann in 1940. So, they then try to defend the music by divorcing it from the drama, which is completely contrary to the mandate of the composer's Gesamtkunstwerke [Total Works of Art], which will be respected here. They naively claim that music alone is amoral, i.e., that it cannot communicate any moral or political messages. As such, the operas are stripped down to mere tone relations in order to prevent and insulate them from the identification of possible racist propaganda.

"Genius", "masterpieces", and "greatness" have also been used as excuses for Wagner and his music, terms that came out of the very romantic-nationalist Kultur that claimed the superiority of German music in the first place. This value-ridden rhetoric can no longer be presumed justified or meaningful without a convincing argument.

With all that is now known, it is clear that under the spell of compelling, emotionally charged music, Wagner's apologists are deluding themselves and insist on wearing critical blinders. Compare the following two citations:

The first is a statement from a Wagner apologist in the 1990s. Mahler (1860-1911), on the other hand, was a contemporary of Wagner and was intimately familiar with both the operas, which he conducted (Hitler himself saw Mahler's productions {8b}), and the cultural sensibilities of the time in which he lived. Not only does Mahler's statement demonstrate an immediate recognition of Wagner's stereotypical Jew, it also shows his submission to these stereotypes, and a willingness to deprecate himself in a pathetic act of self-hatred. It is known that Jews who witnessed productions at that time immediately siezed upon what they believed to be their invidious representation by Wagner, especially after his freshly published essay, Judaism in Music in 1850. They rose up in protest when they identified Wagner's Beckmesser as a mocking depiction of Jews at the premiere performances of Meistersinger in Vienna and Mannheim {9}.

The racist agendas of Wagner's operas is revealed in the detailed and faithfully kept diaries of his wife, Cosima. She frequently referred to Wagners' friend, Arthur de Gobineau, the French racial theorist and author of The Inequality of the Races, which gained widespread acceptance in European communities, thanks to Wagner's assiduous promotion. Gobineau's theories corroborated what he himself had already decided about the "noble and ignoble" races. In Cosima's diary entry of October 17, 1882, she reported:

. . . in the evening the third act of Siegfried, well played by Herr Rubinstein, pleases both him and us. "That is Gobineau music" Richard says as he comes in, "that is race. Where else will you find two such beings looking at each other! Here is just forest and rocks and water and nothing rotten in it." {10}

Wagner himself is here pointing out a racial metaphor in his own music! Thus, on the authority of the composer himself, it is no longer possible to deny that racial ideas have a direct and purposeful connection to his music. This opens up the entire field for such interpretation, which will be pursued here.

This statement also verifies the composer's race distinction based on appearance. According to Gobineau {11} and Wagner, it is by recognizing similarity through appearance that enables Aryans to bond together and separate themselves from the inferior races.

Wagner was too clever to identify Jews in his music dramas, especially after he had received critical reactions to his essay Judaism in Music, which he first published under a pseudonym. Of course, the reason for using a pseudonym was due to a justified fear of reaction. At the same time he was engaged in writing the anti-Semitic Ring cycle. After that, he backed off somewhat from offending his Jewish patrons, conductors, and performers, because they provided a substantial part of his support. But he was not about to abandon his virulent racism either (he republished Judaism in Music in 1869 under his own name), which permeates all aspects of his music dramas through metaphorical suggestion. Wagner is always just a step away from actually calling his evil characters "Jews", even though it was obvious to his contemporaries.

Nevertheless, his hatred was so profound (and thus bound to appear in his operas), that he let it slip in his essay Know Thyself. He wrote, ". . . if the Jew comes tinkling with his bell of paper [money], (our nation) throws its savings at his feet, and makes him in one night a millionaire. . . ." {12}

Here Wagner indicts the Jews and metaphorically links them to the Niebelungs, the curse, demons, goblins, and the lust for gold in the Ring drama. Thus, according to Wagner himself, it is Alberich, the greedy merchant Jew, who becomes the power-crazed goblin-demon lusting after Aryan maidens, attempting to contaminate their blood, and who sacrifices his lust in order to acquire the gold (his "pocket-book"), which would make him the "spectral world-controller".

Mime fares even worse, depicted as a stinking ghetto Jew. Siegfried, the Ring's hero, who knows no fear and is free of conscience, hates him merely for his appearance and smell: ". . . that shuffling and slinking, those eyelids blinking -- how long must I endure this sight? When shall I be rid of this fool? I'd like to catch you and end your shrinking and stop your blinking! So deeply, Mime, do I loathe you." After being nearly choked to death, Siegfried brutally murders Mime with the sword, Nothung. This is Mime's reward for having raised Siegfried, like a father, from birth. Since Siegfried represents the conscience-free, fearless Teuton, he feels no remorse. Wagner's music would have us justify Siegfried's form of personal vengeance. He is glorified as the warrior hero of the Ring, the archtypal proto-Nazi.

Moreover, as with Beckmesser in Meistersinger, Wagner cast the voices of Alberich and Mime in an abnormally high register and gives them tritones and other awkward intervals to sing, which make their voices creak, shreek, croak, and buzz, just as he described the speech of Jews in Judaism in Music, "in an arbitrary distortion of our national idiom." These characters are also typecast in the opera productions as small, humpback, sulphurous, crooked, drab, and warty, as Siegfried describes Mime. (Where and when have Alberich and Mime ever been cast as tall, blond, blue-eyed Aryans?)

Wagner knew very well that to use Jewish names for his evil characters, or to call them Jews, would reduce his high-minded Gesamtkunstwerke (Total Artworks) and "Artwork of the Future" to artless, obvious, and vulgar political tracts. His intent was far more artful and covert, but nevertheless still political: to reach his audience on an emotional, subliminal level, bypassing their critical faculties.

I shall within these four evenings succeed in artistically conveying my purpose to the emotional -- not the critical -- understanding of the spectators. (Wagner's italics) {14}

In other passages of Opera and Drama he cautions against arousing any critical reason in audiences. Thus, Wagner clearly reveals his covert and insidious program of bypassing any critical assessment, and appealing directly to the now vulnerable intuitive and emotional being. Just when "spectators" have lowered their guard and are open to powerful emotional suggestions, veiled political metaphors are compellingly enforced by larger-than-life voices and a huge orchestra heavy with brass and percussion. (One is here reminded of the emotional power of Hitler's speeches.) Wagner musters all his musical powers to convince us that Siegfried's brutal murders are completely justified and even glorious, and he succeeds, for rarely does anyone question Siegfried's violent actions.

There was no need to name names or identify the "Jew". Much of his contemporary audience of both Germans and Jews knew very well who he was depicting, and those who didn't would get the message subliminally. (Nowadays, the more powerful subliminal message dominates.) He did not want his audience to take a critical view, but to uncritically accept the more powerful emotional one. The same appeal to uncritical emotions and attempt to evade critical reason is promoted in Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, where he describes how crowds are to be persuaded and manipulated.

Wagner's racist ideology is contained in letters, diaries, and essays such as Modern, What is German?, Know Thyself, and Judaism in Music, and reaches Nazi proportions in his last racist essay, Herodom and Christendom. Here, all the racist historical models from Luther to Fichte, Feuerbach, Gobineau, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Chamberlain, come to full maturity, when he wrote:

We cannot withold our acknowledgment that the human family consists of irredemiably disparate races, whereof the noble could rule the ignoble, yet never raise them to their level by commixture, but simply sink to theirs. Indeed this one relation might suffice to explain our fall. . .Whilst yellow races have viewed themselves as sprung from monkeys, the white traced back their origin to gods, and deemed themselves marked out for rulership. It has been made quite clear that we should have no History of Man at all, had there been no movements, creations, and achievements of the white man. . . Incomparably fewer in number than the lower races, the ruin of the white races may be referred to their having been obliged to mix with them; whereby, as remarked already, they suffered more from the loss of their purity than the others could gain by the ennobling of their blood. . . Nowhere in history do the root qualities of the Aryan race show forth more plainly than in the contact of the last pure-bred Germanic branches with the falling Roman world. . . . .
        It was a weighty feature of the Christian Church that none but sound and healthy persons were admitted to the vow of total world renunciation; any bodily defect, not to say mutilation, unfitted them. Manifestly, this vow was to be regarded as issuing from the most heroic of all possible resolves, and he who sees in it a "cowardly self-surrender" -- as someone recently suggested, may bravely exult in his own self-retention, but had best not meddle any further with things that don't concern him. . . .
        It certainly may be right to charge this purblind dullness of our public spirit to the vitiation of our blood -- not only by departure from the natural food of man, but above all by the tainting of the hero-blood of the noblest races with that of former cannibals now trained to be the business agents of Society.
{15}

These "cannibals now trained to be business agents of Society" were the Jews. Cosima recorded in her Diaries, in 1879:

Richard is in favor of expelling them entirely. We laugh to think that it really seems as if his article on the Jews marked the beginning of this struggle. {16}

Thus, Cosima exposes their glee at the influence of Judaism in Music and in expelling Jews entirely. When news of Russian massacre of the Jews in August 1881 reached Wagner, she recorded him saying:

That is the only way it can be done -- by throwing these people out and thrashing them. {17}

Wagner's ideology is not only violently anti-Semitic, it is anti-Christian, following the lead of Nietzsche. Christianity was vilified because it was contaminated by Judaism. Wagner wrote:

Judaism is the evil conscience of our modern civilization. {18}

The significance of this proclamation is easily missed. Wagner here complains about a conscience, hence morality, with which the Jews have contaminated Christianity, and then German Volk. "Jews," he said, "are the evil conscience of mankind". This conscience is an affliction that must be cast off, because it has prevented the Volk from pursuing their Noth, i.e., the need to recognize their own racial superiority ("know thyself") and their destiny to rule the world. This is further clarified by Houston Smith Chamberlain, Wagner's son-in-law and racial theorist. Jews, said Chamberlain, are afflicted with a guilty conscience, a sense of sin, and this Jewish guilt infected Christianity. It was an evil influence on the Teutonic spirit, specifically on its Noth, or need of the "noble races to rule the ignoble". This idea of racial Noth (which can only be felt by the Volk) has its roots in Fichte, Hegel, and Feuerbach. Only Germans (Volk, not to be confused with "folk", is restricted to Germans) are privileged to feel the gemeinschaftliche Noth (the collective need). Thus, Noth takes the place of conscience and law, represents the righteousness of the German mob, and is similar to the American concept of "lynch law".

Wagner's statement was later echoed by Hitler:

Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish, like circumcision. {18b}

Once this conscience is swept away, the German soul is purified and becomes privileged to pursue desires and needs free of any guilt, later making possible the Holocaust. This is why Siegfried feels no guilt when he slays Mime. Wagner's personal life reflects this belief in action. He used people for his personal gain and seemed to love only himself. His lack of conscience is reflected in his appropriation of friends' wives and daughters, his many betrayals, his self-righteous flight from creditors, and his callous treatment of those who could not be of use to him. His hatred of people in general is expressed in the following citation:

My entire political creed consists of nothing but the bloodiest hatred for our whole civilization, contempt for all things deriving from it, and a longing for nature . . . . In all Europe I prefer dogs to these dog-like men . . . . Only the most horrific and destructive revolution could make our civilized beasts "human" again. {19}

Feuerbach's Noth finds expression in the Ring as the sword, called Nothung, or "Need-ung". Once more, this disproves the apologists' claim that Wagner's politics do not enter his music. The sword Nothung, a weapon exclusive to murder and war, is glorified in the Ring. Its motive is cast in the brightest key, C major, as a rising, optimistic, blasting arpeggio. Wagner tries to dazzle us with its blazing music. The music tells us how wonderful the instruments of war are, and the composer even closely allies it with the Nature motive, which implies that war and murder are, after all, only natural.

Only Siegmund can draw Nothung from the world ash tree, only Wotan can smash it to pieces, and only Siegfried can reforge it again. These are the German gods and their progeny, the Volk (called Volsungs in the drama), destined to rule all other inferior races, if only they would recognize their need (Noth) for racial purity. Mime's is a futile attempt of the Niebelung Jew who will never succeed in forging Nothung, because he is incapable of feeling the collective need.

But what Noth does the sword represent? Siegmund's need seems to be for a weapon to defend himself against Hunding, but it is much more than that. And, what is Siegfried's need in forging Nothung? Marc Weiner most aptly expressed the answer:

Little wonder that the sword's name is Nothung or "Need-ung"; just as his Volsung father as a representative of the Volk had been driven to the sword in the hour of his "highest need", so Siegfried-as-Volk will claim Nothung in the hour in which he liberates himself from his foreign dwarf-father, a representative of the Volk's enemy, the Jew, and in so doing metaphorically raises aloft the Artwork of the Future, an instrument for the destruction of non-German art and of foreign presence in the realm of the future Volk. {20}

For Wagner only German art was worthy of being called Kunst (Art), but even then only if it wasn't made by Jews like Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer. This could have been a cue for Hitler's "Degenerate Art" exhibit of the 1930s, when he vilified "non-Germanic art".

A denial of the importance of the political and racial metaphors in Wagner's operas reduces his dramas to mere fairy tales. Wagner himself would have laughed at such naivety. Symbolism and metaphorical representation have long been documented in these works. To deny that racist tracts, like Judaism in Music, have no representation in his operas is particularly naive. By the same "logic", his other essays, such as Opera and Drama and Artwork of the Future would also have no bearing on his music, but no one claims that. In fact, Wagner himself stated the opposite. His prose works compile an ideology meant to bear upon and become manifest in his music.

In summary, the evidence shows that Wagner's racist ideology is not just expressed in his operas, but is strong enough to support the contention that this ideology is the very reason that Wagner wrote them.

Indeed, his mature, post-revolutionary music dramas, written and composed in conjunction with diverse social-aesthetic anti-Semitic tracts, constitute dramatic representations of the ideas found in his writings. Many Wagner scholars have been at great pains to dissociate his theories from the dramatic works for which he is largely remembered today, and especially to disavow any connection between his racism and his most celebrated Total Works of Art, but comparison of these works with motifs and arguments in Wagner's prose writings demonstrates that the former are dramatic enactments of Wagner's theories concerning the preservation of the German community threatened by the Jew in the modern world. {21}

Thus, Wagner's operas can be seen as tools of racist, proto-Nazi hate propaganda, written for the purpose of redeeming the German race from Jewish contamination, and for expelling the Jews from Germany. In 1993, Gottfried Wagner, the great-grandson of the composer, in an act of self-imposed moral obligation and great personal sacrifice, restored to his roots the conscience that Wagner and Hitler took away. He wrote:

Wagner himself misused music as a vehicle of propaganda. Where arguments about Wagner are concerned, Germans quickly lose their sense of humor. With Wagner the German soul becomes exalted! Woe betide anyone who questions Wagner . . . . {22}

Richard Wagner, through his inflammatory anti-Semitic writings, was co-responsible for the transition from Bayreuth to Auschwitz. {23}

From the composer himself:

Consider well my new poem; it contains the beginning and the end of the world [referring to the Ring]. I shall have to set it to music, after all, for the Jews of Frankfort and Leipzig; it will justly suit them. {24}

Why did Wagner write this "for the Jews"? And why does it "justly suit them"? How can this statement be construed as other than a racist agenda? After early denials, by 1940 even the ardent Wagnerite, German novelist and essayist Thomas Mann, recognized Nazi propaganda in Wagner's operas.

I find an element of Nazism , not only in Wagner's questionable literature: I find it also in his "music", in his [creative] work, similarly questionable, though in a loftier sense -- albeit I have so loved that work that even today I am deeply stirred whenever a few bars of music from this world impinge upon my ear. .. The Ring emerges from the bourgeois-humanist epoch in the same manner as Hitlerism. With its...mixture of roots-in-the-soil and eyes-toward-the-future, its appeal for a classless society, its mythical-revolutionism it is the exact spiritual forerunner of the "metapolitical" movement today terrorizing the world. {24b}

Wagner's Influence on Hitler and the Holocaust

Hitler as Lohengrin, captured German painting, U.S. Army I have an enormous desire to commit artistic terrorism. [Richard Wagner] {25}

"With the exception of Richard Wagner", Hitler wrote, "I have no forerunner." {26}

Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must first know Wagner. [Adolf Hitler] {26b}

There is probably no other composer in history who had a greater impact on world events than did Richard Wagner, and his devastating political legacy is second only to Adolf Hitler. The fact that racism was common in Germany, Austria, and other European countries has been used as an excuse for Wagner (and even for Hitler). But Wagner was not just a musician. He was a national hero and powerful political force to be reckoned with. Writers, philosophers, and politicians testified to his profound influence. His idolatry by King Ludwig II of Bavaria was an example of Wagner's political influence, an influence that was felt throughout Germany. (Among other things, Ludwig helped finance the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which was designed specifically by Wagner for the performance of his operas.)

The circle closes here that Wagner had already begun to forge in 1850: the idea of the festival was realized as the Bayreuth Festival, which was very soon to have a propaganda effect all over Germany. Added to this were Wagner Societies springing up everywhere, that appeared in the German-nationalistc Bayreuther Blätter. From the beginning of the festival, then, anti-Semitism and racism were among the ingredients of the Bayreuth opera undertaking, whether implicit or explicit. Wagner's anti-Semitism was closely connected to this. {27}

Wagner and Adolf Hitler had so much in common, that it is difficult, at times, to keep them separate. They were both rabid racists. Both were artists and politicians (Wagner, a would-be politician and Hitler a would-be artist). Both feared they had Jewish paternity, which led to fierce denial and destructive hatred.

The following are other beliefs that Wagner and Hitler shared:

As a young man Hitler fancied himself as a composer and artist, modeling himself after his idol, Richard Wagner. He attended Wagner opera productions obsessively and boasted that he had read everything that the master wrote. In 1904 or 1905, while attending the Linz Opera Theater, he met a young Czech musician named August Kubizek, who later published Adolf Hitler -- Mein Jungenfreund (The Young Hitler I Knew, 1953). It presents one of the few portraits of Hitler's formative years, and much of it has since been documented. This book reveals how Wagner became a model for Hitler's ideas.

The young Hitler was aspiring to be an artist and managed a meager subsistence by painting postcards. Kubizek had attended the Linz School of Music, and so was a training musician. The two became inseparable during these early years, and shared their enthusiasm for Wagner's works. They experienced and discussed many musical productions that occurred locally. While Kubizek had broader musical interests, Hitler insisted on the superiority of Wagner's music. Hitler obsessed about attending every possible Wagner production, no matter how poor.

Then one day the pair went to see a performance of Wagner's Rienzi (probably 1905-6). This became a decisive event for the teenaged Hitler, as he was to refer to it after he came to power. It is worth quoting Kubizek's entire account of this extraordinary event.

It was the most impressive hour I ever lived through with my friend. So unforgettable is it, that even the most trivial things, the clothes Adolf wore that evening, the weather, are still present in my mind as though the experience were exempt from the passing of time.

Adolf stood outside my house in his black overcoat, his dark hat pulled down over his face. It was a cold, unpleasant November evening. He waved to me impatiently. I was just cleaning myself up from the workshop and getting ready to go to the theatre. Rienzi was being given that night. We had never seen this Wagner opera and looked forward to it with great excitement. In order to secure the pillars in the Promenade we had to be early. Adolf whistled, to hurry me up.

Now we were in the theatre, burning with enthusiasm, and living breathlessly through Rienzi's rise to be the Tribune of the people of Rome and his subsequent downfall. When at last it was over, it was past midnight. My friend, his hands thrust into his coat pockets, silent and withdrawn, strode through the streets and out of the city. Usually, after an artistic experience that had moved him, he would start talking straight away, sharply criticising the performance, but after Rienzi he remained quiet a long while. This surprised me, and I asked him what he thought of it. He threw me a strange, almost hostile glance. "Shut up!" he said brusquely.

The cold, damp mist lay oppressively over the narrow streets. Our solitary steps resounded on the pavement. Adolf took the road that led up to the Freinberg. Without speaking a word, he strode foward. He looked almost sinister, and paler than ever. His turned-up coat collar increased this impression.

I wanted to ask him, "Where are you going?" But his pallid face looked so forbidding that I suppressed the question.

As if propelled by an invisible force, Adolf climbed up to the top of the Freinberg. And only now did I realise that we were no longer in solitude and darkness, for the stars shone brilliantly above us.

Adolf stood in front of me; and now he gripped both my hands and held them tight. He had never made such a gesture before. I felt from the grasp of his hands how deeply moved he was. His eyes were feverish with excitement. The words did not come smoothly from his mouth as they usually did, but rather erupted, hoarse and raucous. From his voice I could tell even more how much this experience had shaken him.

Gradually his speech loosened, and the words flowed more freely. Never before and never again have I heard Adolf Hitler speak as he did in that hour, as we stood there alone under the stars, as though we were the only creatures in the world.

I cannot repeat every word that my friend uttered. I was struck by something strange, which I had never noticed before, even when he had talked to me in moments of the greatest excitement. It was as if another being spoke out of his body, and moved him as much as it did me. It wasn't at all a case of a speaker being carried away by his own words. On the contrary; I rather felt as though he himself listened with astonishment and emotion to what burst forth from him with elementary force. I will not attempt to interpret this phenomenon, but it was a state of complete ecstasy and rapture, in which he transferred the character of Rienzi, without even mentioning him as a model or example, with visionary power to the plane of his own ambitions. But it was more than a cheap adaptation. Indeed, the impact of the opera was rather a sheer external impulse which compelled him to speak. Like flood waters breaking their dykes, his words burst forth from him. He conjured up in grandiose, inspiring pictures his own future and that of his people.

Hitherto I had been convinced that my friend wanted to become an artist, a painter, or perhaps an architect. Now this was no longer the case. Now he aspired to something higher, which I could not yet fully grasp. It rather surprised me, as I thought that the vocation of the artist was for him the highest, most desirable goal. But now he was talking of a mandate which, one day, he would receive from the people, to lead them out of servitude to the heights of freedom.

It was an unknown youth who spoke to me in that strange hour. He spoke of a special mission which one day would be entrusted to him, and I, his only listener, could hardly understand what he meant. Many years had to pass before I realised the significance of this enraptured hour for my friend.

His words were followed by silence.

We descended into the town. The clock struck three. We parted in front of my house. Adolf shook hands with me, and I was astonished to see that he did not go in the direction of his home, but turned again towards the mountains.

"Where are you going now?" I asked him, surprised. He replied briefly, "I want to be alone." {28}

Hitler never forgot this decisive moment. In 1939, after he had become the German Chancellor, he visited Wagner's daughter-in-law, Winifred Wagner in Bayreuth. Upon recounting the event he exclaimed, "It was in that hour that it all began"{29}. Thus, we hear from Hitler himself how influential Wagner and his music was on his later life and political ideals. The prelude to Rienzi was often used at Nazi rallies and prefaced Hitler's speeches.

Hitler flanked by Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner Hitler often visited Wagner's heirs at Villa Wahnfried (Wagner's home) in Bayreuth during his war years and rise to power. Bayreuth became a respite and Wagnerian shrine for him and other Nazi leaders. Wagner's family made a cult out of Hitler and considered him to be Germany's savior. Hitler played with Wagner's grandchildren, of whom Wieland and Wolfgang later headed the Bayreuth Festival, and told them stories of his adventures. When he visited on September 30, 1923, Wagner's 86 year old widow Cosima embraced and kissed him. At the same meeting he was warmly welcomed by Wagner's son, Siegfried, his wife Winifred, and son-in-law, the racial theorist, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who called Hitler "God's gift to Germany". Chamberlain forms one of the living links between Richard Wagner and Adolf Hitler. He was friends with and revered them both. His racial theory of the destiny of superior Aryans to rule inferior races, as expressed in his Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), was embraced by both the composer, Cosima, and other Wagner heirs. Hitler found the approval of the Wagner family and Chamberlain to be a rally for his political goals. Chamberlain immediately wrote to Hitler:

With one blow you have transformed the state of my soul . . . that Germany, in the hour of her greatest need brings forth a Hitler that is proof of her vitality. {30}

Thus, Hitler was the Messiah that Wagner's legacy longed for. Wagner's son, Siegfried, and his wife Winifred, who ran Bayreuth during the Nazi era, were also anti-Semites and idolized Adolf Hitler. A special annex was built at Wahnfried for Hitler to welcome his visits. Winifred wrote:

For years we have been following with the greatest inner sympathy and approval the uplifting work of Adolf Hitler, this German man who, filled with ardent love for his fatherland, is sacrificing his life for his idea of a purified, united, national greater Germany, who has set himself the task of opening the eyes of the working class to the enemy within . . . . {31}

And Siegfried wrote:

The times of the Spanish Inquisition have returned. Perjury and betrayal are sanctified, and Jew and Jesuit are working hand in glove to exterminate Germanness! But perhaps Satan has miscalculated this time. Should the German cause really succumb, then I'll believe in Jehova, the god of revenge and hatred. My wife is fighting like a lioness for Hitler -- first rate! {32}

The young Hitler was so taken with Wagner and his music that at one point, around 1907, he decided to write a "Wagnerian" opera. Although he had had no musical training, he did not consider this an obstacle. His plan was to have "Gustl" (Hitler's nickname for Kubizek) write down the notes as he (Hitler) banged out his conception on the piano. For some reason, Kubizek agreed to this. When he learned through his schooling that Wagner had written a sketch for the Edda legend Wieland the Smith as a topic for one of his music dramas (found in Wagner's posthumous notes), Hitler siezed on the topic and was determined to complete the project unrealized by his hero. "Listen Gustl, I am going to make Wieland into an opera." {33}

Wieland the Smith is a ghoulish Icelandic legend that was attractive to both Wagner and Hitler. Kubizek described it as follows: "King Nidur is entirely motived by avarice and greed . . . Wieland kills his sons out of vengeance, rapes his daughter, and drinks from beakers fashioned out of the skulls of his sons." {34} Hitler did not even flinch at this, but Wagner's version doesn't seem to bear much resemblance to it.

Hitler's conception was grandiose, with Icelandic erupting volcanos, glaciers, old Teutonic instruments, Wagnerian tubas, Walkures riding through clouds, winged metal helmets, etc. In spite of unrealistic determination and unrelenting energy, the opera eventually bogged down and was left unfinished, no doubt due to his lack of musical ability. Even so, it would be fascinating to see the notes and a production of this fragment for its historical significance. If it still exists, it would be a fitting Bayreuth production.

Years later, Hitler associates drew parallels between Hitler's studied methods of public speaking and Wagner's use of leitmotifs. Hitler used endless repetition, thundering crescendi, and rhythmic speech to mesmerize his audiences. He studied theories of mob control, such as Gustave Le Bon's Crowd (1895), and it is clear that he used Le Bon's theory to manipulate and control his audiences. Ernst Hanfstaengel, one of Hitler's political musicians, often played Wagner's music to Hitler on the piano, and he noticed that when he played the Meistersinger prelude, one of Hitler's favorites,

. . . .whole interweavings of leitmotifs, of embellishments of counterpoint, and musical contrast and arguments, were exactly mirrored in the patterns of his [Hitler's] speeches, which were symphonic in construction and ended in a great climax, like the blare of Wagner's trombones. {35}

My baton will yet become the scepter of the future Hanfstaengel also referred to Hitler's arm movements while speaking as similar to those of a conductor swinging a baton.

Later, while in Landsberg prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to the thunder of Wagner's music played on grammaphone records. The paper for Mein Kampf was supplied by Winifred Wagner. She believed that Hitler would "pull the sword out of the German oak" and save Germany from Jewish corruption. {36} Thus, Winifred drew this political metaphor from Wagner's Walkure, when Siegmund pulls the sword out of the world ash tree. After the war and revelation of Hitler's extermination camps, she maintained that the Holocaust was a lie made up by American Jews. {37}

The influence of Wagner's music upon Hitler cannot be overestimated. For him, they were fantasies to be made real. During the rise of National Socialism, and before Hitler came to power, he predicted the end of the great world conflagration that was to come, and for which he would be responsible.

Hitler hummed motifs from Wagner's operas. He seemed to me preoccupied and moody . From having been communicative, he fell suddenly into a dry silence. The political movement was in danger. National Socialism was approaching one of its crises. The Party was in a well-nigh desperate position. But Hitler's every word rang with the firm conviction that he would soon be in power, and be able to lead the German people to a new destiny. We spoke of the result of the war, and the tragical turn of all German victories. "We shall not capitulate -- no, never," Hitler exclaimed. "we may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us -- a world in flames." He hummed a characteristic motif from the Götterdämmerung. {37b}

Parsifal, the last of Wagner's music dramas, is possibly his most racist opera. Hitler claimed:

"Out of Parsifal I have made a religion." [Adolf Hitler] {38}

What did Hitler mean by this provocative statement?

Wagner intended Parsifal to be a profound religious parable about how the whole essence of European humanity had been poisoned by alien, inhuman, Jewish values. It is an allegory of the Judaization of Christianity and of Germany -- and of purifying redemption. In place of theological purity, the secularized religion of Parsifal preached the new doctrine of racial purity, which was reflected in the moral and indeed religious, purity of Parsifal himself. In Wagner's mind, this redeeming purity was infringed by Jews, just as devils and witches infringed the purity of traditional Christianity. In this scheme, it is axiomatic that compassion and redemption have no application to the inexorably damned Judaized Klingsor and hence the Jews. {39}

Siegfried Hitler by George Grosz Hitler explained his own interpretation of Parsifal to one of his associates in 1934:

Behind the absurd externals of the story, with its Christian embroidery and Good Friday mystification, something altogether different is revealed as the true content of this most profound drama. It is not the Christian religion of compassion that is acclaimed, but pure noble blood . . . The king is suffering from the incurable ailment of corrupted blood. The unitiated but pure [Parsifal] is tempted to abandon himself in Klingsor's magic garden to the lusts and excesses of corrupt civilization [Kundry] . . . For myself, I have the most intimate familiarity with Wagner's mental processes. At every stage of my life I come back to him . . . If we strip Parsifal of every poetic element, we learn from it that selection and renewal are possible only amid the continuous tension of a lasting struggle. {40}

Thus, Hitler clearly understood the racist agenda of Parsifal. Only Wagner apologists are left to wear blinders. The subtext of racist metaphors has not diminished in Wagner's operas, so they will continue to exert a subliminal influence. To deny this is akin to the same kind of denial that today's violent TV, movies, and subliminal advertising have no effect on young people.

The word "struggle" (kampf) is a code word that appears in the writings of Wagner, his heirs, and Hitler (Mein Kampf). It was not an abstract "struggle" against some unknown force, but referred specifically to the struggle against the Jews and other "aliens". Another code word was "Wolf", which referred to the god Wotan in the Ring operas, and to Hitler by Wagner's heirs, and even by Hitler as a reference to himself. Thus, we hear of the "Wolf's Lair" as a reference to Hitler's sanctuary during the war. Barbarosa was another code word shared by Wagner and Hitler. This word specified the "struggle" as war and has its root in the word "barbaric" or "barbarian", a metaphor for the proud return of the German people to their barbarous roots, free of conscience, and therefore free to wage war and havoc. Barbarosa was the ancient Teuton-hero/warrior, the original ruthless barbarian.

Of course, none of this proves that Wagner "caused" the Holocaust, yet there can be no doubt that he and his music were partly responsible. He wasn't there, but to speculate that he wouldn't have been a staunch Hitler supporter, as were his heirs of the Nazi years, is simply blind denial.

During the years of the Nazi rise to power in Germany, music history began to be rewritten by German musicologists to conform to Nazi political ideology. Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, and Mahler were vilified and their music lost favor among audiences and performers. At the same time Wagner was elevated to a godlike status and his music was officially sanctioned. Musicologists began to quote from Wagner's racist essays as support for the Nazi agenda purging all Jewish and non-German influences. Since history is written by the victors, if the Nazis had won the war, one can only imagine what music history would be like today. Certainly, it would be a very different tale.

The historic significance of Wagner's racism would be much diminished if it had not been for Hitler and the Nazi Holocaust. Even then it could not be isolated and seen merely as the unfortunate aberration of a composer obsessed with bigotry. Nevertheless, that is how apologists try to excuse Wagner and his music from their consequences. History is rightfully and unavoidably seen through the lens of the present. Thereby, the horrific consequences of Wagner's racist legacy cannot be denied or diminished.

Notes

1. Wagner, C., Diaries, December 19, 1881
2. Wagner, "Judaism in Music" from Prose Works
3. Wagner, Sämtliche Briefe, ( December 13, 1834) Strobel and Wolf, eds, 1987, 177
4. Wagner, in Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, April 18, 1851
5. Rauschning, 137
6. Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1962, 305
6b. Rauschning, 237.
7. Borchmeyer, Dieter. "The Question of Anti-Semitism" in Wagner Handbook, Ulrich Muller & Peter Wapnewski, eds. Harvard, 1992, 183
8. Rose, 71
8b. Kubizek, 189
9. Weiner, 123
10. Wagner, C., Diaries, October 17, 1882
11.Gobineau, Arthur de. The Inequality of the Races, A. Collins, trans, London, 1915
12. Wagner, Prose Works, "Know Thyself"
13. Wagner, Prose Works, "Know Thyself"
14. Wagner, Prose Works I, "Communication to my Friends", 391
15. Wagner, Prose Works, excerpts from "Herodom and Christendom"
16. Wagner, C., Diaries, October 11, 1879
17. Wagner, C., Diaries, August 14, 1881
18. Wagner, Prose Works, "Judaism in Music"
18b. Rauschning, 223
19. Wagner, letter to Kietz, December 30, 1851, in Selected Letters of Richard Wagner, trans. Spenser and Millington, 243
20. Weiner, 90
21. Weiner, 65
22. Wagner, G., 239
23. Wagner, G., 256
24. Wagner, letter to Franz Liszt, February 11, 1853
24b.Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner, trans. London, 1985, 201f, also cited in Rose
25. Wagner, Selected Letters, 171
26. Zalampas, 60
26b. Waite, 113
27. Wagner, G., 66
28. Kubizek, 98-101
29. Kubizek, 101; Zalampas, 14
30. Rose, 48
31. Wagner, G., 70
32. Wagner, G., 71
33. Kubizek, 195
34. Kubizek, 194
35. Hanfstaengl, 87, 68; see also Zalampas, 42
36. Zalampas, 48
37. Wagner, G., 61
37b. Rauschning, 5; this statement was recorded by Rauschning as made in 1932, before Hitler came to power.
38. Zalampas, 48
39. Rose, 166
40. Rauschning, 230

References

Baynes, N.H. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, 1942
Chamberlain, Houston Stewart. Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 1899. Racial theory supported by Wagner and Hitler.
Gobineau, Arthur de. The Inequality of the Races, trans A. Collins, London, 1915. Racial theory supported by Wagner.
Hanfstaengl, Ernst. Hitler: The Missing Years, London, 1957
Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf, Boston, 1962. Hitler's ideology and fictional "biography".
Kubizek, August. Adolf Hitler, The Young Friend I Knew (Mein Jungenfreund), 1953. Kubizek's book is an invaluable account of the otherwise unknown formative years in the life of Hitler.
Le Bon, Gustave. Crowd, A Study of the Popular Mind, 1895. Theory of mass control used by Hitler.
Levi, Erik. Music in the Third Reich, 1994. Traces the influence of Nazi ideology upon music in Germany.
Payne, Robert. The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, 1973
Rauschning, Hermann. The Voice of Destruction, Putnam, 1940. Rauschning was a Hitler confidant during his rise to power, especially during the crucial years 1932-1934, and his book was published before the Holocaust and five years before the end of the war.
Rose, Paul Lawrence. Wagner, Race and Revolution, Yale, 1992. Rose is an important source showing the manifestations of racist ideology in Wagner's dramas and prose works.
Stein, Leon. The Racial Thinking of Richard Wagner, NY, 1950. Groundbreaking work dealing with Wagner's racist thought..
Wagner, Cosima. Diaries. (in 2 vols), trans Geoffry Skelton, 1980. The diaries of Wagner's wife and daughter of Franz Liszt.
Wagner, Gottfried. Twilight of the Wagners, The Unveiling of a Family's Legacy, 1997. Gottfried is Wagner's great grandson.
Wagner, Richard. Prose Works, trans W. A. Ellis, 1892-9, reprinted 1966
Wagner, Richard. Sämtliche Briefe, ed G. Strobel and W. Wolf, 1987
Wagner, Richard. Selected Letters, Spenser and Millington trans, 1987
Wagner, Richard and Franz Liszt. Correspondence of Wagner and Liszt, ed. F. Hueffler, 1897, 1969
Waite, Robert G. L. The Psychopathic God, Adolph Hitler. Basic Books, 1977. Contains a Freudian analysis of Hitler.
Weiner, Marc. Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination, Nebraska, 1995. Most extensive study demonstrating the anti-Semitic symbols in Wagner's operas.
Zalampas, Sheree Owens. Adolf Hitler: A Psychological Interpretation of His Views on Architecture, Art, and Music, Popular Press, 1990. Contains an "Adlerian" analysis of Hitler.