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Watch Now: Richard Wagner and the Third Reich

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday 18 June 2016 | 7:30:00 am

A very interesting, two hour talk from Derek Williams, given at the Wagner Society of Scotland on April 3, 2016, Mr Williams has also very kindly made a full transcript available which can be found here


Long before Richard Wagner emerged as a political and theatrical figure around the time of Bismarck’s 1871 German unification, which gave full citizenship to Germany’s Jewish minority, antisemitism was already ubiquitous and entrenched.

Martin Luther in his 1543 treatise 'On Jews and their Lies', had urged that rabbis be forbidden to preach, their prayer books destroyed, Jewish synagogues, schools and homes set afire, and that the Jews’ money and property should be confiscated. They should be shown neither kindness nor mercy, nor should they be afforded legal protection. Luther wrote that “these poisonous envenomed worms" should be either permanently expelled or drafted into forced labour. When he wrote, "we are at fault in not slaying them" however, Luther was in effect advocating genocide.

Against this iniquitous background, Wagner’s antisemitism is comprehensively set, not only in contemporary literature, but by himself in his twice published treatise 'Das Judenthum in der Musik', alongside other writings and personal correspondence. Nevertheless, prominent Jews numbered amongst Wagner’s closest friends, for example, his favourite conductor, Hermann Levi, who conducted 'ParsifaI', Wagner’s paean to Christianity, and who was invited to be a pallbearer at the master’s funeral.

"If Jewish performers and conductors, and all who suffered the most under the Third Reich can forgive Wagner, then I too am prepared to say
Absolvo te." Derek Williams

In light of his toxic and verbose animus towards all things Jewish, what sort of intimate conversations could Richard Wagner possibly be expected to have been able to have with Jews in his circle of friends, and what sort of discourse might he have enjoyed with the likes of his great admirer, Adolf Hitler? Would Wagner have approved of the Third Reich and all it connoted?

All links and videos are public domain.

Richard Wagner and the Jews - Milton E. Brener, 1930, McFarland & Co. Inc., ISBN 0-7864-2370-6
Richard Wagner – Hans Gal, 1973, Victor Gollancz Ltd, London
Forbidden Music, Jewish Composers Banned By The Nazis - Michael Haas, 2013, Yale University Press, ISBN978-0-300-20535-0
The Wagner Clan - Jonathan Carr, 2007, ISBN 978-0-571-20790-9
The Darker Side of Genius - Jacob Katz, 1986, University Press of New England
Aspects of Wagner - Bryan Magee, Panther, 1968, Granada Publishing
Wagner As I Knew Him - Ferdinand Praeger, 1892, Longmans, Green & Co
Wagner & Nietzsche - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, 1976, Sidgwick & Jackson
My Life - Richard Wagner, 1911, Constable London
Wagner’s Ring and its Symbols - Robert Donington, 1963, Faber & Faber
Wagner, Rehearsing the ‘Ring’ - Heinrich Porges, 1876, Cambridge University Press
Why Mahler? - Norman Lebrecht, 2010, ISBN 978-0-571-26079-9
Fact And Fiction About Wagner - Ernest Newman, 1931, Cassell & Co Ltd
Cosima Wagner’s Diaries - Ed. Martin Grego-Dellin & Dietrich Mack, 1980, Collins
Letters of Richard Wagner, ‘The Burrell Collection’ – Ed. John N Burk, 1972, Vienna House

Derek Williams:
Wagner Society of Scotland: