And of course, plenty of us who aren’t Nazis also love classical music. So when Lorin Maazel says, “in the world of music, all men and women are brothers and sisters,” I wonder if he knew that Auschwitz had an orchestra, too, or why:
The orchestra played at the gate when the work gangs went out, and when they returned. During the final stages of the Holocaust, when the mass deportations of Jews from Eastern Europe occurred and large numbers of Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers, the orchestra played in order to put the minds of the victims at ease. The music preserved the illusion that the Jews were being transported “to the East”, and allowed the SS to kill more efficiently. Fania FÃ©nelon denies, in her book, the claim that the orchestra had to play certain specific selections, and calls this a myth. However, she records concerts for the SS, and reported that Maria Mandel was particularly fond of her rendition of Madame Butterfly. [Wikipedia]
Oddly enough, the hearts of the SS extermination camp guards did not melt upon hearing the sweet strains of Puccini. Not even the “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s Ninth could make brothers of Nazis and Jews:
History is full of ironies. Many years ago, this conductor, Wihelm Furtwangler, nearly became Maazel’s predecessor as conductor the New York Phil. (A clever trick by Hermann Goering got the offer rescinded, and Furtwangler stayed on to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic instead.) I should note that Furtwangler, who looks like he’s trying to throw his back out, wasn’t actually that bad a guy, and was briefly out of favor for not hating Jews enough. But the Nazis conducted Furtwangler like Furtwangler conducted the orchestra by elevating a younger rival, Herbert von Karajan, and playing the two off against one another.
Even I had commented favorably on Dvorak’s Ninth, and the freedom it evokes for those who understand it. In retrospect, I may have assumed too much. Just listen to how beautifully Karajan conducts it:
If you’re a classical music fan, you’ve probably never heard of Wilhem Furtwangler, but you’ve heard of Karajan. He was a very great and very famous conductor. He was also a great Nazi. Karajan joined the Partei back in the early 30’s, flagrantly promoted his loyal Nazi views to advance his career, and even liked to open his concerts with the Horst Wessel Lied (if you saw “The Blues Brothers,” it was the music playing in the background at Illinois Nazi headquarters).