Nazis Loved Classical Music

OK, I lied.  But Sonagi’s post and the piece she links here inspire further thought.

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 Fénelon 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  (A clever trick by Hermann Goering got the offer rescinded, and Furtwangler stayed on to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic instead.)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).

The only question I have to ask myself now is whether Karajan would have played Sun City.  I’d bet Eric Clapton would never have sunk so low

7 Comments

  1. Oh, thanks a lot for linking to my post, Joshua. Now I’ll have to contend with your unruly band of commenters hijacking and derailing threads at the quiet little blog that is the Marmot’s Hole. 🙂




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  2. I think that’s a compliment of sorts. But if I can put in a plug, I think you’re a great addition to any blog you contribute to. I also like to read Mins036’s stuff, and I hope he keeps at it.




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  3. My remarks were a tongue-in-cheek compliment not only to the blogger but some of the regular commenters here. I liked Mins’ posts from the vernacular media. The Korea Herald and Korea Times I can click and read in less than five minutes. However, I don’t have time to make the rounds of all the Korean language websites every day, so I appreciate when he and Robert bring to our attention Korea-language articles of interest to readers. And thanks for your compliment. The Marmot’s Hole is a tough crowd; I’m surprised I’ve haven’t been booed on a thread. Yet.




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  4. So what? The famous classical composer, Richard Wagner was an anti-semite. He was one of Hitler’s inspirations.

    Also, many people who were in the nazi party were welcomed into the US so that their expertise could be used to make rocket and jet propulsion.

    http://www.theforbiddenknowledge.com/hardtruth/operationpaperclip.htm

    The trouble with all this “nazi” stuff is that we have gone too far the other way. We stifle free speech if it means speech where someone criticizes the holocaust. In the US, it is illegal for a company to boycott Isreal.

    http://groups.msn.com/ChaosAcrossAmerica/discusslaws.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=4900&LastModified=4675384921755212260

    Whether I personally think it’s a good idea for a company to boycott Israel is irrelevant. I think that a company should have the right to boycott whatever country they want, whether it be Israel or North Korea because of the “right of association” mentioned in the US constitution.

    But as far as nazis and classical music, I don’t see the relevance. So what if they liked to use classical music? Would it make any difference if they played modern rock like U2? I don’t know for sure, but maybe they were fond of clean drinking water too.




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  5. Have you been following this discussion?

    I think you’re restating my point, which is that Maazel imputes way too much into the ability of classical music to mitigate evil. Good people or nasty people can like great music. So, to the questions in your last paragraph, I’d say “exactly” and “no.”




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  6. I too am irked by the presumption of moral superiority on the part of many classical music fans, and I am a fervent fan. It’s a form of self-promoting “defensive grandiosity”and does not persuade others to love it too, actually. it reinforces the cartoon of stuffed shirts vs hip people often contains the message of class privilege.
    It’s no wonder that Nazis liked classical music. It was their heritage. Never mind that Beethoven–and even Mozart–had revolutionary ideals or the Brahms was a philo-Semite (“Brahms the Jew”)who called anti-Semitism a “kid of madness”. Sadly, the German Jews loved classical music too–even Wagner!–perhaps more than many Germans.

    By the Way, in the days of my youth we thought Furtwangler was OK because he was exonerated by the Nurnberg Court, and like Richard Strauss he saved the lives of some Jews. He was a profoundly great conductor–which Maazel is emphatically not–but he was indeed a member of the Nazi Party, alas!




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