Another Tack: Free to love Wagner

Negligible reports tucked away below the fold of forgotten inside pages oftentimes signify much more than the scant attention accorded them. So it was with news that the Israel Chamber Orchestra played Wagner in Germany at the Bayreuth Festival dedicated to his veneration. This perhaps constituted the greatest break yet of Israel’s unofficial, socially accepted taboo on public performances of Richard Wagner’s music (as distinct from listening in private).

Nonetheless, easygoing apathy greeted a story that yesteryear would have instigated riots. Classical music is anyhow the preserve of shrinking clusters of cultural aesthetes, once numerous and influential in our midst. Today, they’re judged esoteric and hardly anyone cares.

Moreover, several false premises paint Wagner-aversion as ludicrous and outdated. Wagner’s music, we’re told, shouldn’t suffer because Hitler appropriated it. The composer, after all, died half a century before the Third Reich.

Another premise is that our loathing for Wagner is insular and generation-based. Hear ICO chairwoman Erela Talmi: “The atmosphere has changed, and those people who were at the concentration camps are either weaker or no longer with us, and those who voiced their [anti-Wagner] opinions are only a few and it’s hard for them to be heard now.”

Subtext: The dead and dying survivors’ eccentricities sprang from exaggerated, no-longer-relevant emotionalism. Presumably we’re now free to love Wagner.

New outlooks signify the enlightenment of the new postmodern Israeli, fashionably unfettered by unpleasant Jewish history.

The vogue today is altogether to downplay anti-Semitism and view Israel-bashing as just deserts for the Jewish state’s policies. Indeed, post-Holocaust political correctness spawns cleverly camouflaged anti-Semitism – not less dangerous, but less in-your-face. No such sanctimonious constraints prevailed prewar, not even among the artistic elite, whom some of us misguidedly credit with a higher moral stature.

A cursory cyber-search will yield a nauseating bounty of gut-churning Jew-revulsion by a veritable pantheon of cultural icons. Most of us would be knocked for a loop to discover who contributed to it.

Yet we don’t blacklist the output of T.S. Eliot, Eugene O’Neill, H.G. Wells, Pushkin, Rodin, Renoir, Cezanne, Liszt, Brahms and many other cult giants, just because they viscerally abhorred the likes of us. It was bon ton in their milieu. We can separate their art from their odious pronouncements.

Wagner’s sinister underside, though, sets him far apart from the garden-variety creative anti-Semite, who merely did the acceptable thing when vilifying Jews with virulence that would send today’s incredulous Israelis reeling.

Unlike his contemporaries, Wagner literally put his money where his mouth was. He was consciously and actively Judeophobia’s standard-bearer. He avidly financed and abetted Jew-hating societies in mid-19thcentury Germany, and fervently propagated the then-new racial anti-Semitism.

He was a leader, not a follower.

He attracted and took under his wing Europe’s most obnoxious anti-Semites, rescuing them from oblivion by publishing and disseminating their repulsive theories. He gave them resonance and respectability.

The list of his protégés is long and loathsome.

History would have largely overlooked French aristocrat Joseph-Arthur Comte de Gobineau had he not sought Wagner out in 1876, and with good reason. Wagner’s anti-Semitism was legend by then. Wagner’s 1850 treatise, Judaism in Music, rendered him the Judeophobes’ idol. His thesis was that while Jewish lucre lubricates European culture, racially inferior Jews are unoriginal, incapable of innovation.

Wagner’s patronage made Gobineau the guru of Aryan-supremacy adherents, while de Gobineau’s concepts fueled Wagner’s own relentless anti-Jewish crusade. The collaboration earned de Gobineau renown in Germany and spread his fame back to France.

British-born Houston Stewart Chamberlain, another Wagner groupie, combined de Gobineau’s Aryan supremacy with his own notions of Jewish inferiority. This concoction made Chamberlain the preeminent progenitor of Nazi ideology. He married Wagner’s daughter Eva and eventually became Hitler’s personal mentor.

The direct line from Wagner to Hitler isn’t incidental. Wagner preached long and loud that Jews are intrinsically incorrigible. Conversion and assimilation only enable their bad seed to contaminate pure Germans.

His logical conclusion was that the one final solution was annihilation. In 1881, Wagner cheered Czarist pogroms by asserting that the Russians were doing “what’s left to be done. Their laudable action genuinely expresses the people’s power.”

The ultimate remedy, Wagner insisted, would come when “the Jews are finished off, when there are no more Jews.”

The people, he wrote, “instinctively and justifiably hate the Jew. His personality and essence are repugnant… Judaism is rotten to the core. Anti-Semitism is a natural reaction.”

Wagner reserved particular venom for urbane Jews, dubbing them “civilized Jews” and “parasitic Jews.” He wrote that “plutocratic Jews are the most heartless of all humanoids. I see in the Jew the innate enemy of everything noble in man. He can only be demanding, coveting and cunning.”

The outstanding proponent of “the renascent Germanic spirit,” Wagner regarded Jewish pluralistic liberalism as Germanism’s inherently inimical antithesis. He therefore advocated that Jews be physically exterminated.

Hitler knew whereof he spoke when he maintained that “anyone who wishes to understand National- Socialist Germany must study Wagner.”

That’s why Wagner was boycotted here since 1938 – before the Holocaust. This transcends Hitler’s patronage of Bayreuth’s festival, images of frenzied Bayreuth crowds saluting their fuehrer, or Hitler’s abiding chumminess with Wagner’s daughter-in-law, zealous Nazi Winifred (son Siegfried’s wife and also a Brit), who presided over the festival. She constructed a special annex for Hitler in the family’s Bayreuth mansion.

Germany’s American occupiers banned the festival until 1951, when Winifred’s sons, Wieland and Wolfgang, revived it.

From 1933, celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini refused to appear in Bayreuth and never returned – not even postwar. He, however, conducted the inaugural concerts of the fledgling Palestine Symphony Orchestra, later renamed the Israel Philharmonic. That ensemble starred many Jewish talents banned by Hitler. Sadly their torchbearers haven’t the refugee virtuosi’s resolve and tenacity, to say nothing of Toscanini’s strength of character.

They fail to grasp that the issue extends far beyond obscure concerns and goes to the core of our Jewish solidarity, to our depleted reserves of collective pride, to the ethos of our national rebirth, to our ability to hold on to principle, not to sell out, not to hanker after false accolades and alluring international popularity.

Imagine a prestigious state-sponsored visual arts extravaganza whose pretentious promoters provocatively propose exhibiting Hitler’s paintings. Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that the fuehrer wasn’t merely a mediocre dilettante. It’s not outrageously inconceivable. Creative genius doesn’t preclude the hideous.

Would we still countenance a Hitler retrospective?

Highly unlikely. Hitler, most would agree, is a special case. He was no ordinary run-of-the-mill anti-Semite of the sort we’ve always tolerated – like Degas, Kipling or Chopin.

Would our attitude to Degas’s delicate ballerinas remain unaffected if these pastels had been drawn by Hitler? What if Goebbels had penned The Jungle Book? Would there be no second thoughts if Eichmann had composed the Barcarolle in F sharp Major?

Wagner is likewise a special case, incontrovertibly in the above malignant monster league. Refusing to pay him public homage at our concert halls isn’t about memories of his tunes accompanying condemned Jews to the gas chambers. It’s not the pet peeve of an elderly, dwindling sector of our population.

Wagner aspired to see us all dead.

24 thoughts on “Another Tack: Free to love Wagner

  1. “New outlooks signify the enlightenment of the new postmodern Israeli, fashionably unfettered by unpleasant Jewish history.” One’s sense of honour is inextricably linked with an awareness of the history of one’s own people, be it glorious or tragic or both. Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, praised Thucydides and Xenophon for “maintaining the dignity of history.” If you don’t respect the past, you forfeit the present. Accepting Wagner naturally leads to running, tongue out, like a dog in hot weather, to apologise to Turkey.

  2. You cannot be held responsible for those you inspire, but you can – and should – be held responsible for your own actions and beliefs. That Wagner did and believed that he did at the time is all that matters. As Albert Jay Nock said about laws, morals should precede laws, thus rendering them unnecessary; but, in turn, manners trump morals. There should be no law nor social norm for Jews – and any decent human being – to boycott Wagner, it’s just plain wrong, and only these standards should lead you. While the example is low by comparison with classical music, I have not been able to listen to anything by Annie Lennox (or Eurythmics) since I realised, during the 08-09 Gaza conflict, that she was a mouthpiece for Palestinian terrorism. Your moral code should be the switch you cannot ignore – regardless of former tastes for art, music, literature etc. Neither do I believe that you can divorce an artist’s personal views from their work; they come from the same mind. And, in the case of Wagner & Lennox, revolting and obnoxious. Few in the world make truly difficult choices, such as to junk an artist you once admired. Were more people able to lead a moral life, Europe wouldn’t be lining the pockets of Arab and Russian oligarchs and terrorists and dictators; Israel would be seen for the good she is and the good she does, rather than vilified partly because said oligarchs, dictators and terrorists are worth more to Europe than Israel. If Israelis – and Jews – do not lead morally, how can they expect Europeans to do so?

  3. I don’t even listen to wagner in private, he turns me off I turn him off. His music identifies the composer, the composer identifies Hitler and his many only too willing executioners, but then I was in Auschwitz, the fulfilment of Wagners ideas, when it was in full working order. For a Jew even to put a foot into Bayreuth is abhorrent, disgusting, vile, kicking the dead in the face. It is treason and the members of the orchestra, their conductor and all those connected with this despicable and contemptible deed which gives aid and comfort to our enemies should be dealt with accordingly. But then you (I live in England) have a PM who, if I may paraphrase Churchill, believes that he was elected to preside over the liquidation of Israel.

  4. Of course it is a S H A M E to play Wagner in Israel…!!!!

    But what is most shocking about the Wagner story is, that every year the elite of Germanys political and society celebrities, like the scumbag Angela Merkel are WORSHIPPING this monster at the most infamous Bayreuth festival…!!!!!!

    The demon lives on…

    • I’m not surprised. If the Germans think he is their hero, that is their affair. There absolutely no reason for Jews to agree with them. Every country has the right to make judgments about the past. And the Jewish aversion towards Wagner has nothing to do with the Holocaust. His hateful views should neither be rationalized or explained away. He should be remembered and seen for what he is – a monster who wanted the Jewish people to no longer exist on the earth.

  5. It’s a wonder Merckel et al can find the time – what with finding Teheran’s war machine with German trade, lining the pockets of Arab dictators with gold, doing amoral deals with Moscow’s finest thugs, ‘n all!

  6. ‘Indeed, post-Holocaust political correctness spawns cleverly camouflaged anti-Semitism – not less dangerous, but less in-your-face. ‘

    The Wagner episode is a gauge that reveals we have once again returned to those old and darkest of days.

    Is it really any surprise that anti-Semitism is so in vogue outside Israel when it is the accepted practice of the Israeli government to punish fellow Jews while always rewarding worse anti Semites than the Nazi’s for their crimes ?

    A Defense minister who rewards those who openly call for the extermination of the Jews while at the same time abusing,arresting and threatening fellow Jews (for the crime of living in areas to be made Judenrein) is ignored in modern day Israel.
    Darkness has fallen and once again the people are silent.
    Have you all forgotten the pictures of Amona where block booted Jews on horseback bloodied the skulls of fellow Jews to please their destroyers by way of the no peace process ?
    The sickness starts at home and spreads across the globe.

    from INN this week before the rockets returned around Israels cities in the south.

    “‘In a “gesture” to Gaza Arabs on the occasion of the month of Ramadan, which began this week, Israel will transfer to Gaza an additional 3 million cubic meters of water. The decision on the allocation increase was made Tuesday by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

    Israel announced a host of other “gestures” for Gaza Arabs Tuesday as well. Ten new factories will be built by private contractors in Gaza.'”

  7. I am inspired by your wonderful articles
    You have clearly researched the topic thoroughly

    Israeli society is in desperate need of a collective narrative that all sectors of the community can feel a part of – in order to regain our national pride. call it a renewal of the covenant moment like when Joshua conquered the land or Ezra returned the exiles.

    Shabbat Shalom from Glasgow
    Rabbi Bergson Newton Mearns Hebrew Congregation

  8. Sarah, you have opened my eyes about Wagner’s antisemitism. I am confused and ashamed to confess that I believed Israel’s opposition to Wagner’s music was caused by its being played to Jewish inmates in concentration camps, on their way to the crematory. I am no spring chicken, I remember vividly that on the morrow of my bar-mitzvah I went to a movie theater, where the opening feature was a news reel showing what the Allied armies had discovered in conquered Germany. I didn’t quite grasp the meaning of what I was watching. Many other movie goers shouted their anger, there ensued a mini riot, the ushers had to intervene and try to calm the situation down.
    I have always prided myself to know and value history. How little I knew!
    “Some of my blest friends” make the “pilgrimage” to Bayreuth’s festival, they are Israelis and Jews. Don’t they know? Don’t they care? Or are they such liberated cognoscenti that what they call culture supersedes what should be their self dignity? I shall not judge them, instead I shall send them the full text of your article.
    This is irrelevant: I always disliked Wagner’s music, its heavy, pompous accords. I correspond by e-mail with a German person, a Gentile who has never been to Israel, who is half my age and knows that I am a Jew and an Israeli. We got to discuss music, and I told him about our much publicized conductor who advocated Wagner’s music, praising among other traits its melodic values. My German friend was non plussed, he wrote that he couldn’t understand how a professional musician could like Wagner’s music, irrespective of political connotations.

  9. Wow. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Isn’t there a similar concern about where we should not spend our money? Aren’t there economic interests still around representing anti-semitic fronts?

  10. Many people hated Jews when it was fashionable to do. This includes nearly all of the great Western cultural figures in the 17-19th Centuries. But they did not actively sponsor anti-Semitism or openly approve of the murder of Jews. Jews have learned to accept genteel bigotry of the type that is still with us today – its part of human nature and it will never disappear. Richard Wagner was a radical anti-Semite. He is different in that he wanted to see every Jew in the world dead. Its one thing if Jews listen to his music. I am not advocating censorship. But I am against a Jew performing his works. It is matter of national dignity and self respect – that Jews do not give a man who viscerally hated them a moral stature he does not deserve. And it has nothing to do with respect for Holocaust survivors’ feeling but rather with the Jewish conviction an outright enemy of their should never receive legitimation from them.

  11. Years ago Warner Brothers did a wonderful cartoon rendition of a Wagner opera. The main song’s lyrics, sung by the perpetual rabbit hunter (murder) Elmer Fudd, went: Kill the wabbit,
    kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!! Whenever Wagner is mentioned, this cartoon comes to mind, with Bugs Bunny representing Jews and Elmer representing the forever anti-Semitic murderers of the innocent. What had the rabbit ever done to him? And now it is once again Springtime for Hitler in Germany!

  12. It may be interesting to mention, that Wagner had a buddy called Nietzsche, who was as rabid a Jew-hater as he was.
    The two broke up, because Wagner remained a “classic” Antisemite rooted in Christianity and Nietzsche who was the Gaddafi of philosophy developed his own Antisemitism, as he decried Christianity as the prolongation of Judaism (later his brain rottet away).
    Nevertheless Nietzsche had been an ardent admirer of his former idol Wagner and later became Hitlers big inspiration.
    The thoughts of Nietzsche can be found 1:1 written down in Hitlers “Mein Kampf”…

  13. too many Jews have low self esteem and a poor sense of Jewish identity. Israelis yearn to be accepted by the world (some I should say) but had Jews been accepted there would be no need for Israel today. Unfortunatly we are alone and can’t face this reality. It’s a pathetic situation.

  14. Wagner aspired tosee all Jews dead and the PalArabs and all their supporters aspire to see allJews dead today!
    וגנר שאף לראות את כולהיהודים מתים ולאותו דבר שואפים הפאלערבים וכל אילו שתומכים בהם היום!

    Sarah Honig is the most convincing and articulate journalist and if anyone could persuade me that my indifference to Israel’s Chamber Orchestra’s performance of Wagner is wrong, it will be Sarah Honig. Indeed, Wagner was evil, very evil. But, as I have commented before on Isi Leibler article on the subject, Israel’s movies, its professors, novelists and singers, to name a few, bash and subvert Israel today in a treasonous and unforgivable manner. To my mind nothing is a better testament to the victims of an ideology inspired by Wagner, than a strong and defensible Israel, which shuns all compromises and appeasements of its abominable Nazi inspired PalArab enemies and their cheerleaders throughout the entire Moslem world. Better Wagner than the muezzin heard from morning to night over the entire Capital of the Jewish State, Jerusalem.

    שרה הוניג היא העיתונאית המשכנעת והרהוטה ביותר ואם מישהו יצליח לשכנע אותי כי האדישות שלי על הביצוע של וגנר על ידי התזמורת הקאמרית הישראלית היא מוטעת, זאת תהיה שרה הוניג. אכן, וגנר היה רע, רע מאוד. אבל, כפי שכבר הערתי לפני כן למאמרו של איזי ליבלר על הנושא, הסרטים של ישראל, הפרופסורים שלה, הסופרים והזמרים, להזכיר כמה בלבד, חובטים ב- ומערערים היום את ישראל באופן של בגידה בלתי נסלחת. לדעתי שום דבר אינו עדות טובה יותר לקורבנות של אידיאולוגיה בהשראת וגנר, מאשר ישראל חזקה ומוגנת, שדוחה את כל הפשרות והפיוסים לאויביה הפאלערבים וכל אילו המעודדים אותם ברחבי העולם המוסלמי כולו שהשראתם הם הנאצים הנאלחים. עדיף וגנר מהמואזין ששומעים מבוקר עד ערב ברחבי בירת המדינה היהודית, ירושלים!

  15. Even if their creator is utterly depraved, works of a supremely gifted
    artist may have a charismatic force that, like the fabled siren’s song,
    is irresistible, and fatal.

    Wagner’s music and his thoughts, to an already depraved heart and
    mind like Hitler’s, was a twice-deadly concoction, exalting the mass
    murder of Jews into an act of sordid beauty.

    Jews today who gloss over Wagner’s visions of slaughter come true
    may, like wily Odysseus, tie themselves to the mast, so as to listen to
    his music and survive. But as Jews, they lose their souls.

    • Wagners operas are plain and simple BOOORING bullshit…!
      He made some catchy themes, but all in all his grand scheme of a music project was as big a failure as the III. Reich !
      Just try to endure the endless houres of that KITSCH !!!
      I personally need no mast…

  16. Another wonderful article, giving the full picture as it really is. It filled “the weekly cranial spot” and aroused anger in me at the same time.

    Erela Talmi (whoever this self important imbecile may be) strikes me as having reached an eminently airy fairy position of pseudo importance and has spouted her own emotional “shoot from the hip” views without regard to the facts – to justify her and the orchestra’s actions. Idiot!!!! Bet she’s an arty farty liberal.

    There is an element in the Jewish world that seems at a subliminal level to fail to understand the realities of life for Jews and veer toward inevitable annihilation like Lemmings to the slaughter. I imagine a scenario where these fifth columnists, cower in front of “superior” goyim and metaphorically self flagellate as if to say ” look we are not like the rest of our brothers – we’ve learnt to be like you – so please accept us and let us in”


    The only way to achieve any form of acceptance is, in my opinion, is for us to be strong, proud and show strength to the outside world and take no “excrement” from anyone. The alternative has always proven to be to our detriment.

  17. While a classical music lover since adolescence, I confess I was never attracted to Wagner’s work, but that’s irrelevant, and so is the question of its merits or lack thereof. And Sarah Honig is right on the mark, with the factual argument that Wagner was a leader, not a follower, and that the revulsion Jews feel (or felt) with the notion of an Israeli orchestra performing his music, is much more than a reaction to his work’s connection with the Holocaust.

    However, as a Jew myself, I would say this, with the utmost respect to all Jews, to the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, departed or still living: I am hard-pressed to find a more fitting, more stinging, more humiliating comeuppance for Wager and the abomination he represented, than to have those he thought less-than-human, Jews, members of orchestras acclaimed throughout the world, performing the works in which he presumably invested his soul, if he had one. And at Bayreuth.

    If there is an afterlife, where he is aware of this, no one could envy him, or pity him.

  18. I have carefully read the entry and replies. No one has mentioned that Herzl was a great fan of Wagner’s and used to gain considerable delight in attending his operas!

    • So what? We all make mistakes in life. Does Herzl’s embrace of Wagner’s music make it excusable for all Jews to follow his predeliction? I am sure Herzl would have recognized how stupid he had been had he lived through the Holocaust and seen the use Hitler and the Nazis made of Wagner’s music. Herzl died in 1904 – a fact you conveniently omitted to mention.

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