Brochure for
"Degenerate Music" (1939)
by Hans Severus Ziegler

Nazis and Music
By Sonal Panse

Throughout history toppling of public statues has almost always been indicative of a coming change in public life. Statues are set up to commemorate certain personages, to endorse certain beliefs, and when there is no longer any place or tolerance for either, these have to be summarily removed. Usually with a great ceremonial ruckus - and, in modern times, with the omnipresent press in attendance. The wreckers pose and strut before the thing they have destroyed with an obvious sense of achievement, egged on by a cheering, fickle crowd - this same crowd that was around to applaud when the statue went up. Other bystanders, unwilling to join in and helpless to prevent, watch and wonder about the train of events that will soon follow the symbolic gesture.

Nearly sixty-nine years ago, before a watching crowd in Leipzig, Germany, the statue of a man named Felix Mendelssohn was pulled off its pedestal and destroyed. Felix Mendelssohn wasn't a politician, but a famous Music Composer. Perhaps one of the finest and best-loved to emerge from the long musical tradition of Germany - which was why he was accorded the honor of a statue in front of the Gewandhaus, Leipzig's famous concert hall. However his greatness paled in comparison to the new reality of being a Jew along with it. It was 14 November 1936 and Herr Hitler had been in power long enough to make his position on Jews blindingly clear. There was no place for them outside concert halls or, for that matter, inside concert halls.

The toppling of the Mendelssohn statue, which received only a small mention in the New York Times the following day, was a major turning point in the persecution of Jewish Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Singers, Actors, and other theater personalities, not to mention Jewish professionals from every other walk of life, that had commenced since the moment the Nazis took center-stage three years earlier. So far they had been obliged to submit to the Racial Laws of 1933 and register their race and religion in the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber), which automatically meant a cessation in possible employment, regardless of talent, for millions of young, upcoming musicians. The well-known, established ones had found themselves receiving cryptic notices and warnings 'advising against' performing in public, having performances canceled altogether, or being targeted for uncouth threats from the local Nazi thugs who turned up to disrupt the performances that did go on. They had watched, appalled, while Jewish shops and businesses were boycotted, defaced, and forced to close down. They had witnessed the outrageous book-burning of 10 May 1933 when, with wild crowd approval, books by writers like Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Heinrich Heine, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, and others had been tossed into bonfires on the streets of Germany.

Many German intellectuals, Jewish and non-Jewish - Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Marlene Dietrich, Albert Einstein, Bruno Bettelheim, Walter Gropius, Rudolf Serkin, Erich Leinsdorf, Lotte Lehmann, Berthold Goldschmidt, Otto Klemperer, Franz Werfel, and Bruno Walter, amongst them - grasped which way the wind was blowing and left the country while they still could. Others, since, often times, it is difficult for civilized beings to comprehend that the rest of the world isn't always of the same decent mold and can be eminently capable of unimaginable horrors, chose to remain and regard the growing excesses as 'isolated incidences' that would soon pass - it was a new regime, still setting about its business after all the turmoil of earlier years, and in unsettled times, as one very modern American put it, things happen.

And, like now, the world was not overwhelmingly bothered.

After 14 November, however, things happened on a far more urgent scale. The government issued a decree banning completely all Jewish performers and those tainted with even a drop of Jewish blood from any further association or participation in the cultural life of Nazi Germany. 'Jewish' music, along with 'Negro' music and anything else that wasn't composed by racially superior beings, now became taboo - the Nazis wanted to liberate German culture from the 'morbid excrescencies of insane and degenerate men.'

Accordingly some of the most famous and innovative musical works of the past centuries and many of current years - aside from Mendelssohn's compositions, works by people like Max Bruch, Jacques Offenbach, Gustave Mahler, Arnold Schonberg, Ernst Krenek, Salomon Sulzer, Berthold Goldschmidt, Erik Korngold, Anton Webern, to mention a few - were displayed as prime examples of the unwanted degeneracy at the Entarte Musik Exhibit of 1938. They were also, of course, 'dropped' from the repertoires of the orchestras that continued to flourish in these years. The Music that could henceforth be heard in the Third Reich was mainly that detected as 'Good German Music' by the discerning ears of Adolf Hitler and his Minister of Propaganda, Josef Göbbels. Since this included the works of Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, and Anton Bruckner, the German Public didn't grumble too much. Some of the other, more current Nazi musical favorites were Hans Hotter, Herbert von Karajan, Clemens Krauss, Elly Ney, Hans Pfitzner, Li Stadelmann, Richard Strauss, and Wilhelm Furtwangler. A few of these were rabidly anti-Semitic National Socialists, a few helpless puppets, and a few, like Richard Strauss, outright opportunists who cared to only and not really unreasonably safeguard their musical and personal interests - the latter was briefly appointed the President of the Reichsmusikkammer, until the Nazis decided he was too opportunistic for even them and relieved him of the post.

Arnold Schönberg, who had already left for the United States in 1933, wrote - 'I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me..... and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being (at least the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me) but I am a Jew.' In another letter, he wrote, 'To be sure, after that anything is a kingdom of heaven — however little it looks like that.'

It is after all not an easy matter leaving behind the entire life you had built up and beginning again from scratch in a completely new environment, a place where people, though for most part well-meaning, have no idea about you and your previous circumstances. Where, on being introduced, you don't find yourself being feted for your name like you once were, but instead being asked for its spelling. It took a long time for Schönberg and the other emigres to adjust to the change - or rather fall - in their social circumstances, but eventually many of them managed to find their feet and prosper once more and culturally enrich their new homeland.

For a few, like the poet Stefan Zweig, who had written librettos for the Operas of Richard Strauss, however, it was too difficult to attempt the transition; the loss of homeland together with the treachery of former, respected colleagues, who had also once been close friends proved too much. He committed suicide on 22 February 1942 in Brazil, leaving behind an explanatory note - "After one’s sixtieth year, unusual powers would be needed in order to make another wholly new beginning. Those that I possess have been exhausted by long years of homeless wandering. … I salute all my friends! May it be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go on ahead." 

The Jewish musicians that had remained behind in 'the long night' now faced not just a loss of livelihood, but an extinguishing of life itself. And death too was not to be easy. Incarcerated into concentration camps, undergoing unspeakable and unimaginable atrocities, many found themselves in the untenable positions of having to provide music - music that had once had a beautiful and liberating context - in the systematic murder of their own brethren. A great many committed suicide rather than continue. Fania Fenelon, who survived Auschwitz as a member of one of the six orchestras that that camp boasted, has given an heartrending account of the experience in her book 'Playing for Time'. In the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where the Germans wanted to create an illusion of well-being for the Nazi propaganda film 'The Führer gives the Jews a City' and for hoodwinking the International Red Cross, the Jewish inmates were prodded into putting up musical programs. Two of the most famous of these that survived the war, though their creators didn't, are 'Brundibar, the Organ Grinder', composed by Hans Krasa, and 'The Emperor of Atlantis', by Victor Ullman.

Viktor Ullmann, who was a student of Arnold Schönberg, was murdered in Auschwitz. Other promising lives that were cut short at this camp - the Czech avant-garde composer, Pavel Haas; the conductor Martin Rosenberg; the young violinist and niece of Gustav Mahler, Alma Maria Rose; the contralto Magda Spiegel; the baritone and cantor Erhard E. Wechselmann.

A great many others perished in the other Nazi camps. As many of the deaths went unrecorded, it will perhaps never be known how many exactly disappeared forever into the dark night of the Holocaust.

Wagner's Scores

For his 50th birthday, several leading industrialists presented Hitler with a case containing the original scores of some of Richard Wagner's music. They had paid nearly a million marks for the collection. Towards the end of the war, Frau Winifred Wagner asked Hitler to transfer these manuscripts to Bayreuth. Hitler refused, saying he had placed them in a far safer place. The manuscripts involved included the scores of 'Die Feen', 'Das Liebesverbot', 'Reinzi', 'Das Rheingold', 'Die Valküre' and the orchestral sketch of 'Der Fliegende Holländer'. These lost documents have never been found.

Nazis looted priceless violins

Rare musical instruments were among the loot confiscated by Nazis during World War II, recently unearthed documents reveal.

Violins including dozens of Stradivari, Guarneri and Amati - now worth hundreds of thousands of pounds each - were taken from the homes of musicians who fled or were sent to concentration camps.

The instruments, confiscated by a special team who followed German troops, were to be used in a proposed university in Hitler's home town of Linz, Austria, after the war.

The lootings have been uncovered by recently released American military documents.

The instruments could join works of art as the focus of compensation claims for stolen artefacts, the Chicago Tribune reported.

"This is right now in the earliest phase of our work, but it may be one of the most fascinating areas of exploration," said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress.

The Congress has been at the forefront of compensation claims for Holocaust-era lootings.

Adolf Hitler ordered a music "action team" - M-Aktion - to confiscate and catalogue any instruments of importance, which were then sent to Berlin.

The team followed German troops around Europe, moving in on the homes of those who had fled the Nazis' advance or who were taken to concentration camps.

Experts say looted instruments could be harder to track down than works of art, which are more easy to identify and are more likely to have associated documents.

Many survivors and families of those whose art was looted or sold under the duress during the war have pressed for compensation or the return of their works, with some success.

Ein Volk, Ein Reich ... Und Eine Disko

A report, unread for 65 years, reveals the Nazis' top priority once they had destroyed the allies, exterminated the Jews and occupied Europe. They were going to build a big, flash nightspot in Berlin.

For more than half a century, historians have wondered what the Nazis would have done had they won the Second World War. Now the matter can be settled. A report, unread for 65 years, reveals the Nazis' top priority once they had destroyed the allies, exterminated the Jews and occupied Europe. They were going to build a big, flash nightspot in Berlin.

"It'll be the most beautiful, the most modern, the most elegant in Europe", enthused the report's author, Giuseppe Renzetti. "The project is said to have met with the ardent approval of the Führer."

Renzetti, Italy's consul in Berlin, told his superiors that already, in mid-1940, the Nazis were preparing their capital for the tourist boom they expected would follow victory. He understood "a manager has already been found for the nightclub and that it had been decided to restrict entry to foreigners, the diplomatic corps and the members of Berlin [high] society."

Extracts from the report, dated July 23 1940, were published in Corriere della Sera yesterday. Italy's former consul was as close as any foreigner to Hitler; Göbbels wrote that Renzetti could almost be seen as a Nazi. To compile his report the diplomat interviewed top officials including the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler.

But Renzetti found the Germans split over what to do with Britain. Some argued it should be "destroyed". Some wanted "an understanding".

The Führer, he said, was with the doves.

Hitler has wanted to take into account the wishes of a large mass of the Germans who feel themselves to be related to the British [and] fear others could profit more than them from the British empire's destruction.

He said Hitler also felt British and German industry could find a way to coexist.

Renzetti said the Nazis were anticipating a post-war Europe in which they would be "feared and respected". The economy would be run centrally in collaboration with the Italians, German colonists would be settled in areas such as Alsace and Lorraine, and society would be ruled with a strong hand. Himmler, he said, had indicated a "strong interior policy aimed at avoiding the sort of disturbances that often follow a war". The head of the SS aimed "to continue with surveillance operations both of the masses and individuals". But in passing, Himmler noted that he had been disappointed with the battlefield performance of SS troops. In the new order, Renzetti reported, Germany itself would be homogenised and its strong regional traditions ended.

Renzetti, who had acted as a go-between, carrying messages from Hitler to Mussolini, was consul in Berlin from 1938 until 1941 when he was posted to Stockholm. He died near Pisa in 1953.

A NEWLY discovered box of Hitler's records included music by Jewish composers or played by Jewish musicians

Kept in a box for 62 years in the attic of a dacha near Moscow, the collection of gramophone discs, 78 rpm shellac recordings, which also contains works by Hitler's German favourites, mainly Wagner and Beethoven, had been been taken from Hitler's Wilhelmstrasse Bunker in Berlin by a Red Army reconnaissance officer, Capt. Lev Besymenski, who died in the summer of 2007 at the age of 86.

After his death, his daughter Alexandra brought the box of some 100 LPs to Germany's Spiegel magazine. She said her father had told her that in May 1945 he and his comrades had been dispatched to take an inventory of objects in Hitler's bunker and the chancellery, which lay in ruins. While others collected silverware engraved with the initials "AH," he took albums from Hitler's collection, which he found in numbered boxes, packed for delivery to the Eagle's Nest headquarters in Berchtesgaden.

Hitler's collection included works by the Russian composers Borodin, Rachmaninov and Mussorgski. Scratchmark on recordings by Mendelssohn and Offenbach suggest they were among his favourites.

Russian composers were banned under the Third Reich. But in private Hitler repeatedly played Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky and hundreds more works he publiclly labelled "sub-human music".

In one of Hitler's albums, the famous Polish Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman played works by Tschaikovsky. This has surprised historians, since Huberman, who fled Vienna in 1937, a year before the Anschluss, had been declared an enemy of the Third Reich. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that Jewish art "never existed."