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[humanities.music.composers.wagner] Wagner General FAQ
Section - C. Was Wagner a personal friend of Adolf Hitler?

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Adolf Hitler was born after Richard Wagner died. Hitler was without
doubt a great admirer of RW. Opinions differ on whether there was any
kind of direct influence. The fundamental problem of the Hitler-Wagner
link is that no-one has ever been able to satisfactorily explain or
understand Hitler. This would imply that no definitive understanding of
his relationship with RW is available at present. Sources that suggest
that RW was an important influence on Hitler include Hermann Rauschning
('Gespräche mit Hitler', 1940; 'Hitler Speaks', 1939) and
August Kubizek ('Adolf Hitler, mein Jugendfreund', 1953; 'Young Hitler,
the Story of Our Friendship', 1955). 

* Hermann Rauschning's 'Hitler Speaks'

The widely-held belief that Wagner was an important influence on Hitler
has been formed by the association of these two figures in the media
and popular literature. Popular (i.e. non-scholarly) discussion of
Hitler's relationship with Wagner ultimately relies on a single source:
Hermann Rauschning's 'Hitler Speaks'. With the exception of a speech
given by Hitler at the unveiling of a memorial to Wagner on the 50th
anniversary of the composer's death, Hitler rarely mentioned Wagner in
public. In that speech Hitler spoke of Wagner only as an artist; he
said nothing to suggest that Wagner had been an ideological influence
on him. Records and recollections of Hitler's private conversations
reveal that he often spoke with enthusiasm about Wagner's music but
never made any reference to Wagner's political ideas. So Rauschning's
book is the only source that presents Hitler acknowledging Wagner as an
ideological influence.

In the early 1930s Hermann Rauschning was the leader of the Nazi party
in Danzig. He fell out with Gauleiter Albert Forster over economic
issues and had to resign under pressure from Hitler. In 1935 Rauschning
left the Nazi party and Germany for France and then to the United
States, where he reinvented himself as a Christian conservative,
claimed to have been a close personal friend of Hitler, and wrote
(almost certainly with the assistance of a Hungarian-American
journalist called Emery Reeves and probably also the British journalist
Henry Wickham-Steele) his book. For accounts of the origins of
Rauschning's 'Conversations' see: 'Why Hitler: The Genesis of the Nazi
Reich' by S.W. Mitcham Jr. (Praeger, Westport and London, 1996), p.
137; and '1933: The Legality of Hitler's Rise to Power' by H.W. Koch,
in 'Aspects of the Third Reich' (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1985),
p. 39.

As was often the case with defectors of later decades, Rauschning tried
to satisfy the curiosity of his new masters even when his information
was very limited; and like other defectors, he exaggerated his own
importance and the extent of his high-level contacts. In recent years
it has been shown that passages in his book were compiled, by
Rauschning and his ghost-writer, from Hitler's speeches or other
identifiable sources (see below); and so not recalled from
"conversations with Hitler". It has been established that Rauschning
only met Hitler on about four occasions, at Nazi party functions, where
their conversations consisted of small-talk. The balance of probability
is that those sections of the book that were not copied from already
published sources, were invented by Rauschning and Reeves. "The
research of the Swiss educator Wolfgang Hänel has made it clear that
the 'Conversations' were mostly free inventions." ('Encyclopedia of the
Third Reich', ed Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig, tr. Amy
Hackert, MacMillan Publishing, 1991, volume 2, page 757). 

Hänel's research, published in 1983, put the last nails in the coffin
of Rauschning's reputation. 'Der Spiegel' (7 September 1985) commented:
"Haenel not only proves the falsification, he also shows how the
impressive surrogate was quickly compiled and which ingredients were
mixed together." Those ingredients included extracts from the writings
of Ernst Juenger and Friedrich Nietzsche; extended quotes from speeches
made by Hitler after 1935; and a short story by Guy de Maupassant.

In his acclaimed biography of Hitler, Ian Kershaw wrote: "I have on no
single occasion cited Hermann Rauschning's 'Hitler Speaks', a work now
regarded to have so little authenticity that it is best to disregard it
altogether." The leading German historian Hans Mommsen has written:
"The authenticity of Rauschning's book, moreover, is no longer accepted
today". ('From Weimar to Auschwitz: Essays in German History', Hans
Mommsen, tr. Philip O'Connor, Oxford University Press, 1991, note 67.)
Except by a few writers who have drawn heavily on Rauschning for
inspiration (notably Robert Gutman and Joachim Köhler). They have been
reluctant to acknowledge their discredited source, which is only
obvious to readers who are familiar with the relevant passages in
Rauschning's book. 

Those who cling to the belief that Wagner was Hitler's ideological
forerunner and therefore (as their only support) to the authenticity of
Rauschning's 'Conversations' point to other historians, lawyers and
journalists who have accepted Rauschning's account without question.
Although this was common up to about 1975, since then Rauschning has
been regarded with increasing scepticism and his book eventually
discredited by the research summarised above. In short: the book is a
hoax, written for the purposes of wartime propaganda and for the
financial benefit of its authors.


* August Kubizek's 'Young Hitler'

Kubizek's recollections of his boyhood friend are a different matter,
although also here there are grounds for suspicion that material has
been elaborated if not invented. This book has long been popular with
Hitler's apologists and sympathisers, for its unusually rose-coloured
portrait of the Führer as a young man. The Hitler described in 'Young
Hitler' is no vicious madman, hardly even an anti-Semite, but rather
an intelligent aesthete and visionary, a patriot who showed unusual
leadership qualities from a young age.

Kubizek's 'Young Hitler' made three significant contributions to the 
myth of Hitler's inspiration by Wagner:
 1. He claimed that Hitler read at least some of Wagner's essays;
 2. He claimed that Hitler made an attempt to write an opera based on
Wagner's draft for 'Wayland the Smith'; and
 3. The story that Hitler attended a performance of 'Rienzi' with Kubizek, 
that after that performance Hitler decided to become the leader of a 
revitalised Germany, and that when Kubizek met Hitler again in 1938 and 
reminded him of that night, Hitler supposedly replied, "In that hour it 
began."

In his recent book 'Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics' (Overlook,
Woodstock and New York, 2003), Frederic Spotts is sceptical concerning
Kubizek's claim that the young Hitler read Wagner's prose writings and
letters. Even more so concerning Joachim Fest's claim (1973) that
Wagner's prose was Hitler's favourite reading matter. "There is no
corroborative evidence for either of these claims. Hitler never ascribed
any of his views to Wagner, not in 'Mein Kampf', his speeches, articles
or recorded private conversations... Indeed, there is no evidence that
Hitler ever read Wagner's collected writings, much less that they were
'his favourite reading'. The origin of the myth is probably Kubizek's
book, where the youthful Hitler was said to have read every biography,
letter, essay, diary and other scrap by and about his hero that he could
lay his hands on. But Kubizek himself contradicted that story in his
wartime 'Reminiscences', which he later expanded into the more
marketable, post-war book 'Young Hitler'."

A comparison of the two books is instructive. They were written for
different audiences: 'Reminiscences' in 1944-45 for the Nazi faithful
and the more polished 'Young Hitler' for a post-war readership. The
evidence of the 'Reminiscences' is that young Hitler had been impressed
by a performance of Wagner's 'Rienzi', and that Kubizek and Hitler
wandered round the "dark, cold and foggy streets of Linz" after the
show, and that it was a "memorable night". But Kubizek did not say, as
he would do later in 'Young Hitler', that on that night Hitler had
declared an intention to unite Germany. Or that, when Kubizek met Hitler
again in 1939 and reminded him of that night in Linz, Hitler had said,
"In that hour it began"; perhaps because those passages were written by
Kubizek's ghost-writer?

Apart from being popular with neo-Nazis, Kubizek's 'Young Hitler' has
been a key resource for those who have portrayed Wagner as a proto-Nazi
and as a source of Nazi ideology, such as Paul Rose, Marc Weiner and
Joachim Köhler.

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