Wagner clan feud over Bayreuth Nazi link

Katharina Wagner, left, and her sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier. Picture: Reuters
Katharina Wagner, left, and her sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier. Picture: Reuters
Share this article
Have your say

A FEUD has broken out between members of the Wagner opera family in Germany as the leader of the clan threatens legal action unless they co-operate with a “moral house cleaning” aimed at de-Nazifying the world’s leading opera festival.

Katharina Wagner, who now directs the annual Bayreuth Festival of Richard Wagner’s operas, wants family members to turn over every document they have in a bid to exorcise the ghosts of the Third Reich – including “potentially explosive” letters penned by Adolf Hitler to Winifred Wagner, the Englishwoman who became head of the family in wartime.

Ms Wagner, 34, said silence on the part of her family will not be tolerated as the links that the festival had during the 12 year lifespan of the Third Reich with the Nazi hierarchy, including Hitler, are probed. Hitler held up Richard Wagner, who died in 1883, as the greatest ever German composer.

Because he and the late maestro both shared a visceral hatred of the Jews, the music of Wagner became the favoured music of the regime.

The Bayreuth Festival in his honour remains the hottest ticket in the opera world with a ten-year waiting list for tickets and is attended by European leaders,

But because of Wagner’s hatred of the Jews – and his family’s later love affair with the Nazis – his music is banned to this day in Israel.

Katharina Wagner hopes a reckoning with a dark past will lead to a rehabilitation of her great grandfather and his works.

A week ago the sudden exit of star baritone Evgeny Nikitin from the Bayreuth Festival – he has a swastika tattoo on his chest as a relic from his days as a heavy metal band drummer – brought the sinister past back to the present in a way few wanted.

Professor Johannes Tuchel, head of a foundation honouring Nazi resisters, said; “The Bayreuth Festival played an important role in the politics of the Nazi leadership. Therefore, of course the involvement of the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival during the Third Reich must be examined carefully.”

Katharina, who co-leads the festival with her half-sister Eva, said; “I myself had and have no problem to make available to the public all my exclusive property and material in its entirety relating to this issue.” But this reckoning with the past – something undertaken by such large German concerns as VW, BMW and several banks – is causing friction within the Wagner clan.

Amélie Hohmann, granddaughter of Winifred Wagner, the English-born bride of Richard Wagner’s son Siegfried who became one of Hitler’s closest confidantes and irrevocably bound the festival up with the Nazi cause, is against this – because she has what are described as “explosive” letters between her grandmother and Hitler among masses of sealed paperwork that forms part of her estate.

Katharina has spoken of her hopes of a “co-operative working relationship” – but has also threatened to go further in seeking court action to get her and other family members to open up about the past if they refuse to do so.

Michael Brand, a lawyer hired by the Wagner estate to write to Amélie and others, said; “My client Katharina Wagner considers the right to take all legal steps necessary if no progress on this matter is achieved.”