Adolf Hitler, the most notorious champion of Richard Wagner and “racially pure” German music, banished Jewish and Russian musicians from the concert halls of the Third Reich — but apparently listened secretly to their work.
New light has been shed on the Nazi leader’s musical tastes by the discovery of what are said to be a hundred of his gramophone records found in the attic of a former Soviet intelligence officer, Lev Besymenski.
“There were classical recordings, performed by the best orchestras of Europe and Germany with the best soloists of the age,” Mr Besymenski said in a document explaining how the records came into his possession.
The 86-year-old, who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals, died this summer. The document and the record collection have now been made available to Der Spiegel magazine.
The Soviet intelligence officer had found them in Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin in May 1945, still packed in crates. Hitler’s staff were counting on an evacuation to the Nazi leader’s Alpine hideaway on the Obersalzberg and it was known that he could only relax with his music.
Besymenski, then a captain in military intelligence, kept quiet about the records during his lifetime for fear that he would be accused of looting.
The most astonishing fact about the records — essentially Hitler’s “Best of . . .” collections — is the presence of Jewish performers. Among the recordings is a Tchaikovsky concerto performed by the virtuoso Polish Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman. Hitler would have been aware, while listening to Huberman’s playing, that he had founded the Palestine Orchestra in 1936 (which went on to be the foundation of today’s Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) and that he was living in enforced exile.
The Austrian Jewish pianist Artur Schnabel, whose mother was killed by the Nazis, also had his work included in Hitler’s personal collection. It is not known which records in the collection were listened to most frequently, nor have they been formally catalogued.
“I’m not terribly surprised by Hitler’s record choices,” said James Kennaway, of Stanford University. “Nazi music policy was pretty incoherent. Stravinsky was played in the Third Reich because he was known to have right-wing views, Bartok because Hungary was a German ally.” Dr Kennaway, a leading musicologist who specialises in the Nazi period, added: “The only real point of consistency in Nazi policy was antiSemitism, so the Schnabel and Huberman recordings do stand out.”
Hitler had spelt out his view of Jewish culture in Mein Kampf. “There was never a Jewish art and there is none today,” he wrote, adding that the “two queens of the arts, architecture and music, gained nothing original from the Jews”.
Roger Moorhouse, a historian and the author of Killing Hitler, said that the record collection, if authentic, suggested a contradiction between the Fuhror's aesthetic and political values. He said: “It is interesting that being Russian or Jewish did not disqualify a musician from a place in Hitler’s record collection. There was probably a separation in his world view between the political and the artistic.”
Although Hitler took piano lessons as a child, he displayed no personal musical talent. His surgeon, Hanskarl von Hasselbach, noted that “Hitler always whistled out of tune”.
His former radio operator, Rochus Misch, the last survivor of Hitler’s bunker, recently recalled how he had summoned his manservant to put on a record after a row with army commanders. “He just sat there, completely sunk in the music. The Föhrer needed distraction.”