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Wagner's Hitler: The Prophet and His Disciple Hardcover – 24 Dec 1999

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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Polity Press (24 Dec. 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745622399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745622392
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 1.5 x 25 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,629,485 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"Fascinating and very well written ... clearly the best documented of the attempts to link Wagner and Hitler." Harold James, Princeton University

"Chilling and exhaustively researched ... [it offers a] persuasive case for its thesis that Hitler based his entire philosophy and the whole Nazi apparatus on ideas explicitly drawn from Wagner′s writings and operas." The New York Times

′Time and again Wagner called for the annihilation of the Jewish race, an alien body in an Aryan German state. Hitler took him at his word.′ Ronald Taylor, in his Introduction


From the Back Cover

Wagner′s Hitler is an important and controversial contribution to the literature on Hitler′s Germany. Köhler powerfully argues that Wagner′s influence played a vital role in shaping the cultural context in which Nazism developed.

Köhler traces the legacy of the German romantic tradition and the irrational, egocentric, nationalistic and intolerantly utopian features which were shared by Wagner and Hitler. He explores how Hitler discovered characters he could identify with in Wagner′s work, as well as concepts he could apply to his political career, up to the point when Wagner′s anti–Semitic tracts were turned into violent reality by the politician he had inspired. In a compelling study, Köhler traces Wagner′s influence on Hitler from the young Austrian scraping together the price of an opera ticket, to the dictator enacting his megalomaniac Wagnerian visions of a Germany that would rule the world. He also shows how Wagner′s family in Bayreuth supported Hitler from the beginning of his political career, and aided his introduction into highly influential circles.

Considerable controversy surrounded this book upon publication in Germany and the English–language edition of Wagner′s Hitler is bound to provoke similar heated discussion among all who are interested in the debates about Hitler and his context, Wagner′s political influence, and the social and cultural factors which shaped the rise of Nazism in Germany.

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Adolf Hitler was a failure as a politician and a failure as a military commander. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sator on 4 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
The main idea in this book is perfectly summarised by Köhler in the following quote:

"[In] the last radio address [Hitler] gave to the country, in January 1945, he repeated: 'Only he [probably should be He i.e. God] who gave this task can release me from it.' . . . The nature of this task was certainly not to pursue a set of political aims, that is, to arrange the political and social realities of the time in the interests of the nation whose Chancellor he was. Reality meant for him the task of transforming the world into a Wagnerian drama..." Köhler, p.270.

Köhler claims that the real origin of WWII and the Holocaust lies in Hitler's crazed desire to transform the world into a huge opera production. If Hitler's desire to enact opera on the world's stage can't explain him then nothing can. That means that social and political realities such as WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation, and the Great Depression are totally irrelevant to an understanding of this era. Only the study of Wagnerian opera can be relevant to understanding this entire period of history.

In essence, Nazi opera conspiracy theories are the ultimate logical consequence of Goldhagenism, where the monocausal origin of the Holocaust is localised in toto to a single point of cultural origin: Wagnerian opera. It provides the ultimate justification for Daniel Goldhagen's central thesis that:

"Genocide was immanent in the conversation of German society. It was immanent in its language and emotion. It was immanent in the structure of cognition." Daniel Goldhagen: Hitler's Willing Executioners, p.449.

And immanent in works of art, such as those of Wagner, which are allegedly deeply pervaded with this "structure of cognition".
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Colin Dean on 16 Mar. 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a great read. Joachim Kohler comes out of the corner throwing punches for all he is worth. Richard Wagner is going down. He is responsible for Hitler. Parsifal gave us the Holocaust! This is not for the squeamish! The book is well written and the research would appear to be exhaustive. This man has a point to make and much of what he says is fascinating. That fascination for me is in exploring the events and personalities following Richard Wagner's death. The "Witch" Cosima. The "English connection" with Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Winifred Williams. This saga waits for a new Wagner to write the score. All this and "Uncle Wolf" too!! What can stop Kohler from annihilating Wagner's reputation? The answer is the Operas. The writer cannot avoid viewing the works through his own coloured glasses and this gets him into trouble. I do not accept much that he states as fact, but it is the fact that he states it that makes this an important addition to my reading because he provokes me to get my boxing gloves out and at least for a few rounds go out and meet him at the centre.
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92 of 101 people found the following review helpful
The absense of evidence proves the depths of the conspiracy 5 Feb. 2002
By Laon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Joachim Köhler argues that Adolf Hitler was merely a puppet of dead composer Richard Wagner. The destruction of democracy, the German conquest of most of Europe in pursuit of a dream of world domination, the mass murders of European Jews, the whole Third Reich: all Wagner's idea.
Really? Let's see. Overthrow of democracy? Wagner supported constitutional monarchy, with political parties of "men with equal rights"; the monarch to stay above politics and ensure stability. His essay _State and religion_ is clear enough.
German conquest of Europe, and world domination? Wagner's _What is German?_ specifically condemns German attempts at military conquest, saying that German culture and polity never prospers when Germans rule other peoples.
The Holocaust? Wagner's most antisemitic essay, _Jewishness in Music_, calls on German Jews to abandon their separate culture and assimilate into German culture. That's racist, but did it influence Hitler? Since Hitler preferred racial segregation followed by extermination, it would seem not. Nor could Hitler have been comfortable with Wagner's opposition to the rule of one "race" by another, nor his suggestion that Europeans get used to racial intermingling (_Heroism and Christianity_). Meantime Köhler ignores the mainstream antisemites of Wagner's day, who really did influence Nazi racial policies.
(Wagner privately made some loathsome antisemitic remarks to Cosima Wagner, who duly recorded them in her diaries for Köhler to make the most of. But they weren't published till after Hitler's death, and for other reasons can't have been an influence.)
Look up "Wagner" in the indexes of Hitler's books and speeches, and accounts of his conversation by Speer and other eyewitnesses, and you find, despite Köhler's picture of an "obsessed" Hitler, that Hitler hardly ever mentioned Wagner. Köhler even admits this, but claims - seriously - that it's part of a conspiracy to hide Wagner's posthumous puppet-mastery. But Hitler never once referred to Wagner's ideas or essays, only to music. Hitler didn't even find Wagner's antisemitism interesting or important enough to mention.
It's clear that Wagner's influence on Hitler is essentially the same, that is, emotionally intense with without intellectual content, as his influence on Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism. Both men were passionate Wagnerians. Herzl loved Wagner's music, regularly attending Wagner operas and concerts for inspiration and renewal while he wrote Zionism's founding texts. But that doesn't make Wagner the founder of Israel. Hitler likewise loved the music but showed little interest in Wagner's ideas.
Köhler deals with these intractable realities in five ways:
1 Make stuff up
Here's Köhler describing Hitler in the bunker, 1945: "As the outside world disintegrated, it was to his inner world ... that Hitler turned ... Like a film projected onto the screen of his consciousness, he was suddenly gripped by a vision". Köhler then describes Hitler's "vision", which turns out to be about Wagner and to support Köhler's thesis. But no source mentions this "vision". Köhler seems to have invented it because the historical record wouldn't give him what he needed. There are many other examples.
2 Footnote fakery
Though the book is festooned with footnotes, they only add credibility if you don't look them up. For example that "vision" passage is footnoted, but follow it up and you won't find a source. Instead it says that an irrelevant phrase Köhler threw into the passage echoes words Hitler used in 1936. Soon after, Köhler describes a 1944 meeting between Hitler and Wagner's grandson Wieland, with Hitler dismissing Wieland's claim to Wagner's manuscript scores "over supper". Follow up the footnote and you find that no meeting took place. A little further Köhler alleges that Hitler's words "The people will not tolerate any act of clemency", in relation to the murders after the Reichstag fire, are "taken almost literally from _Rienzi_". The footnote directs you, rather vaguely, to Act II, which I have just checked in vain for those words or anything like them. And so on.
3 Twisting words
Köhler's quotes from Wagner tend to give only two to perhaps ten words at a time, wrenched from context and ascribed sinister meanings. Thus Köhler describes Hitler's "orgies of killings in dark, secret places ... `in the bosom of darkness and death', as Wagner once put it." But check "in the bosom of darkness and death" back to the source and you nothing whatsoever to do with "orgies of killing": Wagner meant "caves". This is no occasional slip-up; it is systematic. Almost all Köhler's Wagner quotes are twisted in this way.
4 Irrelevancy
Köhler's deceptiveness on that non-meeting between Wieland and Hitler is odd, because Wagner's grandson's access or non-access to Hitler in 1944 is irrelevant. Some of Wagner's descendants and their partners supported the Nazis, some went along, and some defied them. Köhler spends much of the book showing that some Wagner descendants were contemptible, but the Wagner Köhler wants to arraign was then long dead and gone.
5 The big lie
Sometimes Köhler just lets rip, and it's breath-taking. Try this, about the _Ring_: "The gods in Valhalla had ordained that the destruction of their `deadly enemy' must precede the age of the `master race'." That would certainly be damning, if true, but instead it's bizarre nonsense. Other claims, especially about the operas, are similarly fantastic.
There's much more, shonky chronology, dodgy sources, etc, but I'm out of space. Of course there's much to condemn about Wagner, but that's no excuse for fabrication. This is a bad book, partly for untruth concerning a flawed man, mainly for its evasion of the actual historical persons and forces that led to Nazism, the Holocaust and attendant horrors. Neither the far-right political parties, unions and associations, nor the antisemitic Christian right groups, nor the opportunistic business backers, nor the street thugs behind Nazism and neo-Nazism cared then, nor care now, a hoot about opera.
Misdirection like Köhler's not only tries to cede to Nazis a cultural treasure that they do not deserve, but by obscuring the actual historical origins of Nazism it gives comfort to those who deserve none.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By E S - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Wagner/Nazi connection has been around for a long time now. and I just don't think there is much direct linkage there. Wagner himself was long dead before Hitler even showed up and cannot be judged by the acts of his family and followers. The most prominent later Wagner family member who was definitely a Nazi sympathizer was Winifred Wagner, and she was British.

Certainly Wagner and the Germans of Wagner's day were seriously antisemitic, but then so were British, Americans, Poles, Russians etc. While he objected to Jewishness in theory, Wagner worked with Jews throughout his life and in many other respects had advanced liberal views. He was a great German composer obviously loved by Germans, not to mention many other nationalities, including that bastion of liberal progressivism George Bernard Shaw.

I struck by the failure of many to realize that far from glorifying war and conquest, Wagner was quite the other way. His major work, the Ring of the Nibelung is a story of the downfall of the gods who seek to consolidate power in their Valhalla fortress. It and they are destroyed at the end of the Ring. So if the Nazis had realy been paying attention they should have been very nervous about what Wagner was saying.

The Nazi's even named their major defence line, the Siegfried line, however, Siegfried is destroyed in the last opera after being misled into betraying his "wife" Brunhilde, so why did the Nazis want to make him a talisman of security?

I think they were blinded by the stirring militaristic music which appears in sections of the opera, and ignored the overall stories.

There is a book crying out to be written about how the Nazi's blinded themselves to the obvious messages in Wagner's work esepcially about the arrogance of power. These were not just incidental matters in his work, but his main story themes and should have acted as a warning and given them pause.
48 of 59 people found the following review helpful
The Wagner-Hitler Connection 1 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Overall,I found Herr Kohler's book quite interesting. The workwas well researched and the "connection" between thesubjects certainly established. The Wagner-Hitler relation to history has been expounded upon in many works but I don't know of any complete volume other than this one, so I would call this the definative work on the subject. Kohler as a writer can be a bit emotional at times as he makes his case. I don't agree that Wagner can be "blamed" for the atrocities committed 50-60 years after his death(he died in 1883-Hitler came to power in 1933). No doubt, Wagner had a tremendous influence on Hitler, especially when he was a lonely youth in Linz and Vienna Austria in the early 1900's. It is interesting to me that Hitler's favorite opera was "Rienzi", a work of Wagner's that is rarely shown today, hardly touched upon in studies of his operas, and extremely in tradition of grand opera. Wagner composed this opera with the "guidance" or should I say the "influence" of the Jewish composer Giacommo Meyerbeer. It has even been suggested Wagner copied certain styles of Meyerbeer's when writing the music for this piece. Knowing what I know about Wagner and the contradictory nature of his personality, his witty although sometimes assinine prose writings, and certain facts concerning his life, there is more of a Wagner-Jewish connection than that with Hitler. Wagner envied the Jews and secretly deferred to them. To be sure, Wagner attacked them in the press and in his essay "Judaism in Music" but all his life he continued to associate with Jews and in his final years most of his retinue at Wahnfried consisted of Jews like the set painter Paul von Joukovsky and his "Parsifal" conductor Hermann Levi. His former favorite conductor Hans von Bulow stated that in order to be successful at Bayreuth it was necessary to be circumcised. Wagner had evidentally refused to sign an anti-semitic petition presented to him which Bulow had signed, much to his embarrassment. Many forget that Hitler had another favorite musician in the composer Anton Bruckner. He spoke mostly about the music of Rienzi or Bruckner, not about the 'ideas' of Wagner. "Parsifal" was not a favorite and was actually banned during the Third Reich. The quote from Hitler that "from 'Parsifal'I shall make my religion" comes from Hermann Rauschning's "Hitler Speaks" a dubious book of which it's authenticity has certainly been questioned. The Nazis themselves were not enthusiastic about Wagner either. They tolerated Bayreuth but for Hitler. You can "read" the Third Reich in the "Ring of the Nibelung" with it's Nordic heroism,the Aryan 'savior'Siegfried, the lust for power and final cataclysmic destruction, but for all that, Wagner shouldn't be made responsible for Hitler, any more than the Beatles can be held accountable for Charles Manson. There is also no proof that Hitler ever read any of Wagner's prose works(I don't think Hitler read a book cover to cover in his life. He read only to confirm his own outlook on the world. Most of his reading consisted of newspapers and periodical scribblings)which contain all of his ideas on art,race,and humanity that can be contradicted in his thousands of letters as well as by his life's actions upheld by the people who knew him. I believe the only writing of Wagner's Hitler read was the scores to the operas which he did seem to know pretty well, as many of his secretaries and associates confirm. The book is fascinating but the reader should bear in mind that it is only another interpretation of a very contraversial and contradictory "connection".
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Bizarre Nazi Opera Conspiracy Dismissed by All Major Historians 23 Jan. 2012
By Sator - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The main idea in this book is perfectly summarised by Köhler in the following quote:

"[In] the last radio address [Hitler] gave to the country, in January 1945, he repeated: 'Only he [probably should read "He" i.e. God] who gave this task can release me from it.' . . . The nature of this task was certainly not to pursue a set of political aims, that is, to arrange the political and social realities of the time in the interests of the nation whose Chancellor he was. Reality meant for him the task of transforming the world into a Wagnerian drama..." Köhler, p.270.

Köhler claims that the real origin of WWII and the Holocaust lies in Hitler's secret crazed desire to transform the world into a huge opera production. If Hitler's desire to enact opera on the world's stage can't explain him then nothing can. That means that social and political realities such as WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, hyperinflation, and the Great Depression are totally irrelevant to an understanding of this era. Only the study of Wagnerian opera can be relevant to understanding this entire period of history.

In this view of history, Wagner becomes the sole playwright and mastermind of world-history with Hitler his obedient little opera impresario, as WWII and the Holocaust are reduced to nothing more than grand opera. The Nazi party become an opera company in disguise that used the Reichstag as its opera house. Köhler even tells us Hitler publicly announced on radio that as Wagner's puppet he was rendered utterly helpless but to be demoniacally controlled by his Satanic Lord, and that only "he who gave this task" could "release" him from it. It is a Nazi opera conspiracy theory expounded out in hysterically morbid detail by Köhler.

Never mind, of course, that economist John Maynard Keynes had predicted with chilling foresight that the severely punitive economic conditions imposed upon Germany by the treaty of Versailles would lead straight to another world war. Keynes prophetically wrote in 1919 that:

"If we aim at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare say, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the later German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victor, the civilisation and the progress of our generation. " John Maynard Keynes The Economic Consequences of the Peace (Chapter VII)

In essence, Nazi opera conspiracy theories such as Köhler's are the ultimate logical consequence of Goldhagenism, where structural socio-political influences are ignored in favour of a monocausal origin of the Holocaust localised in toto to a single point of purely cultural origin: Wagnerian opera. It provides the ultimate justification for Daniel Goldhagen's central thesis that:

"Genocide was immanent in the conversation of German society. It was immanent in its language and emotion. It was immanent in the structure of cognition." Daniel Goldhagen: Hitler's Willing Executioners, p.449.

And immanent in works of art, such as those of Wagner, which are allegedly deeply pervaded with this "structure of cognition". Once this monocausal paradigm is accepted, Wagner's operas are all conveniently and retrospectively reinterpreted to forcibly fit into the structure of the Goldhagen thesis; and, in a circular argument, the interpretations then proffered as "incontestable" evidence of its "immanent" validity.

Several devastating critiques of Köhler have been published by major academic historians specialising in this era. The first of these came from Sir Ian Kershaw, which were relegated to the footnotes at the back of his landmark biography of Hitler.

"It is nevertheless a gross oversimplification and distortion to reduce the Third Reich to the outcome of Hitler's alleged mission to fulfil Wagner's vision, as does Köhler, in Wagners Hitler". Kershaw: Endnote 121 from Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.

"Köhler's, 'Wagners Hitler', takes this [reduction of history to opera] on to a new plane, however, with his overdrawn claim that Hitler came to see it as his life's work to fulfil Wagner's visions and put his ideas into practice." Kershaw: Endnote 129 from Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris.

The idea of Hitler being driven soley by his desire to realise Wagner's "vision" comes from Kubizek about whom Kershaw writes:

"Kubizek's account [of the Rienzi 'vision'], is, however, highly fanciful, reading in mystical fashion back into the episode an early prophetic vision of Hitler's own future. Plainly, the strange evening had made a lasting impression on Kubizek. ... Hitler seized on the story ... ending with the words: 'in that hour, it began' (Kubizek, p. 118). Kubizek, more impressed than ever, subsequently produced his post-war, highly imaginary depiction, with the melodramatically absurd claim at the forefront of his mind. This has not prevented the 'vision' on the Freinberg being taken seriously by some later writers. See e.g. Joachim Köhler, 'Wagners Hitler' ch.2, p.34-5 [German ed]." Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris Endnote 128.

Sir Ian Kershaw suggests that the attempt to create an association with Wagner is pure "fantasy", pulp fiction taking the form of absurdly kitschy melodrama manufactured by the propaganda machine to concoct a phoney image of Hitler as some art-loving creative genius. Kershaw rightfully mocks Köhler for being so gullible in swallowing this cheap propaganda hook, line and sinker.

Even more damning of Köhler was Sir Richard J. Evans in a review published in the "Journal of Contemporary History", Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 149-150. In this review Evans wrote:

". . . to make Wagner directly responsible for the nazi extermination of the Jews, as Köhler does, is hardly plausible. Köhler achieves this only by erecting dizzying and unstable structures of inference and correspondence, in which phrases and quotations are time and again ripped from their context in the writings or sayings of Hitler and Wagner and made to look as if they are saying the same thing. None of this is remotely persuasive."

Evans was especially scathing about Köhler's reliance on widely discredited sources:

"Nor is Köhler's credibility helped by his reliance on dubious and discredited sources such as Rauschning's 'Hitler Speaks', a record of interviews most of which never took place outside Rauschning's mind."

Concerning Rauschning, Kershaw says:

"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." Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris

By way of contrast, Köhler states:

"It is hardly possible that what Rauschning subsequently recorded is merely the product of his imagination - it resembles too closely the secret doctrines of the Bayreuth inner circle." Köhler p238.

The only justification for using Rauschning is that "it is hardly possible" for it not to be authentic, hence it is authentic, and therefore Rausching proves his case.

Instead of reading Köhler's pulp fiction in the guise of history, readers should look at any serious mainstream academic historian's account of the Dritte Reich or Holocaust written by recognised authorities on the era, such as Sir Ian Kershaw, Sir Richard Evans, Saul Friedländer, Peter Longerich, Hans Mommsen, Christopher Browning, Frank McDonough, or John Toland. Not a single one of these historians traces the origins of WWII and the Holocaust to nineteenth century opera. Since the publication of Köhler's book, not a single major historian has come even close to remotely throwing decades of academic research in the bin in order to replace it with Köhler's narrative where Hitler is seen as some puppet forced by his Master to enact a Satanic operatic plot for genocide and world domination secretly encrypted by Wagner into his works. The disconnection between the Nazi opera conspiracy literature and that of mainstream academic historiography seems to be total. Nazi opera conspiracy theorists seem to be writing in a parallel universe that totally ignores mainstream academic historiography, or even rewrites history according to its own fantasy narrative. Mainstream historians universally ignore Nazi opera conspiracies with the same silent contempt they reserve for Nazi UFO conspiracies claiming that flying saucers are Nazi secret weapons for their impending world domination.

For example if you read Christopher Browning's seminal book "The Origins of the Final Solution" you will find that it completely ignores Köhler's Nazi opera conspiracies, as though he never existed. Browning fails to even so much as once mention Richard Wagner's name, let alone accepting the "chilling and... persuasive... thesis that Hitler based his entire philosophy and the whole Nazi apparatus on ideas explicitly drawn from Wagner's writings and operas" as arts journalist Anne Midgette summarised Köhler as saying in the New York Times in an article published on the 14th October 2001.

The reason for Köhler's outright dismissal by mainstream historians is summarised by Sir Richard J. Evans:

"[Wagner's] influence on Hitler has often been exaggerated. Hitler never referred to Wagner as a source of his own antisemitism, and there is no evidence that he actually read any of Wagner's writings." The Third Reich in Power, 1933 - 1939: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation.

Hitler's private library does not even contain any of Wagner's prose writings, although it does contain a leather bound complete edition of Shakespeare suggesting that an equally good case could be made for "Shakespeare's Hitler: the Prophet and his Disciple". Nonetheless, this does not stop Köhler claiming that Hitler "knew every word" of Wagner's prose writings, particular his essay "Judaism in Music". Köhler provides no evidence whatsoever to substantiate his claim.

The best explanation for why neither Hitler nor any other major Party member ever referred to "Judaism in Music" comes from the great Israeli Holocaust scholar Saul Friedländer in the book Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich: Ein Schloss Elmau-Symposion (Beck'sche Reihe) (German Edition) that is also scathingly critical of Köhler:

"One can interpret Wagner's first anti-Judaic pamphlet not as a call for the annihilation of the Jews, but rather read it as the appeal for the elevation of Judaism as a culture, in order to remove the 'Jewish spirit' ... Can the Jews be liberated of their 'Jewish spirit' like Börne? To Hitler it must have all seemed ideologically unacceptable." Saul Friedländer: Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich: Ein Schloss Elmau-Symposion (Beck'sche Reihe) (German Edition). My translation from the published German version.

In the 1869 version of this essay, Wagner makes it unambiguously clear that he wants his essay to be understood as a call for the "Assimilation" of the Jews. In the original version he calls for Jew and German to become "united and without difference" (einig und ununterschieden). Yet where Wagner writes "assimilation" Köhler inexplicably reads "extermination".

Another renown historian, Joachim Fest, likewise scathingly dismissed Köhler's book as a "polemic" before saying:

"First through revolution, the opposites of Jew and non-Jew are annulled in an aesthetic world-order, where they will emerge 'united and without difference' from one another. [H]e saw in the Jews, not a biological element, but rather a symptom of the illness of a materialist civilisation, where once it has been overcome, the Jews are freed of the daemonic power that drives civilisation to its decay. With Hitler it is totally different. He thought of all Jews as being undeliverable from the stigma bound to their ancestry and blood, from which they could never get away." Joachim Fest: Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich: Ein Schloss Elmau-Symposion (Beck'sche Reihe) (German Edition). My translation.

Evans, Kershaw, Fest and Friedländer are some of the genuine heavyweights in this era, and they were unanimous in their outright rejection of Köhler's Nazi opera conspiracy theories. The reason is simply that if historians were to accept the Nazi opera conspiracy theorist's idea that Wagner was the dominant, or even just a large, ideological influence on Hitler and the National Socialist movement, all of the most respected Hitler biographies by mainstream academic historians would have to be thrown in the rubbish bin to be replaced with biographies of Hitler stating the his main aim was realising Wagner's "vision" by enacting opera on the world's stage. The entire history of National Socialism as it stands in current mainstream historical studies would likewise have to be shredded and rewritten to state that the party was actually an opera company in disguise whose diabolical goal was to realise Hitler's secret operatic "vision". The impact of accepting Nazi opera conspiracy theories on the historiography of this era would be almost as massive as accepting Holocaust denialism. It would involve a wholesale rewriting of history as mainstream academic historians currently understand it. Libraries full of studies would have to be thrown out to make room for the mainstreaming of Nazi opera conspiracy theories.

Oddly enough, opera conspiracy theorists show little evidence of having even the slightest awareness of the current trends in thought within the large academic historiographic literature on this period of history. They ignore this huge body of literature as though they regarded it with utter contempt and disdain. It is an arrogant contempt for mainstream historiography that they fully share with their Holocaust denialist colleagues. Unfortunately for Nazi opera conspiracy theorist, academic historians, on the other hand, are fully aware of Nazi opera conspiracy theories, and they have been as unequivocally dismissive of them as they have been of Holocaust denialist pseudo-histories. Historians have staunchly refused to rewrite history according to the aggressive demands of either Nazi opera conspiracy theorists or Holocaust denialists.

Even the methodologies used by the Nazi opera conspiracy theorists like Köhler are grossly unethical. Köhler makes up fictitious citations, ascribes apocryphal or fictitious quotations to Hitler, tampers with evidence by doctoring quotations to suit his purposes, wilfully misquote passages out of context, and falsely ascribes quotations by Hitler and other National Socialists to Wagner - who was by that age long dead. It is a malicious reinvention of history that is as perverse as any. If historians were to permit historiological methodology to sink to the level of the gutter like this, they would leave the door wide open to the acceptance of every perversion of history ranging from Nazi UFO conspiracies to Holocaust denialism.

Moreover, as Kershaws says, to reduce the origins of the ideological foundations of National Socialist thought down to a single point source such as Wagner would be "a gross oversimplification and distortion". It is is moreover a simplification that has its roots in National Socialist propaganda itself, which made malicious claims to have its origins in great German art and culture in order to give itself false airs of legitimacy. It is a piece of oversimplified propagandist nonsense designed for mass consumption, since the origins of National Socialist thought are immeasurably more diverse and nebulous than than. To put it in Richard J. Evans' words:

"No sensible historian has argued that the total package of Nazism was present in earlier social or political movements or ideologies. What historians have tried to do is to find out where the different parts of Nazi ideology came from." Rereading German History: From Unification to Reunification 1800-1996

Least of all, no sensible historian would ever claim that the "total package of Nazism" was present wholesale in just the writings of a single nineteenth century opera composer whose "vision" Hitler allegedly set out to fulfil.

With this you can understand how, after decades of piecing together the detailed puzzle as to the origins of National Socialism, it is incredibly exasperating, and even profoundly insulting to them when some journalist like Köhler without a background in academic historiography comes along and arrogantly makes sweeping claims backed with little more than unequivocal assertions of total infallibility that it all originated from Richard Wagner.

Nazi opera conspiracy theorists will likely object to even having their ideas labelled as a "conspiracy theory". The fact is that all biographies of Hitler and historiographies of the Dritte Reich contemptuously ignore the Nazi opera conspiracy theorists' claims to the effect that Hitler set out to realise some operatic "vision" on the world's stage, as representing a "gross oversimplification and distortion" - because of a complete lack of evidence to support the case for such a radical rewriting of history. The best that Köhler can do is say that the dramatic paucity of any mention of ideas from Wagner's theoretical writings in any of the major figures in the National Socialist movement writings or speeches is due to a massive conspiracy of silence. They were so in awe of Wagner that they virtually never mentioned his name out of dumbstruck reverence:

"The hallowed name of the Master is also studiously avoided in 'Mein Kampf'. Köhler p116

But really although his "name is avoided" the only thing Hitler secretly talks about in 'Mein Kampf' is allegedly opera. With the invocation of a vast conspiracy of silence, where striking lack of evidence is presented as its opposite, and endless speculation is substituted in its place, then you are certainly dealing with a conspiracy theory.

In the meanwhile, a whole gaggle of Nazi opera conspiracists currently occupy positions in the art and culture studies departments of academia where they write as though their opera conspiracy theories such as Köhler's can be accepted as gospel. They form what musicologist Mark Berry has called the "Wagner UFO fraternity" - a fraternity who noddingly peer review one another's writings and approve them for publication in academic journals and books. The end result is a total disconnection between cultural commentators who frivolously entertain such speculative Nazi opera conspiracies, and mainstream academic historians who dismiss them with exasperated contempt. Thus if the reader goes from historiographies by mainstream historians to Köhler's world of Nazi opera conspiracies, the yawning divide is just as great as that between mainstream historiography and the Nazi UFO conspiracy literature. Both Nazi opera and UFO theorists seem to live in a strange parallel universe where they write oblivious to the realities of mainstream academic historical studies.

This is the reason why when Evans reviewed Ian Kershaw's two volume biography of Hitler at the same time as he reviewed Joachim Köhler's "Wagner's Hitler: the Prophet and his Disciple", he dismissed Köhler as not even being even "remotely persuasive". Evans then added that :

"Speculations of this kind are a world away in every sense from the most substantial of the books under review here, Ian Kershaw's massive two-volume biography of Hitler." Evans: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), p. 150.

In other words, these Nazi opera conspiracy theories resemble Nazi UFO conspiracies in that they are - in every sense - totally off the planet and out of this world. While I am sure that Nazi UFO conspiracy theorists would strongly object to being lumped together with UFO conspiracy theorists who live on a fantasy world of their own - "a world away in every sense" from credible academic study of the history of National Socialism, however, although similar such opera conspiracy theories have been circulating for decades, the prospect of even one of them being accepted by mainstream academic historians looks profoundly bleak.

POSTSCRIPT: Joachim Köhler has now officially retracted his accusations against Wagner in an article published in the July 2014 edition of "The Wagner Journal" (8, 2, 43-51).
11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Lack of information 7 Jun. 2007
By Jose A. Santos - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is excellent. It lacks the information that Richard Wagner was a SS member and a fanatic nazy party member. After the war he escaped from Nuremberg trials to Paraguay, where he composed his last opera "Parifal". All the other information in this book is absolutely correct and real.
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