Wagner's Influence on Hitler and Hitler's on Wagner

Jayne Rosefield looks at the interaction between the composer and the dictator. Winner of the 1998 Julia Wood Prize.

Hitler claimed that his Weltanschauung was derived from Wagner. His youthful reaction to Rienzi led him to exclaim 30 years later: 'It began at that hour'. In Mein Kampf, he praised Wagner as a great revolutionary and claimed to have no forerunner except Wagner. Fest suggests that Wagner had an immense effect upon Hitler. 'The Master of Bayreuth was not only Hitler's great exemplar; he was also the young man's ideological mentor. Wagner's political writing... together with the operas, form the entire framework for Hitler's ideology.... Here he found the granite foundations for his view of the world'. To Davidowicz, racial imperialism and the fanatic plan to destroy the Jews were the dominant passions behind Hitler's drive for power, 'forming the matrix of his ideology and the ineradicable core of Nationalist Socialist doctrine'. It was Hitler himself who placed responsibility for these ideas upon Wagner: 'Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner'. Clearly Wagner and his works were adopted as cultural symbols by Hitler and the Third Reich, but was his output misused by the Nazis, or does it contain elements that made appropriation possible?

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