The great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner, Adolf Hitler’s favorite composer, has vowed to investigate her family’s links with the Nazis in a move that could be bitterly opposed by other members of the dynasty.
Katharina Wagner, 31, an opera stage-director, feels she has a duty to do what previous generations have avoided.
“When I was growing up, I was repeatedly confronted with this topic,” she said. “Was my grandmother Hitler’s lover? To what extent was my father embroiled with Hitler? No one in the family ever spoke about it. If my sister and I don’t ask the questions, who then will?”
Nine months ago, Katharina took over as co-director of the Bayreuth Festival, which started 133 years ago to showcase Wagner’s work. She has introduced several changes with a view to opening up the event to the masses, including podcasts and giant TV screens, but last week’s announcement that she plans to invite a team of researchers to lay bare the show’s Nazi connections is her most controversial move yet.
“There’s a shadow hanging over Bayreuth, and I feel a responsibility to try to get some clarity,” Katharina said.
She said she wanted “independent, renowned historians, and not only those with an affinity to Bayreuth” to carry out their investigations “independently of me and my family.”
Wagner, who took over as festival co-director with her half-sister, Eva Wagner-Pasquier, after a lengthy family feud, said she expected some opposition from members of the clan. However, she said that the private archives of her father Wolfgang would also be open to scrutiny, suggesting he favored her initiative.
Hitler supported the festival long before he became a political force and befriended Winifred Wagner, the British-born wife of the composer’s son Siegfried. This connection allowed the festival to remain largely independent during the Third Reich and after the war led to Winifred’s conviction for supporting the Nazis.
Katharina said that “every nook and cranny” of the festival’s archives needed to be raked through.
She made the announcement a month before she opens the festival with Wagner-Pasquier for the first time since they took over from Wolfgang Wagner, who ran the show for 54 years but was often accused of a lack of innovation.
The leadership battle was one of the longest and fiercest feuds in the world of classical music, with Katharina’s cousin, Nike, also contesting the post.
Katharina’s announcement about the investigation has attracted as much attention in the German press as did her artistic plans for the program on the “Green Hill,” as Bayreuth is affectionately known.
There is some doubt as to whether an investigation will throw any new light on the role of the Nazis and how the Wagner clan courted Hitler, experts said.
Katharina herself said she did not know what to expect and that, “although the topic has been dealt with, it has clearly not been dealt with extensively enough.”
Wolfgang Schreiber, a critic for the Suddeutsche Zeitung, said: “We can hardly expect anything particularly mind-blowing to emerge from this, because Bayreuth’s ideological past is a well ploughed field.”