Why Jews Stood Up for Richard Wagner

Anti-Semitic Composer Inspired Both Hitler and Herzl

Austria or Bust: The exhibit shows how Jewish Wagnerism existed in Vienna until the Third Reich.
Getty Images
Austria or Bust: The exhibit shows how Jewish Wagnerism existed in Vienna until the Third Reich.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published February 27, 2014, issue of March 07, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

“I wanted people to discover how many Jewish Wagnerians there were in Vienna and the types of contradictions this entailed for being a Jewish Wagnerian. Everyone was aware [even back then] of the fact that Wagner was a nasty anti-Semite. And despite this, I find it astounding when you look at so many composers and artists who built their own work on his foundation,” Winkelbauer said.

Mahler’s appointment as director of the Vienna Court Opera in 1897 ushered in a new age of Wagner productions. For the first time, Wagner’s operas were performed there uncut. He also brought the Secessionist artist Alfred Roller onboard to furnish startlingly modern designs.

The museum displays the composer-conductor’s heavily marked full score of “Tristan,” one of the most impressive objects on display. (In a particularly satisfying irony, Adolf Hitler, an avid Wagnerian who credited the city with making him a confirmed anti-Semite, saw his first “Tristan,” in the legendary Roller production, conducted by Mahler.)

Herzl had his eureka moment during a performance of “Tannhäuser” and dashed home afterwards to start writing “Der Judenstaat.” What exactly the link was in Herzl’s excitable mind between the medieval minnesinger and the necessity of a Jewish home in Palestine is anyone’s guess. For whatever reason, the portrait of a closed community of artist-statesmen in this early, less nationalistic Wagner opera, fired Herzl’s vision.

A more disturbing case was the self-loathing Otto Weininger, whose twisted gender theories as outlined in the tome “Sex and Character” were fashionable throughout fin-de-siècle Europe. Arguing that the Jews were inherently weak and effeminate people, he famously wrote, “The most manly Jew is more feminine than the least manly Aryan.” Himself Jewish, he committed suicide in 1903, an act that seems, at least in part, to have been inspired by seeing “Parsifal” at Bayreuth.

By placing Herzl and Weininger side-by-side, the exhibit argues that very different Jews in Vienna drew from Wagner’s “operas, writing and status as a political artist, both inspiration and justification for their actions,” to quote from an exhibition sign.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.