Thursday, August 24, 2006

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and the Third Reich

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (left) took her first professional steps in the early years of the Third Reich. The young soprano had moved to Berlin at the age of 17, from the provincial town of Cottbus on the Polish border, and entered the Hochschule für Musik. She was just at the right age to be genuinely impressed by the trappings of National Socialism; in the German capital, she would have got full exposure to flags, speeches and fanfares. She would eventually join three different Nazi organisations and, long after 1945, this may not have caused the stir it did had she herself acknowledged her actions as soon as those circumstances came to light.

But very much like her frequent collaborator Herbert von Karajan, she kept denying these accusations when confronted with them, by American journalists as much as by historians. When she finally admitted them, she made light of the matter, claiming that joining these organisations had been routine, and that all her colleagues did it for the sake of a job. But she was prickly about it.

Did all this help her career? When Schwarzkopf fell ill with tuberculosis during the war and retired for about a year to a sanatorium in the Tatra Mountains, she was apparently shielded by her lover, a high-ranking SS officer, whose power was beyond Goebbels's jurisdiction. Exactly who this man was has never been established.

In 1944, she was finally able to join Böhm in Vienna, under the care of the city's gauleiter, Baldur von Schirach. Her presence in Vienna facilitated her transition to the postwar music scene, because Nazis in Austria were more easily "denazified" than those in Germany. As for the SS lover, the composer Gottfried von Einem (photo above) told me in Vienna, shortly before his death, that this had been the gauleiter of Lower Austria, Dr Hugo Jury. Jury was an SS general, but by profession he was a doctor, specialising in tuberculosis.
Michael H Kater pens the inevitable re-evaluation in today’s Guardian. He is the author of The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich published by Oxford University Press - left.

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Downfall - and the mystery of Karajan’s personal photographer

2 comments:

Henry Holland said...

Pretty damning stuff there. Apart from whatever she thought about the Nazis, it's a pretty unappealing portrait of an amoral careerist, isn't it?

This is just creepy though:

At one time he poignantly remarked that he could forgive Schwarzkopf for having worn a Nazi uniform and taken an American boyfriend right after the war, but what he could not forgive was that she later married British impresario Walter Legge, through whom she obtained British citizenship (and the title of Dame Commander). For Legge was a Jew.

I didn't know that Legge was Jewish. Wow.

Pliable said...

Henry, interesting isn't it that the fact that Legge was Jewish is not well known, or often discussed.

See this link for a list of prominent British Jews, which includes Walter Legge




this link