Zeventien jaar na de publicatie van "Wagners Hitler", waarin hij de stelling verdedigde dat Richard Wagner als profeet van Adolf Hitler medeschuldig was aan de holocaust, bekent de Münchense literatuurwetenschapper Joachim Köhler nu dat hij verkeerd was. In een essay getiteld "Wagners Acquittal" (Wagners vrijspraak) lijst hij in de nieuwste editie van The Wagner Journal alle argumenten op die zijn eerder geformuleerde stelling volledig ontkrachten.
Köhler werd in deze kolommen altijd radicaal verguisd omwille van zijn onwetenschappelijke aanpak. In ernstige academische kringen vond hij geen gehoor maar hij wist wel een hele rist Wagnerhaters en Wagneronkundigen op sleeptouw te nemen zoals bijvoorbeeld de Duitse historicus Michael Hesemann. Die schuift Wagner een onfrisse bloedideologie in de schoenen in zijn boekje "Hitlers religie" en noemt Wagner onomwonden een racist, een beschuldiging die met een zekere regelmaat ook in De Morgen opduikt. Raadpleeg je Hesemanns bronnenlijst dan zie je maar één enkel werk over Wagner, u raadt het al, Joachim Köhlers "Wagners Hitler".
Köhler verwijst zijn buitensporige gedachtenkronkel daarmee naar de rommelkamer van de geschiedenis. Wie er ijverig uit citeerde gaat mee de dieperik in. Waarom hij 17 jaar geleden tot deze denkoefening niet in staat was en welke gewetensnood hem er vandaag toe brengt om publiekelijk door het stof te gaan, is mij een raadsel maar behoort ongetwijfeld tot het domein van de psychopathologie.
Hierna enkele fragmenten uit deze verrassende bekentenis :
"My accusation, voiced in my 1997 book Wagners Hitler, was that Richard Wagner had, amongst others, inspired the persecution and extermination of the Jews in Hitler’s Germany. The accusation, based on numerous similarities between Wagner’s texts and the genocide of the Nazis, led automatically to the charge that Wagner was guilty of
incitement to mass murder.
This charge was supported by the unquestionable fact that Bayreuth and the Wagner family encouraged Hitler’s rise and had virtually adopted him into the family. But – as I see it today – this elective affinity [Wahlverwandtschaft] occurred decades after Wagner’s death. It is historically incorrect to equate the Bayreuth clan, including the heavyweight propagandist of anti-Semitism, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, with Richard Wagner.Wagner was never a narrow-minded sectarian, unlike his wife Cosima. Wagner always considered himself a spiritual revolutionary whose concern was the liberation of human beings, including the Jews, from their so-called ‘curse’. The idea of torturing or killing human beings for the sake of this goal would have been foreign to him. He would have opposed it vehemently." (...)
The magic bullet always chosen by Wagner’s prosecutors is to quote relevant ‘passages’ from his books. Simply quoting is good enough for writing new books, but it is not sufficient to establish whether a defendant has actually committed the crime with which he has been charged. No phrase is intelligible by itself. It changes its meaning depending on the context in which it was spoken or written. (...)
Anti-Semitism, allegedly Wagner’s most important concern, did not stand at the centre of his life. As deduced from his dramas and voluminous writings, his main interests were theatre and philosophy. In both his most significant literary works, Oper und Drama and Mein Leben, anti-Semitism plays practically no role. If at all, it is found in the philosophical works, and there, too, it is never pivotal. Wagner’s preoccupation was the rebirth of ancient drama and the Athenian art-as-religion which he expected from the Germans. The great adversaries of the new, free and loving human beings created by this art-as-religion were in the first instance not the Jews, but greed and egoism.
The fact that he enlisted the Jews as the embodiment of these vices stemmed not from his diseased imagination, but belonged, alas, to the Christian tradition and the philosophical Zeitgeist of Germany’s post-Napoleonic era, the period known as ‘Nationales Erwachen’ (national awakening).
Throughout his life Wagner was surrounded by disciples and supporters, many of whom were Jewish. The modern perception that he only tolerated them in order to exploit them is wrong.
Even his relationship with the opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, whom Wagner hated owing to envy, was a contradictory affair. Thus in old age he dreamt of wandering arm in arm with Meyerbeer through Paris, or of apologising to him, in the very theatre where Wagner had teased him because of his nose – whereupon the audience broke into applause. (...)
No, anti-Semitism was not the theme of his life, as the prosecution claims. It was one theme among indescribably many, including an avowed liking for Jewish friends and associates. As previously stated, it is not true that he merely exploited them all and despised them besides, as alleged by the prosecution. They themselves, in any case, noticed nothing or only a little of this. Even his conductor Hermann Levi, who, it is alleged, was particularly maltreated by Wagner, spoke about him in the most affectionate terms. Either Levi suffered from a perceptual disorder, or Wagner’s prosecutors do. (...)
Wagner grew up within an ideological tradition in which Judaism and Jewishness constituted the diametrical opposite of Christianity. Christianity’s chief virtue, brotherly love, supposedly clashed with Jewish egoism, which mainly found expression in greed. This had been a firmly held belief for centuries; Wagner did not invent it.
This irreconcilable polarity was exacerbated by the philosophy of revolution. It was believed that freedom for all could be achieved only if oppression and exploitation were violently ended. The former was symbolised by the aristocracy, the latter by Jewry. (...)
How did Wagner come up with the idea that Jewishness is a manifestation of human existence that must be overcome? On the one hand, from Hegel and Marx. On the other hand, from Heinrich Heine, the German-Jewish poet. Wagner got to know the latter, one of his great idols, in Paris. Heine warned him about the German-Jewish composer Meyerbeer’s skill in suppressing young musicians by scheming, and about Meyerbeer’s alleged venality – he paid the critics for his success. Wagner, wide-eyed, took this in. As much as Heine – a convert – strove to return to his roots, he was still convinced that Jews were in need of redemption. In his poem about the new Israelite hospital in Hamburg – which his philanthropic uncle Salomon Heine had founded – he gave expression to the suffering of the Jews, also described as a ‘curse’. Worse than any ailment, he wrote, was the ‘thousand-year-old family curse’. The hospital can well heal ordinary suffering, but not the ‘the incurably great disease of the brethren’. Their ‘dark pain’ can only be ‘made extinct’ by time.
Wagner adopted these ideas about the ‘extinction’ of suffering, thus ‘redemption’, in his ‘Jewishness in Music’, which he concluded with the infamous words ‘only one thing can redeem you from the curse which weighs upon you: the redemption of Ahasuerus – downfall!’ [nur eines kann eure Erlösung von dem auf euch lastenden Fluche sein: die Erlösung Ahasvers – der Untergang!]. It went unnoticed that here he adopted Heine’s concept as well as Hegel’s and Marx’s dialectical rhetoric.
Likewise, it has barely been noticed that Wagner’s German-nationalist late philosophy also belonged to contemporary anti-capitalist trends. His 1881 essay, ‘Know Thyself’, generally counts as the epitome of his absurd hatred for the Jews – and yet fundamentally it was not about them but about the ‘demon of suffering humanity’.
This demon was the greed for ownership, the compulsive accumulation of property. Wagner described this as the true ‘thorn in the flesh of suffering humanity’. This demonic power of greed, owing to which humanity is perpetually at war with itself, Wagner saw embodied in the Jews, but not in them alone. All people of the present day, simply, were possessed by the demon of money. As soon as the redemption, overcoming and extinction of this great human suffering came to pass, according to Wagner, there would be no more Jewishness. Only free humans. An artist’s dream. (...)
Wagner never spoke about Jewish matters other than in code. He did not want to be understood by the masses, only by the few – one might call them the ‘unhappy few’ – whom he could win over to his revolution. In contrast to Marx, who wanted to change the material situation of mankind, Wagner aimed for a new spirit faithful to art. Only art made true freedom and pure humanity possible. With the advent of this new spirit, other forms of consciousness such as the Jewish or the French spirit, the spirit of the Junkers and of the Jesuits, indeed the whole Catholic Church, and critical journalism too, must disappear: that went without saying.
The vision was as realistic as the global conflagration in his Götterdämmerung from which humankind emerges purified"