Daily Israel Report

Op-Ed: Of Music, Jews and Evil

Music can be a platform for anti-Semitism.
Published: Friday, February 24, 2012 5:11 PM



A portrait of famous composer Frederic Chopin that once hung in Auschwitz has just resurfaced at the home of a Polish university professor.

The portrait was on the walls of a building where the Auschwitz prisoners’ orchestra held its rehearsals.

Paul Celan's “Todesfuge”  poem recalls the Jewish musicians forced to perform by the S.S. Jewish musicians were ordered to play a “Death Tango” during marches, grave-digging, tortures, and executions.

Chopin was a genius, but a Jew-hater too. That’s why the Nazis took inspiration from the Polish composer. Richard Wagner was another notorious anti-Semite, and Adolf Hitler loved his music.

Wagner and Chopin, needless to say, weren’t Nazi. They died before Hitler was born. But their hatred of the Jews, like Hitler’s, was more than a tic: it lay at the heart of their vision of the world. The glories of “Tannhauser” and “Lohengrin” provided a musical accompaniment to the Holocaust.

There, in the gas chambers, the faith in “truth as beauty and beauty as truth” met its end.

Many other composers accepted to serve the Nazi monster, including Herbert von Karajan. But the most famous was Wilhelm Furtwangler, the greatest German musician of the century who conducted at a concert for Hitler's birthday in 1942.

A new generation of anti-Jewish composers and opera authors is emerging in the last years. At the end of the month the English National Opera will, in London, begin staging “The Death of Klinghoffer”, a music production that revolves around the tragic Achille Lauro hijacking by the Palestine Liberation Front of October, 1985. Composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman claim that their purpose in the production was to afford equal voice “to both Palestinian and Israeli suffering”.

The music romanticizes the killing of an innocent, wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, shot in cold blood, in the forehead and chest, and then dumped into the sea.

When the Brooklyn Academy of Music first staged Klinghoffer, Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, the daughters of Leon, attended anonymously. Disgusted at the idealistic portrayal of their father’s killers, they issued a statement: “It’s a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic”.

Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, a winner of the Unesco International Music Prize, is a famous Jew-hater. “Everything that happens today in the world has to do with the Zionists... American Jews are behind the world economic crisis that has hit Greece also”, Theodorakis said last year. The president of Austria’s National Council pulled the plug on Theodorakis’ song “Mauthausen Trilogy”, which was slated to be sung at a Holocaust remembrance event in Vienna, because of the songwriter’s anti-Jewish statements. Earlier Theodorakis declared on Greek television that he was “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic”.

Last year the famous Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim led an ensemble of European musicians to Hamastan, including Italians from world-renowned opera house of La Scala in Milan. The conductor crossed a red line with his most unethical gesture. Barenboim refused to take part in Israel’s 60th anniversary festivities, he refused to be interviewed by a reporter for Israel’s Army radio simply because she was wearing an IDF uniform, he obtained a Palestinian passport approved by the former Hamas-led Palestinian unity government, he performed in Ramallah when terror groups were launching suicide attacks against Israeli restaurants, and he compared Israeli soldiers to Nazis during a lecture at Columbia University in New York.

“Moses and Pharaoh” by Gioachino Rossini, the19th century Italian opera master, was staged again in an anti-Israel, anti-Jewish re-working at the prestigious Salzburg Opera Festival. Hannah Conway‘s “When I Am Old”, inspired by the mythology of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist who lost her life in 2003 trying to block Israeli bulldozers clearing an area used by terrorists, depicts Israeli soldiers as Nazi-like characters.

You also have “Manifest Destiny” by the composer Keith Burstein and librettist Dic Edward, a musical opera which romanticizes Palestinian suicide bombers.

Echoing T.W. Adorno’s dictum, “Hitler und die IX. Symphonie: Seid umzingelt, Millionen”, this is the new soundtrack of hatred.