Video interview with Richard Strauss’s Nazi protector

David Frost meets Baldur von Schirach, butcher of Vienna’s Jews. He tells Frost that he met Hitler first at the opera. ‘He was so well informed about music.’

 

Read more about the character of Richard Strauss here.

 schirach2

h/t Michael Haas

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • That interview was morbidly fascinating–I didn’t intend to watch it, but ended up hearing it in its entirety. Schirach comes across as so cultured, urbane, and sophisticated, and yet one cannot help but detect a glimmer of madness in him too, for example, when he states so calmly and smilingly, amidst protestations that Hitler was mad and a monster, that he was also a “genius.”

  • Your headline is disingenuous. Why would Strauss need a ‘protector’. He was far to iconic a figure in Germany and Vienna to be at any risk. His music was regularly performed and birthdays celebrated throughout the Reich. Furthermore the National Socialists were very aware and adept at promoting cultural icons for propaganda purposes.

    • My dear doctor, you know as well as I do that Strauss was in bad odour with the bosses for the last three years of the Reich and that celebrations of his 80th birthday were officially muted. His daughter-in-law was Jewish and he lived in fear that she and his grandsons would be taken to the camps. He looked to Schirach as his protector against such eventualities.

      • Interesting to note Richard Strauss’s letter to Goebels about “pure Arian race, Mozart, etc” actually daring to defend his Jewish librettist Stephan Zweig! After reading this account and despite Strauss violin sonata and all his symphonic and operatic works not being performed in Israel, I decided to perform his violin sonata just like Heifetz did (although he got ahead of himself trying to program the sonata in a Jerusalem recital in the 50’s and sadly being attacked by a outraged Israeli ….) I have forgiven many who stayed in Germany to “serenade” the “Fuhrer”, as Strauss , Furtwengler or others loved their culture and fatherland.

        • I wasn’t under the impression that Strauss music still is not performed in Israel. I actually have a recording of Zarathustra with the IPO and Mehta. There is also a video of them rehearsing Till Eulenspiegel. Speaking of which, I remember watching an Israeli movie many years ago – and it contained a scene in which Till Eulenspiegel played on the radio in the background – which surprised me. But I don’t remember what the title of the movie was. I think it was fairly old though, maybe from the 60s. I saw it on German TV a long time ago.

        • Of course you are right but you have a staggering advantage of hindsight/airmchair comfort etc. To reiterate a point made by the most poignant of posts in this thread..I hope that given similar diabolical circumstances I’d have behaved in the most moral of ways.

          • I think we should be cautious when asserting that willing collaboration with such regimes is equally close to the surface in all societies. By doing so, we discount unique social, cultural, and historical factors that were at the root of the problem and thus miss seeing root causes. Ironically, that is what would put us in closer danger or repeating such mistakes.

  • Thanks for providing this fascinating link.

    A powerful and salutary reminder that profound evil often wears a humane and charming face.

  • Unbelievable…. much of the time he comes across as ‘Mr Nice Guy’. !

    Norman – just for once can you please not ‘step back’ in a sort of dispassionate and ‘reporting’ mode – and tell us what YOU think about this ‘monster with kid gloves on’ …. his smug fraternal attitude, his precisely cultivated and cultured 98% Ok English, his obscene refusal to say even one word of apology, his patronising smiles….why on earth have you given this dreadful person ‘the oxygen of publicity’?

    • Norman didn’t make the interview. David Frost did. Norman just pointed us to it.

      And, of course, the point of the interview probably wasn’t to give Schirach “the oxygen of publicity” but to give people an opportunity to hear one of the top tier Nazis speak in order to – potentially – gain some first hand insights into the workings of the Third Reich and what some of the key players of the regime actually said and thought.

      Which – potentially – is of enormous historical interest, all the more since most of those key players either committed suicide during the collapse of the regime or were executed in Nuremberg. Of the latter, we have the testimonials from the trials, but I think – again, potentially – what someone who was there and participated on the highest levels of the regime had to say after he had 20 years time to think about it, and in a non-trial situation can be of much more value, to gain at least some first hand insights into the inner workings of the 3rd Reich.

      • Yes, it is no secret that you think Schirach was a nasty piece of work and that he bore direct responsibility for some of the biggest crimes committed by the regime, and I don’t think anybody who knows what very active role he played in the regime and all te terrible things he did would disagree.

        But it would be interesting to know what you think about what seems to baffle several commentators here – namely that he comes across as fairly friendly and cultivated (“humane and charming”), at least to some, and how hard it is to reconcile that with what we know about who and what he really was.

  • The sequence from 31:25 to the end is hair-raising. A very cultured man, but also very small and cowardly man looks in the mirror. His admission of having chosen to live in denial sounds very genuine and the Tennyson and Carroll quotes made me hope that, should fate ever be so cruel as to put me in a similar situation to his during the war, I’ll have the courage to do what’s right and speak truth to power.

  • “But it would be interesting to know what you think about what seems to baffle several commentators here – namely that he comes across as fairly friendly and cultivated (“humane and charming”), at least to some, and how hard it is to reconcile that with what we know about who and what he really was.”

    With apologies for lowering the tone, I thought at first that that paragraph referred to the egregious Frost, who now has a spot in Poets’ Corner, FFS.. I remember my teacher referring to him in 1963 as “not a very adult character”, and yet suddenly (no one knows exactly how) he had “risen without trace” to become rich enough to buy tv franchises all over the place to help his relentless self-promotion. I also remember that many of his famous interviews involved trial by tv and audience, bullying pretty soft targets. If I have a serious contribution to this debate, it’s to point out once more that many nasty people are charming and have nice views, and vice versa. Von Schirach was pretty urbane: as Leonard Cohen said about Eichmann, “What did you expect? Dripping green fangs?”.

  • The suave lies of the well-bred mass murder. Even though they are fundamentally different, there’s a curious harmony between Sir Forst and the artistocratic von Schirach that is deeply ironic. One thinks of the classism and privilege of people in the English-speaking world like all those Yalies of good family who went into the CIA to create death and mayhem in places like Guatemala and Vietnam. As if it were all jolly good sport that in the wisdom of their old age they vaugely regretted. We might make some sort of moral lesson out this, except that Hitler was the king of all and came from humble origins. The human pscyce isn’t picky, mass murders can come from anywhere.

    And yet one has to make some distinctions. There is nothing in the history of any other Western country that matches the systematic intentionality, intensity, scope, sadism, and horror of the Holocaust. Normally I wouldn’t even mention it, except for the attempts at relativism I see by commentators in these pages.

    Though he was a member of a noble Germanic family, von Schirach was three quarter American of mainly Philadelphia descent. Through his mother, Schirach descended from two signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence. English was the first language he learned at home and he was not able to speak German until the age of five.

    It’s also interesting to watch Schirach’s cultivated and cobra-eyed stare as he tells enormous lies. He says he knew Hitler was mad when he invaded Poland. If so, why did Schirach agree to become the Gauleiter of Vienna — the highest Nazi official of the city — and deport 60,000 Jews to death camps?

    He says that after Stalingrad he advised Hitler to replace Ribbentrop with a more Russian-friendly Foreign Minister. By that time Germany had already mass murdered 3 million Soviet POWs, and entirely devastated a region of the Soviet Union the size of the entire Eastern US all the way the Mississippi. The Soviets had already lost a million men in the Battle of Stalingrad alone. The siege of Lenningrad had already become one of the greatest horrors of human history. How could Schirach have thought that the Soviets could be appeased and the allies had any choice but unconditional surrender? And then he calls Hitler mad…

    He claims that the Gestapo and SS did all the work of the Holocaust and that he knew nothing about it. Modern research shows how widely the Wehrmacht participated, something that still meets with a good deal of German denial. (There’s a good documentary about the Wehrmacht’s participation and the continuing German denial by Michael Verhoeven entitled “The Unknown Soldier.”) And as if any decent people would have collaborated with the Nazis after the horrors of the Nuremburg Laws. As if the highest Nazi official in Vienna would know something about nearby Mauthausen, one of the largest death camps in the Reich.

    He said he was too busy to think about the issues, but how much thought does one need when seeing things like Jewish women stripped naked on public streets, jeered at and beaten. Does one sign up to become one of the Party’s major leaders?

    There are so many obvious lies, but I suspect that many, if not most people today will watch this video and be deceived by his lies and demeanor — the suave, well-bred, cultured mass murderer. It is deeply ironic to see him living in comfort and affluence after having caused such sadistic death and suffering for so many others — something hardly ameliorated by his lies.

  • The suave lies of the well-bred mass murderer. Even though they are fundamentally different, there’s a curious harmony between Sir Forst and the artistocratic von Schirach that is deeply ironic. One thinks of the classism and privilege of people in the English-speaking world like all those Yalies of good family who went into the CIA to create death and mayhem in places like Guatemala and Vietnam. As if it were all jolly good sport that in the wisdom of their old age they vaguely regretted. We might make some sort of moral lesson out this, except that Hitler was the king of all and came from humble origins. The human psyche isn’t picky, mass murders can come from anywhere.

    And yet one has to make some distinctions. There is nothing in the history of any other Western country that matches the systematic intentionality, intensity, scope, sadism, and horror of the Holocaust. Normally I wouldn’t even mention it, except for the attempts at relativism I see by commentators in these pages.

    Though he was a member of a noble Germanic family, von Schirach was three quarter American of mainly Philadelphia descent. Through his mother, Schirach descended from two signatories of the United States Declaration of Independence. English was the first language he learned at home and he was not able to speak German until the age of five.

    It’s also interesting to watch Schirach’s cultivated and cobra-eyed stare as he tells enormous lies. He says he knew Hitler was mad when he invaded Poland. If so, why did Schirach agree to become the Gauleiter of Vienna — the highest Nazi official of the city — and deport 60,000 Jews to death camps?

    He says that after Stalingrad he advised Hitler to replace Ribbentrop with a more Russian-friendly Foreign Minister. By that time Germany had already mass murdered 3 million Soviet POWs, and entirely devastated a region of the Soviet Union the size of the entire Eastern US all the way the Mississippi. The Soviets had already lost a million men in the Battle of Stalingrad alone. The siege of Lenningrad had already become one of the greatest horrors of human history. How could Schirach have thought that the Soviets could be appeased and the allies had any choice but unconditional surrender? And then he calls Hitler mad…

    He claims that the Gestapo and SS did all the work of the Holocaust and that he knew nothing about it. Modern research shows how widely the Wehrmacht participated, something that still meets with a good deal of German denial. (There’s a good documentary about the Wehrmacht’s participation and the continuing German denial by Michael Verhoeven entitled “The Unknown Soldier.”) And as if any decent people would have collaborated with the Nazis after the horrors of the Nuremburg Laws. As if the highest Nazi official in Vienna would know something about nearby Mauthausen, one of the largest death camps in the Reich.

    He said he was too busy to think about the issues, but how much thought does one need when seeing things like Jewish women stripped naked on public streets, jeered at and beaten. Does one sign up to become one of the Party’s major leaders?

    There are so many obviously lies, but I suspect that many, if not most people today will watch this video and be deceived by his lies and demeanor.

  • I watched this again with a mixture of fascination, distaste and horror. I still think there is an intact surface which at first seems humane and charming. Beneath that is an intense focus which is quietly but profoundly bullying. Any sentence beginning ‘Mr Frost . . . ‘ will provide a good example here.

    The contrast between his manner and the truth of what really happened is terrifying. And it is telling that he describes the SS’s lying references to the fate of the Jews thus:

    ‘The SS, you know could be so very sweet about answering such questions. You always thought they were so nice and kindly’.

    Rather like himself, indeed. Clearly a highly intelligent individual who, like his fellow defendant at Nuremberg, Speer, was able to formulate strategies to avoid the fate of other prominent Nazis who seem no more culpable. It is very odd to watch this man living in apparently comfortable circumstances and recalling his dismay that his tomatoes, home-grown at Spandau, were always destroyed. This, from a man responsible for the destruction of so much human life!

  • Norman

    Strauss’ 80th birthday was celebrated in Vienna with an all star concert performance of Ariadne conducted by Boehm with the VPO and broadcast throughout occupied Europe. The performance was attended by many high officials, It was released on record by DGG some years ago. The 1944 Salzburg Festival was to have featured the world premier of his opera Liebe der Danae but the festival was cancelled due to the war and only the general rehearsal took place. Hardly a muted birthday.

    • Dear Doctor
      This was an act of anti-Bormann defiance by Schirach, who ‘offered asylum in Vienna’ to RS and Hauptmann and ‘ignored any boycott of their works emanating from Berlin. Strauss cooperated with him – and the deal was that Alice and her sons should remain unmolested…’ (Michael Kennedy, p340; among other sources.).
      QED. NL
      .

  • Very thought provoking – yes, watch it twice and then read “Hitlers Willing Executioners” by Goldhagen and heed the words of Alice Herz-Somer. Thank you for bringing our attention to this interview Norman.

    • Of course Derek the phrase “the banality of evil” was coined by Hannah Arendt to attempt to describe one of von Schirach’s colleagues, Adolf Eichmann, whose trial she witnessed in Israel in 1961. It’s so relevant here: she wrote, “The deeds were monstrous, but the doer was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.” Obviously Stephen Fry was aware of whom he was quoting.

  • I think we should follow the truth in Von Schirach’s muffled quote,” A politician never believes all he hears.” As my mother would say, “Always speak good of the dead.” Von Schirach is now dead. Good!

  • This interview is, of course fascinating, and also horrifying. I wonder if Herr Schirach did anything to atone for what he did? Isn’t Hitler also fascinating in ways to hear about? How could someone of his education and background become such? I’ve read Herman Wouk’s “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” which includes a meeting with Hitler about his spell binding ability, otherworldly really. How else could you explain his ability to do what he did. How tragic that he didn’t put this to positive use! The world can be transformed by Love rather than hate! What a monumental waste WWII was! I also wonder, if I had been in Germany then would I have had the guts and insight to resist this like Bonhoeffer did? Still, what can I do today to resist evil and create a positive?!

  • >