Eschenbach: We were refugees in snow, they come in boats

Eschenbach: We were refugees in snow, they come in boats


norman lebrecht

February 01, 2016

The conductor Christoph Eschenbach has urged the German government not to set a limit on the number of refugees it admits. In an interview with DPA ahead of a Europe tour with the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington DC, Eschenbach recalled his flight as a child from East Prussia, ahead of the Russian army. His grandmother would die in a refugee camp.

‘In the deep snow of 1945, one searched for a crust of bread,’ he recalled. ‘And the person in front, or behind you, would just die. I can understand this (refuugee) phenomenon very, very well.’


stephen roe refugees



  • Myrta says:

    He should stick to music instead, as apparently he knows little of the dangers of uncontrolled migration. No one is opposed to helping genuine refugees, but it’s abundantly clear that the majority of those showing up are economic migrants, or worse, affiliated to IS like the ones involved in the Paris attack. There are people going from as far as Vietnam and Bangladesh posing as refugees.

    • Rebecca says:

      I completely agree with you. Eschenbach is a typical, what the French call, “gauche caviar”, publicly exclaiming support for all leftist social causes, but leading a life of the 1%, caviar, chauffeur, and multiple luxury residences included. Having interviewed Eschenbach on three occasions, one realises, very quickly actually, that he is a person completed disconnected from the reality of our world, totally self-absorbed, trying to project an image and persona of being in solidarity with human and social causes, yet unwilling to get his hands dirty, or look straight-on at the reality facing our society and civilisation. He speaks in platitudes, but I would be extremely astonished if he would invite a group of refugees into his home, until they got settled, offer them financial support, or even volunteer at a refugee processing centre. That would be below him and for others to do.

      I also find his comparison of German-born refugees, like he was, with over a million plus Syrian refugees trying to get into Europe, not speaking the language, few having needed work skills and hardly any having family ties in Germany or elsewhere.

      Eschenbach, as I have read and heard, is the conductor most obsessed with his money and fees, demanding bankrupting remuneration, which few will now offer to him, with good reason. Why doesn’t he contribute financially to the resettling of refugees in Germany, by offering them housing, education, job placement and health care. The ‘gauche caviar’, like Eschenbach, need to stop making dramatic empty proclamations and put their own resources behind their words, that is when he would become believable. In the meantime he can continue in his pursuit of being considered among the most greedy and money-obsessed musicians of our time. Shame on him!

      • Dirk Fischer says:

        Since it is so “abundantly clear” to the both of you, perhaps you can explain what is a “genuine” refugee, and why most of the people coming into Europe are not?

  • Tobi says:

    What a stupid f*ck! Compare German refugees after WW2 with 60% glory hunters from the Middle East… you have to see it to believe it 🙂

    We all know that the brain is in rapid decline after the ago of 70. It’s about time to protect Mr. Eschenbach from himself.

  • M. Scully says:

    RE 1945, Eschenbach is talking about Germans fleeing deeper into Germany.

    This situation in 2015-2016 is not the same kind of thing.

    The fact that he was one of those fleeing Germans in 1945 does not make his implicit argument any less fallacious.

  • May says:

    Mr Eschenbach is of course entitled to his opinion. However…
    Eschenbach lives in a rarified existence and has no contact to normal people. An artist perhaps, but also a member of the “1%.”
    His opinions echo those of Chancellor Merkel, who says, “we should do this” or “we should do that,” when in fact, neither Merkel nor Eschenbach has to roll their sleeves up and deal with the ramifications of being in the “we” group. If Eschenbach wants to help migrants invade Germany, then “he” can do that. Since he has never been on the receiving side of social services (and I don’t mean welfare, but for example borrowing a book from the library or wondering why the government doesn’t repair those potholes on your street year after year), then he doesn’t understand why so many German don’t want to open their country to migrants: year after year we have been told that there is no money, whether it be for culture or for basic services, however now there is suddenly money for other things? Like I said, if Mr Eschenbach wants to house migrants in his own house, with his money, and teach them German as well, then more power to him. But the rest of Germany doesn’t want their government to force this self-made crisis on them.

    • MacroV says:

      Much as many on this blog don’t like Eschenbach the conductor, his experience as a refugee has to be respected.

      In what way is this a “self-made crisis?” People fleeing from a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands? It’s possibly a consequence of climate change and the west’s (including Germany’s) failure to take timely action against Assad’s butchery.

      The response: “If that’s what he thinks, he can do it himself” is so incredibly juvenile. He has every right to state his opinion on public public policy in a democratic state, and try to influence it. And for all you know, he may be putting his money where his mouth is.

      And if you are German, think of it as karma: Much as I admire modern Germany, the country has several generations to go before it can even begin to think it has begun to atone for all the harm it did the world in the 20th century, and the millions of refugees it created. Taking in a million refugees (just over one percent of the population) is truly the least it can do.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        The comments of Makrov about karma are appalling. In any event, Germany will soon enough feel the effects of millions of refugees from alien cultures, with totally different values and a medieval religion soon enough. Of course, there are many well educated Syrians who will doubtless integrate and ‘get with the program’ – after all, Assad was educated in the UK and many Syrians speak English well. But the problem is that the vast majority of the arrivals are not refugees at all but economic migrants. We all knew this; those of us watching from afar. And they’ll never be removed because the slightest whiff of a round-out will see them disappear into the community forever. Higher crime rates and reduced safety on the streets will be the first price to be paid. Then there is Cologne and the plight of Sweden which now ‘boasts’ the highest rape incidences in the world. But Germany does seem to take many things to extremes and this is another example.

        I feel sorry for those families, too. Who wouldn’t? But we MUST ask the question (or, at least, you should), “is what is good for refugees also good for Europe”? The comments about taking refugees into advocates’ homes is silly, but there is a great deal of validity in the comments that those in ivory towers will be light years removed from the daily problems faced by ordinary Europeans. And people know and understand this all too well. Watch our for a very resurgent alternative political party with all this.

        Christian Thielemann was eviscerated for trying to speak for the people of Dresden on this issue. And I suspect Eschenbach (whom I’ve seen in Vienna) will be a darling of the luvvies. Go Christian!! I love you and so do the people of Vienna!!!

        • MacroV says:

          My point is that Germany still has a huge moral obligation – for generations to come IMHO – to provide aid and comfort to those in need. A small bit of atonement for all the evil their grandparents perpetrated on the world not so long ago. Merkel, at least, seems to understand this.

          • Holly Golightly says:

            I totally disagree. Nobody is responsible for the sins of the father. And the subsequent generations have paid the war reparations themselves.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            The idea that Germany has to help these refugees because all Germans have to “atone” for things they never did themselves (and “for generations to come”!) and which happened before most of them were even born is completely wrong and nonsensical on multiple levels – morally, historically, and politically.

            Morally, because the concept of collective guilt is primitive and repulsive (the Nazis called that “Sippenhaft”). And Germany has already done way more than any other country to make good for the atrocities that were done by its previous generations, and to address the skeletons in its collective historical closet through ongoing education and open public discussion of the past. It also raises the question of which Germans exactly have to “atone for generations to come” – only those of “Aryan” descent, or those of “mixed” descent, too? What about more recent immigrants who are German citizens? Like I said, that whole idea is born out of a primitive tribal mindset which is wrong and repulsive.

            Historically, because Germany had very little to do with creating the huge messes all over the Muslim world from North Africa to Afghanistan. Much of that is the result of post-colonial meddling by Britain and France and, of course, the US which is primarily responsible for the current situation that actually caused all these people to become refugees. Yet the US does next to nothing to help – they want to take in 10,000 refugees while Germany is already prepared to take in as many as 100 times (!) more – whereas Germany only has 1/4 of the population of the US.

            Politically, because the will to help people in need is already there more than in any other country, and many Germans are on board with that, but not because they think they have to “atone” for something they never did themselves, but because there is that political and historical awareness that was shaped by the above mentioned very open approach to history. That means that many Germans think they need to and they want to help simply because they can, and they happen to be in a more privileged position than those poor refugees. And because they have a more global outlook these days. That kind of “atonement” rhetoric undermines that will and only helps to strengthen radical “enough is enough” populists. Some Greek politicians tried to milk that whole idea during their latest economic meltdown, too, and it only backfired. It’s just not a very clever idea to label the same people who one needs help from as eternal Nazis. And yet the majority of Germans is still willing to help.

    • Wolfgang says:

      Your comment is shameful. The situation is difficult – no doubt. But currently people only speak of the increasing number of Germans who are doubtful that Europe and the biggest country in Europe will fail with the enormously demanding challenge ahead of us. However, 50% of the current German population is not against Merkel’s policy – which is not as simple as Pegida, AFD and other right-wing parties successfully manage to make people believe it is. The Germans were the evildoers in the 20th century – but those few Germans who were not were often in despair that there was so little help outside Germany against the Nazi barbarians – and, on the contrary, so much collaboration and so many closed borders for Jews and other so-called “enemies” or aliens. Everybody in Europe who now is blaming Merkel should remember that this history is not long gone. Everybody born 1940 and earlier (as Maestro Eschenbach) is aware of this shameful EUROPEAN episode, and interestingly enough the elder statesmen in Merkel’s party (Blüm, Geisler, Biedenkopf…) are all supporting her, and proud of her taking on a leadership role in a rather unpopular situation. So naysayers shut up, and don’t get in the way of those who do their job for a better world.

      • Doug says:

        Democracy substituted progress for civilization. Progress means failure to appreciate, living always in a world not yet inhabited. So-called “refugee” proponents care nothing for our very civilization (classical music included) but goose-step over it in the name of “progress”.

      • May says:

        Wolfgang, at last count, 60% are against Merkel’s disastrous politic:

        I should add, Eschenbach hasn’t lived in Germany for years, except for in expensive hotels. He should just keep his mouth shut.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Wolfgang, I hope for your sake that you do get ‘a better world’. But things do not look at all promising. I love Germany and the Germans and have spent time travelling to just about every little nook, but I shall never return again. It has changed so much for us now that there’s little point in our making the effort. We were in Munich last year (April) and the Hauptbahnhof was an effective no-go zone. Just awful and we couldn’t wait to leave.

        I’ll just watch the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall from now on.

        Good luck!

        • Christopher Culver says:

          “We were in Munich last year (April) and the Hauptbahnhof was an effective no-go zone.”

          I for the life of me can’t understand what you’re on about. I’m in Munich from time to time, a visit that often begins at the bus station next to the Hauptbahnhof, and so I often walk through the train station on my way towards the city centre. It’s entirely unthreatening, well-lit, and frequented by ordinary people generally going about their business. Indeed, it is much less seedy than many of the German urban train stations I remember in decades past. (Only the long-running renovations that force some detours have been an annoyance.) If you are referring to some streets around the train station, their downmarket appearance can be blamed less on terrible invaders than on the native Germans, who are entirely capable of turning a neighborhood into a haunt of prostitution and other dodgy establishments without the assistance of Muslim immigrants.

          • Holly Golightly says:

            Well, I can only say if you find Munch unthreatening I can only imagine how awful it must be elsewhere. We stayed in the Europaischer Hotel adjacent to the hotel and all night there was screaming, fights, prostitution, drug-taking and when I complained to the Tourist office the woman there said, “Oh, please, put it in writing because the police will do absolutely nothing”. It was terrible.

          • Michael Schaffer says:

            Still no reason to get overly concerned, Holly. Prostitution is legal in Germany, and while using heavy drugs isn’t, it is largely decriminalized so these activities are not driven completely underground so they are more visible and that makes it much easier for the police to keep an eye on them and for social workers to help the people caught up in them – rather than filling prisons with hoards of non-violent drug offenders and making real criminals out of them (which is what is happening on an epic scale in the US, where I am guessing you are from).
            I was in Munich myself in June and I didn’t find it at all “threatening” either, nor did my 76-year old mother who wandered around the inner city for hours on her own while I was busy with work stuff.

    • John says:

      Unless you know Eschenbach’s own experience as a refugee, you probably won’t ever understand where he’s coming from.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Actually, I believe he came from an Eastern EUROPEAN mostly-Christian country.

        • Mathieu says:

          You do know that there is an important Christian community in Syria (as well as an even more important one in Lebanon)? I guess that for you Arab=muslim, eh?

          In any case the idea that muslim people are unfit to live in civilized christian countries is as racist as it gets.

          I am fed up of people using the Cologne atrocities to cast suspicion upon all refugees.

          As for eschenbach, he is a fool. But fools can be right sometimes.

  • John says:

    There is a distinct difference here. These people could live safely in Turkey or Greece. Instead, they have chosen to cross multiple international borders. They are not true refugees, who are obliged to seek asylum in the first safe country they reach, but economic migrants. Germany has already received more than one million of these people, and other countries are struggling with a similar load.

    Some of these immigrants have disregarded our laws, but still have some prospect of repaying Europe through hard work. Some are happy just to leech off the hard work of taxpayers. Others leech and also repay Europe with extremism, disrespect, violence and rape, as reports now describe all too often.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      John, I have seen you make this same comment on every Syria refugee-related thread, but I wonder how many refugees you’ve met personally. I spent some time in Syria just before the war, especially in Aleppo which months later would be utterly destroyed. Many of the people I met and stayed in touch with ended up fleeing over the border in Turkey. There they found no way to support themselves, and found themselves having to sleep and eat at mosques, because while the Turkish state has accepted the Syrian influx, it has not permitted the refugees to lead any semblance of a normal life – the bureaucratic hassles are severe. Yes, they could “live safely”, and yes there are some dead-end camps for refugees, but especially for someone with skills and education, it is a humiliating and frustrating experience to sit around accepting charity when one really wants to just work for a living. It came as no surprise to me when a couple of my friends decided to risk the journey to Europe, not with an aim of “scrounging off taxpayers”, but precisely in order to pay their own way through life.

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Points all taken. But what disturbs people the most is the large armies of single, young and fit males making the journey. And we ask, watching this, who is left to defend the remain women, children and elderly? It’s not a good look at all, to be honest. There will be hard questions which demand answers and no amount of air-brushing is going to remove them.

        • Christopher Culver says:

          “And we ask, watching this, who is left to defend the remain women, children and elderly?”

          Those who make it to Europe and establish themselves there can eventually bring the wives and children on the grounds of family reunifications. If they are making any money, they can sometimes wire some of it to their kin in the meantime. But you cannot blame people for preferring fleeing to fighting. The Syrian civil war is a fight between Islamists of various stripes and the Alawite minority that has maintained a firm grip on the country until lately. If you – like so many middle and upper-class residents of Aleppo – did not subscribe to either religious cause and found both sides abhorrent, why would you take up arms with either one to fight against the other?

          • Holly Golightly says:

            That is, if there are any left after the males have left!! I ask this question: what would the UK look like now if tens and tens of thousands of able-bodied men abandoned it for the USA in World War 2?

        • MacroV says:

          This is a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition. Hordes of young men and you scream “Hide the women and children from the Muslim rapists!” Families come over and people say “How can you subject children to this arduous journey?” Can’t win.

          Young men come over in many cases because they’re young and fit and can endure the trip – children and old people not so well. And if there’s only money to send one, you send the one most likely to survive the order. Yes, in many cases they anchor themselves and send for the rest.

      • MacroV says:

        Thank you. My father was in a refugee camp in Italy after World War II, and said it was a horrible experience, not because of the treatment but because of the sense of dependence it created. He was there for about six months but couldn’t wait to get out and make his way in the world. Are millions of people supposed to stay in refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon for years on end? Yes, strictly speaking, Syrians who leave those camps for asylum in Europe are in a sense economic migrants, but who could fail to understand that they want to live, not just survive?

        • CDH says:

          Apparently Palestinians are expected to stay in camps indefinitely, as so many have. If you think this is an appalling state of affairs, you are slurred as “Pro-Pal,” a demeaning and offensive term, and denigrated by many, not excluding around here. A nation essentially founded by refugees will not treat refugees they have had a part in creating as fully human. The ironies never cease to amaze me.

        • Pianofortissimo says:

          They should rather integrate in Lebanon or in Turkey or wherever they belong culturally instead of staying in camps for generations. As for Mr Eschenbach it is lastimable that he cannot see the difference between Germans flying in their own contry as the “enemy” approaches, or Germans escaping from DDR to West Germany, and the economic migrants flowing into Europe just now.

          • Mathieu says:

            Ah the ignorance. For your information, Lebanon has a population of three million, and it is already overcrowded with refugees. It has ko infrastructure, its government isin shambles and the previous refugee crisis (in 1975) launched a 15 year war. As for turkey Syrian refugees hardly “culturally” belong there, since they don’t even speak the language. Yes they do not speak arabic in Turkey! Didn’t know that, huh?

          • Pianofortissimo says:

            Besserwisser Mathieu’s reading difficulties are unfortunately very common nowadays. Any further discussion is surely meaningsless.

          • Dirk Fischer says:

            >> As for Mr Eschenbach it is lastimable that he cannot see the difference between Germans flying in their own contry as the “enemy” approaches, or Germans escaping from DDR to West Germany, and the economic migrants flowing into Europe just now.

            I think it is you who has a rather limited understanding of 20th century history, if you think Germany were fleeing from the “enemy” alone.

  • Mick says:

    I’m sure Mr. Eschenbach has at least one, probably many, nice spacious residences. Why not set a great example and invite some of the poor victims to stay with him? A great way to get some taste of what he wants to treat the rest of us to. Another suggestion would be for him to take a stroll around say Cologne central station in the evening, possibly wearing a skirt, and see how that would turn out. Which is not to say he wouldn’t enjoy it…

    • RW2013 says:

      He prefers to eat Chinese…

    • MacroV says:

      An incredibly juvenile response to a serious problem. Like those (including former President W) in my native USA who say “if you think taxes should be higher, the IRS accepts cash and checks.”

      • Mick says:

        The great danish physicist Niels Bohr once said “Some things are so serious, all you can do is joke about them”. Do you really think this blog is a place for a “serious discussion” of this appalling threat to our very existence? Who are we to find any solutions to the problem that was created by stupid, immoral, corrupt, selfish, irresponsible, delusional loony left politicians 50 years ago when some of them suggested we could get some fresh work force over here, as if people were machines or cattle that you can replace. You just “reschool” and “resocialize” them, and “explain” to them that they are supposed to respect women (and children and their fellow humans and the human life and so on and on), and after that “course” everything will be fine. Muslims have nothing whatsoever to do here in the West, and even if the recent wave of migrants are kicked out of here all of them, the problem will persist just the same. A very “serious problem” indeed, I agree with you completely.

  • Dave M says:

    Bravo to the man. I have to agree with him. So many Germans were kicked out of the lands where they were living for centuries in the not-so-distant past. A slightly different situation perhaps but still a refugee is a refugee. My ancestors too were kicked out of their homeland for reasons of religious persecution as well as for reasons of trying to get out of a war zone. We must remember what was done to our families in order not to be unkind to other families.