The remarkable pianist Markus Pawlik, a noted Schnabel specialist, has shared with us a letter from Artur Schnabel to his American lover describing a post-War dinner with his sometime colleague Wilhelm Furtwängler. It is a chilling document, demonstrating that the great conductor was in total denial about his dubious role in the Third Reich. It is the most vivid evidence I have seen of WF’s moral ambiguity:
Last night Furtwängler and wife came to see me. It was partly pleasant, partly opposite. So far it seems to me that these Germans cannot be helped, nor can they help themselves. He demonstrated the same old blending of arrogance, cowardice, and self-pity. After the first “world war” the German leaders circulated as facts what obviously had been fake. For instance: that they had lost the war only because the home front had stabbed the army in the back. The Germans had no guilt whatsoever in the outbreak of that war: that was another of their entirely baseless catchphrases. Now Furtwängler went as far last night (he got terribly excite, hysterical, shouted and roared), as to say that he has never known any Nazi. And that Germans and Nazis are not only absolutely different beings but hostile to each other. That millions of Germans are now murdered daily, and that the whole world shows its decadence by its total lack of charity. He admitted, however (without having been asked) that he has had quite a good time during the “regime.” What a confusion! Poor creature; he would love to do away, with some magic, with that whole spook – after it had failed.
A.S. to V.F
Sils Maria, July 29, 1947
Walking Freely on Firm Ground
Letters to Mary Virginia Foreman 1935–1951
Werner Grünzweig, Lynn Matheson, and Anicia Timberlake (eds.)