Anne-Sophie Mutter: My teacher was Jewish

Anne-Sophie Mutter: My teacher was Jewish


norman lebrecht

January 09, 2019

That’s strangely what she does not say in today’s interview with the Strad, repeating the sanitised Wiki line that Erna Honigberger ‘fled Berlin during the War’.

‘I had only two violin teachers, both of them women.The first, Erna Honigberger, was a student of Carl Flesch.

‘She fled Berlin during the war, ending up in the tiny corner of the Black Forest where I happened to grow up. She was a fabulous woman who was already in her mid-seventies by the time I met her.

‘As she had a poodle and a giant tortoise in the living room and rabbits in the garden, arriving for a lesson at her house was like going to see Dr Dolittle’.

Elsewhere, in a book interview, Anne-Sophie is more forthcoming:

‘My first teacher was Erna Honigberger, who has been a pupil of Carl Flesch. She was half Jewish and had come to our little village from Berlin because of the War. As a concert artist she called herself Erna Mottl because she also played in coffee houses and probably did not want to be recognised.’

‘Probably’? If Erna had been recognised and denounced, she would have been arrested and deported to a death camp. Anne-Sophie Mutter would never have known her.

These are consequential issues.



  • Robert Roy says:

    Nothing to see here. Move along…

  • Cantantelirico says:

    What was your purpose in publishing this?

  • MacroV says:

    I think most readers will be astute enough to understand WHY she had to flee Berlin. And you do point out that she mentions in the article that she was Jewish. So just what is your point?

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      That is a foolish assumption to make. And as a German artist, she should not be doing anything to cover up for the Holocaust. As for being “half-Jewish,” that made no difference to Adolf Hitler.

      • Tamino says:

        Can you explain, how you get from ‘not mentioning explicitly that someone is (half) jewish’ to ‘covering up for the Holocaust’?
        I can’t follow you there.

    • Alex Davies says:

      It’s actually by no means clear that somebody fleeing Berlin during the war would be Jewish. Surely there could be all sorts of reasons for somebody wishing to flee Berlin, e.g. learning of the atrocities being perpetrated by the Red Army as they advanced towards Berlin.

      • Tamino says:

        True. Furtwängler also fled Berlin during the war.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Many people left Berlin before a during the war for reasons other than their Jewishness. She could have feared persecution for her political beliefs or some action/behaviour which the Nazis considered “degenerate”.

  • Rogerio says:

    I hope not to be provocative… but simply to comment the post by Mr. Lebrecht.
    Frau Honigberger must have been in her 50s at the time of the war. Had she been in her teens she could conceivably be alive today, have a poodle, and a young violinist could have a violin lesson with her in the Black Forest.
    Would this young violinist be obliged to mention in an interview that her teacher was half Jewish and had moved to the Black Forest from Berlin to escape the war?

    • Sander says:

      Had she been in her teens (or any other age) she would have had a very fair chance of being murdered in a death camp. No matter where she was, in Berlin, the Black Forest, Budapest or Amsterdam.

  • Simon says:

    And what is half Jewish? If her mother was Jewish, she’s Jewish. If her mother was not Jewish, she was not a Jew. There is no such thing as being half Jewish.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      Feeling Orthodox this evening, are we Simon? The Nazis didn’t care which half was Jewish. Mom or dad and it was off to the camps.

    • Bruce says:

      Did the Nazis care about such distinctions?

    • Fritz Curzon says:

      There most certainly was under Nazi rules

    • Glerb says:

      Well, in Germany at the time it was a significant distinction unfortunately.

    • M2N2K says:

      You are half-right and half-wrong which makes you semi-antisemitic.

    • Jeanne says:

      In the 3rd Reich the Nazis classified people with Jewish parentage by how many Jewish grandparents they had. They had charts that explained how to determine a person’s status. There were degrees of what they classified as a Mischling. People with one Jewish parent (didn’t matter which one; this isn’t Halacha) could be sent to a labor camp (I stayed with a couple in Frankfurt where each of them had one Jewish father, but were then members of the Jewish community.)

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Not to the Nazis, not to Reform Jews, and a lot of Jews and other people. The mother rule was simply made to de-bastardize a lot of illegitimate children.

    • Alex Davies says:

      In the context of Jewish jurisprudence this may well be true (although you do somewhat simplify a question that is in fact much more contentious), but in the context of Nazi racial policy it is both inaccurate and irrelevant. At best, Ms Honigberger would have been deemed a Mischling of the first degree (further biographical information would be needed to establish whether she would be considered a first-degree Mischling or a Jew in terms of German law). The quotation above makes it perfectly clear that what is relevant is the fact that Ms Honigberger would have been considered non-Aryan under Nazi racial law. The fate of Mischlinge within the German Reich during the course of the war was in fact a good deal more nuanced than Norman suggests, but one can certainly see why Ms Honigberger would have wanted to keep a low profile.

    • Michael says:

      Please inform yourself. A quick read of the Nuremberg laws might enlight you.

    • Really? What about converts to Judiasm who keep all the laws strictly and respectfully, even more than Jews with a Jewish mother?

      • Mark says:

        In Judaism (as a religion), practice and ritual are most important. The point of conversion is to acknowledge publicly that one accepts the covenant, and to be accepted as a member of the Jewish community. If one is born into the community, legally noted as through the matrilineal line, one doesn’t have to convert, regardless of whether one practices. Many Jews think it is more important to get a born Jew to return to observance than to convert a non-Jew.

        • Alex Davies says:

          “Many Jews think it is more important to get a born Jew to return to observance than to convert a non-Jew.”

          Isn’t that in fact what almost all Jews believe? Judaism is not a proselytizing religion. It’s not like Christianity and Islam, in both of which religions there is an imperative to try to convert almost everybody to those religions (I say almost everybody as there are exceptions, e.g. Catholics are not supposed to try to convert Jews).

          As far as I understand it, Jews believe that they are under a special obligation to observe the law precisely because they are the people who have been chosen by God for this special role in his plan for human history. So whereas a Jewish person will of course believe that gentiles should abstain from certain behaviour, e.g. murder, theft, adultery, etc., they do not believe that gentiles are under any obligation to observe the law that is specific to Jews, e.g. keeping the Sabbath, observing a kosher diet, wearing certain head coverings, etc.

          • Tamino says:

            And since we know (or t least by all we know it’s the most likely) that there is no God at all, how insane is all that, religion itself, basing identity on religion, one’s life being under threat for belonging to a religion, etc.
            Pure human madness, either way.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Actually, there isn’t really an obligation for Moslems to proselytize either. They are supposed to “respect book people”, that is, other religions based on “the book”. This is a bit wider than Christians and Jews. The main obligation is to live under Moslem rules. Through most of the history of Islam, Moslems have had very little interest in converting the communities in which they live. (It has only really changed for certain Moslems within the last hundred years).

      • Erwin Schrodinger says:

        If one converts to Judaism in the “proper” way, then one is a Jew. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and (one of the newest variations) Reconstructionist Judaism all have different conversion requirements and rites. Usually an Orthodox conversion is usually accepted by all the non-Orthodox variants but sometimes it is not acceptable to certain different strains of Orthodoxy. Also, some Conservative authorities will look into the details of the Orthodox conversion and if they deem it inadequate they may reject it. Conservative conversions are generally accepted by Reform and Reonstructionist Judaism. I do not believe that Orthodoxy accepts non-Orthodox conversions but there may be rare exceptions. Reform and Reconstructionist conversions are generally accepted by all congregatons of their own respective version of Judaism. Reform and Reconstructionist congregations generally accept each other’s conversions. Conservative frequently accepts Reconstructionist conversions but less frequently accepts Reform conversions, typically looking into what the conversion process actually entailed. I believe that what I am writing is generally correct but it should not be taken as providing definite guidelines.

    • Mark says:

      You write from a perspective that holds that Judaism is a religion. To many people, Nazis not least among them, to be Jewish is to be a member of a physical race, with distinguishing physical and cultural characteristics. The racialist position doesn’t care through what line you get your Jewishness, since it has nothing to do with religious practice.

      • Tamino says:

        There is no such thing as a jewish race. Scientifically that’s nonsense.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Tamino. Whether there is a “Jewish race” is irrelevant to the point Mark was making. The key point is that the Nazis *believed* there was a Jewish race, and acted on those beliefs. The Nazis believed that certain races were superior and wanted to eliminate those who, they believed, contaminated this superior race.

    • Erwin Schrodinger. says:

      It is quite common to say that a person with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent is “half-Jewish,” especially if the person does not presently practice Judaism. If the individual does practice Judaism, then one usually says the person is Jewish, if mention of their religion is made at all. As I am sure you know, in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, one is considered Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish but not otherwise. However, Reform Judaism will consider someone Jewish if their father is Jewish, they have been raised as a Jew, and they practice Judaism as specified in the Reform Jewish Resolution on Patrilineal Descent. Admittedly, the last two specifications are sometimes interpreted rather loosely.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Frankly I cannot for the life of me see why saying Erna Honigberger ‘fled Berlin during the War’ is a ‘sanitised’ version of events. Anyone with the least knowledge of WW2 will know that it was a wise things for some who was Jewish to do. As Mutter is talking about her as a teacher I cannot see why on earth she should have been more forthcoming.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Think how nobody under the age of 40 probably knows anything about it.

      • Alex Davies says:

        Really? Nobody under the age of 40? In state schools in England the Holocaust is the only event in history which it is compulsory for all children to be taught. If you think about that fact for just a moment you will realise how remarkable it is. It is quite possible for a child in England to leave school not having studied the Roman occupation, the consolidation of the English kingdom, the Norman conquest (and, indeed, Anglo-French relations down to the Entente Cordiale), Magna Carta, the Reformation, the civil war, the restoration of the monarchy, the Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights, the union of the four nations of the United Kingdom and the partition of Ireland, the acquisition and loss of the empire, electoral reform 1832-1928, the industrial and agricultural revolutions, and the Great War.

        I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but anybody educated at an English state school since the early 1990s will know about the Holocaust. In fact those under 40 are therefore more likely to know about the Holocaust than those over 40 (indeed, many British schools until relatively recently deemed that the teaching of history did not go beyond the Great War). Furthermore, although not compulsory, Nazi Germany (often studied with the history of the Soviet Union, usually with a focus on Stalin) is one of the most popular options (perhaps the most popular) for GCSE and A-level history.

        Holocaust education is also mandatory in, of course, Germany and Austria, and, unsurprisingly, in Israel and Poland, as well as in Hungary, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and twelve US states (and possibly more besides, as my information may now be out of date). Some countries, such as Romania, have only recently introduced Holocaust education, again meaning that young people are much more likely than their parents and grandparents to understand the Holocaust.

    • Alex Davies says:

      I actually don’t think that Ms Mutter said anything wrong: this was a passing observation and she is not required to provide a biography of her teacher or to deliver a history lesson. However, saying, ‘She fled Berlin during the war’, in no way makes it clear that the subject of the sentence is Jewish. Surely anyone with the least knowledge of the war, to use your words, would also be able to imagine any number of reasons why it would be preferable to spend the duration of the war in the Black Forest rather than in Berlin. She may, for example, have fled Allied bombing raids or Red Army atrocities (depending when she fled).

      • M McAlpine says:

        I just can’;t see within the context of the interview itself why ASM should have said her teacher was Jewish

        • Alex Davies says:

          I agree entirely. I was just saying that there could have been a number of reasons why non-Jewish people would also have wished to leave Berlin during the way, perhaps somewhat as some people tried to leave London during the war.

    • david hilton says:

      Exactly. Did NL criticise Ms Mutter for failing to clarify that, “by the way my husband is Jewish”, during all the years that she was married to Andre Previn, and must have mentioned her husband repeatedly? After all, someone might logically assume that the 10-year-old Previn and his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1939 because of the balmy weather there, unless we constantly clarify that — did I mention this? — he is Jewish.

      This article is like a bad Woody Allen joke.

  • Dennis says:

    What’s “strange” is that Anne-Sophie Mutter should be expected to give a full biography and history lesson in a brief interview statement about one of her earliest teachers.

  • We value your privacy says:

    Of course, Carl Flesch was Jewish as well. And Andre Previn (ASM’s former husband) is Jewish, too. What does that teach us? Not much, in fact.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      All these disinterested comments are a little too vaguely anti-Semitic. Not seeing the significance of it is astonishing.

      • Glenn Hardy says:

        Excellent points…both of which will be denied by the disinterested commentators. It’s very out-of-vogue now to be so “fixated” on what Jews went through in the past. (not to mention the present.) Many find it all so tiresome and are just sick of hearing about it. We have new groups of people to be worried about…the Jews had their time for our sympathies, and now we’re just supposed to move on. All this “what’s your point, Norman?” stuff truly is disingenuous.

      • Tamino says:

        The fact that I’m not interested in the spaghetti monster makes me in your ‘logic’ a spaghetti hater?

    • Her children as far as I know, went to private Hebrew School in Munich. I believe that mentioning her teacher’s heritage is a result of understanding the importance of acknowledging the ultimately horrifying result of the Thousand Year Reich, especially in these days, and though not mentioned, how her ‘village’ kept her teacher’s true identity protected which kept her alive. It’s all connected. Menahem Pressler, another German Jewish artist, always acknowledges that his piano teacher in Magdeburg kept on teaching him inspite of the laws of the Time. Hat tip, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and to Norman for bringing up this point.

  • Many Germans who weren’t Jewish fled urban areas to avoid the bombing, so the statement does not necessarily imply that she was Jewish. That would need to be explicitly stated. The lightly populated Black Forest was especially popular as a refuge for Germans fleeing bombs.

    In fact, the Trossingen University of Music, where my wife is a professor, was moved from Stuttgart to Trossingen, a small rural town about 100 kilometers south of Stuttgart, to avoid the bombing. The locals liked having a University of Music so much that it was left in Trossingen after the war.

    Many British, especially children, were also sent to rural areas for safety during the war.

    • Mr. Knowitall says:

      And some of those English children who were sent to the countryside found magical wardrobes that led to enchanted lands!

  • Tiredoditall says:

    Perhaps to never forget what humanity lost? To remind ourselves is to honor the millions of victims and to give hope for future generations. Simple stuff, empathy.

  • Lawrence says:

    Mr. Lebrecht takes every opportunity to disparage Ms. Mutter. This is just another example.

    • Tamino says:

      Probably in extension to her being a prodigy of Mr. three-times-joining-the-Nazi-party-carreer-opportunist-von-Karajan, which is not her fault.

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    If the coffee house period was post war, she “probably” did not want to draw attention to a somewhat infra-dig activity from the point of view of a concert artist-

  • Edward Friel says:

    Sorry, your paranoia is showing.

  • Sara M. says:

    is this more american style identity politics/PC nonsense? What was the pt of this blast?

  • Herbert says:

    A BBC correspondent mentioned recently (late 2018) about interviewing someone who fled the violence in Sarajevo during the siege. He asked whether the guy is Muslim, and got the reply he’d always recall: “I’m a musician.”

  • Alex Davies says:

    I think it’s rather unworthy to suggest that Ms Mutter is deliberately downplaying Nazi atrocities against the Jews. The interview is intended to be no more than a snapshot of her life and is no doubt a condensed version of what was actually said anyway. One of my own teachers was a German-speaking Israeli Jew, but I probably would not mention this fact if I were giving a brief interview summarising various aspects of my life and career. Nor would I expect one of my own students one day to have to account for my having a Welsh surname.

    • Dave T says:

      I will not go so far as to say that ASM is “deliberately downplaying Nazi atrocities against the Jews.” Nevertheless, that a teacher in Germany today is an Israeli Jew is of only slight consequence. That a teacher in 1940’s Germany was a Jew is of great consequence.

      Context, context, context…

      • Alex Davies says:

        True, and if Anne-Sophie Mutter had been taking lessons in the 1940s I would have agreed with you entirely. She was, however, born nearly two decades after the end of the war. She is talking about taking lessons from somebody who was a half-Jewish German citizen around 1968 or shortly thereafter. She was also only around 5 years old at the time and probably did not yet know a lot about the Holocaust. Therefore, what is relevant to her is that her teacher was for some reason living in or near Rheinfelden. That her teacher’s reasons for fleeing there some 25 or 30 years previously had something to do with Nazi racial policies probably did not seem to be of the utmost importance in an interview of this considerable brevity.

  • Dear Norman, you lob this grenade into our midst with ‘there are consequential issues’ without any indication of what’s in your thinking. Might you be more specific? ASM’s early work with Karajan might also raise ‘consequential issues’, if I’m guessing the motive behind your post.

  • buzzearl says:

    As a Jewish American who studied in Germany from 1981-1983 (then West Germany) I can assure you that you could –even then– stop a conversation by letting anyone know that you were Jewish. During that time, I had the occasion to visit a string instrument-repair shop in Bremen, and speak with its owner. When he found out I was Jewish, he broke out in tears, telling me that he had witnessed the day that the Jews of his community were lined-up against a nearby wall and gunned down by Nazis with machine guns, killing all of them, all men, women, and children, instantly. He also stated that he never thought he would see a Jew in his shop again. No doubt, Germany has done a great deal to atone for this the horrific period in its history, but I assure you, at that time, 1981-1983, there were very, very few Jews in Germany or Austrian orchestras (the first woman, Madeleine Caruzzo, received a permanent contract with Berlin at that time and I know of no Jews who were in Berlin at that period) much less in teaching positions. (Note: I still remember the members of the free-lance orchestra with whom I played a concert commenting rather loudly regarding one of the singers of upcoming concert, “Sie ist Judin.” ) Accordingly, it is very significant the ASM’s teacher in the 1970’s was Jewish, much less that she survived at all and was able to work with a prodigy who would go on to be connected with Herbert Von Karjan, especially given Von Karjan’s known associations. Sadly, we in the music world of my native city of Los Angeles were the fortunate recipients of Germanys’ atrocities, as so many of Europe’s elite musician’s- Piatigorsky, Heifetz, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, not to mention Korngold,- were forced to flee Europe, thus making Los Angeles their home, and creating a legacy of high-level classical music which has enriched our lives (and the standards of music) for generations.

    • I lived and worked in Munich, Kiel, Braunschweig and Kassel at the same time you were there, and in addition to there being many expat Jews living in Germany, I encountered many, many Jews who had remained in Germany after the war, many of whom were friends of my late father, a Holocaust survivor, as were quite a few of the Jews in Germany with whom I came into contact. I remember attending Rosh Hashona services in the Reichenbach Synagogue in Munich and it was packed with young and older Jews. As a stage manager in Kiel, I fearlessly informed them I would not be working on YOM KIPPUR because I was Jewish and there was nothing said. However, I did encounter some negative comments by the housemaid of a well known concert agency where I worked in Munich, and the owner/double bass player once told me he had many Polish workers on his parents farm in the Allgaue during the WWII….

    • We value your privacy says:

      buzzearl, as a matter of fact, Michel Schwalbé, the BPO solo violin from 1957 until 1985, was a Polish Jew, so there was (fortunately!) at least one prominent Jewish musician in Berlin in the years 1981-1983:é

    • LEWES BIRD says:

      So Stravinsky is Jewish now? As a pretty well confirmed antisemite, you’ve just made him roll in his grave.

  • aj says:

    Contantelirico, well someone has to take the blame for
    the playing.