Should a Holocaust survivor talk to the Wagners?

UCLA is putting on an opera about a curious friendship between the late Yehuda Nir, a New York psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor, and the white sheep of the Wagner family, Gottfried Wagner.

Gottfried has made it his life’s mission to apologise for his family’s role in the Holocaust. He is an outcast from the Bayreuth dynasty. He is a well-intentioned loner.

The recent death of his aunt Verena Lafferentz, highlight the dilemma. Verena Wagner, in 1943, married a high-ranking SS officer from the Race and Settlement agency who ran a small concentration camp on the grounds of the Bayreuth estate.

That’s what the Wagner family did. One white sheep does not redeem the disgraceful flock.

Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner with ‘Uncle Wolf’

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  • As the Jewish scriptures tell us that the children are not held responsible for the sins of the fathers, where is your problem?

    • Your source? There is a Bible passage which states that some sins of the fathers are not atoned for ten generations.

      • There’s also something about loving your enemies. Has been working quite well in Christchurch lately.

          • In your example, Norman, following the values in scripture would be a grave mistake. It only takes a moment’s thought to realise that the concept of responsibility for atoning for sin extending down 10 subsequent generations (or even further, with the concept of original sin) is ridiculous and an inhuman affront to any commonsense system of moral values and natural justice.
            It may be that our ancestors perpetrated injustices, the present-day negative consequences of which we can mitigate, but that is not the same as being personally responsible for their ‘sins’.
            Why not talk to a descendant of a bad person if it improves the chances of healing old wounds?

          • No child is responsible for the doings of his/her parents/forefathers. With every child, life begins anew.

          • Agree completely. An absolute nonsense to suggest otherwise. Lett he blame fall on the guilty. Victimizing someone because of their name is dangerously akin to the behaviour being condemned.

          • Sorry I just assumed you would have known the Jewish scriptures. Here is Jeremiah 31:29-30
            “In those days people will no longer say,
            ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
            and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’
            30Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.”
            Also Deuteronomy 5:8-10
            ‘I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.’
            Please note that the promise to visit the children is to the third or fourth generation of those who hate God and their children continue to hate him.
            But when people turn to the LORD the sin of a previous generation is atoned for and he shows love to a thousand generations.
            Ezekiel 33:12-16 tells us that each individual shall be judged according to their own life.
            Just a few quotes. There are many more. The problem is people rip verses out of of context
            I am of course giving the quotes from the English Old Testament

          • err…, such as the one for “a Bible passage which states that some sins of the fathers are not atoned for ten generations” ?

      • “As the Jewish scriptures tell us …” / “There is a Bible passage which states that…”

        And that’s why we have to separate church and state. Thank you for that impressive demonstration.

        @Norman: I know what your Greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgrandfather did that summer.

      • NL: “The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them”.

        – Ezekiel 18:20

        • A bastard shall not come into the Congregation of the Lord, unto the tenth generation…
          Deut, 23:3

          • Using Christianity in an argument ultimately related to mortality is a terrible idea anyway…

          • A bastard is offspring from an unrighteous relationship. So it’s a status completely ignorant to one’s own good or evil doing and only depending on parent’s blood and standing within the Jewish law.
            So the quote seems irrelevant in the context completely.

          • By a lot of people, the whole family from RW onwards is considered a gang of bastards.

          • He isn’t but everyone who ever met him agreed that Richard was.

          • Being born of a proscribed relationship is not a sin — it’s a state of being.

          • Really, who writes this garbage? Is it peer reviewed? If not it is not worth a fig.

      • A little learning is a dangerous thing. The Vilna Gaon learned that the word ‘poked’ means in the context of the verse not ‘visits’ but withholds.’ Thus in the merit of a father, a son’s sins remain unpunished and vice versa to the third and fourth generation. Otherwise how could there be a Merciful God slow to anger and full of lovingkindness?

    • The issue isn’t so much that guilt is transferred to children. It isn’t, and I don’t think anyone here really thinks that. The issue is that sometimes crimes are a manifestation of cultural beliefs, and that the transformation of cultural values is a long process that can take many generations.

      Slavery in the New World is a clear example. It was based directly on the values of European conceptions of white supremacy. And as our sad American history illustrates, we are still working to change those values and end racism and its consequences 155 years after slavery was abolished. And we will likely still be working on this 155 years from now.

      I’ve live in Germany for 40 years. Most people here are very conscious of the responsibility they have when dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust. There is a collective sense that a long-term process of cultural transformation must continue. And there is still a sense of collective guilt as shown in the reparations and restitutions that are still being made.

      • William writes: “Slavery in the New World is a clear example. It was based directly on the values of European conceptions of white supremacy”

        Actually, the concept of white supremacy came about due to the slave trade, and not the other way round.

  • as i understood the festival is about the wounderful works of composer Richard Wagner and his amazing ideas about theatre and humanity. it is not about the family Wagner. because of his great music so many people are coming every year to this little place in Franconia, also since the working conditions there are unique. it is neither about ideas out of the old testament (which in our western world hardly have any ground) nor is it about analysis or crime and punishment of anybody . let’s continue to make great music ! let’s continue to be free and think free !

  • Mr Lebrecht,
    I am sure, you must be knowing, on the photograph is Wieland left and Wolfgang right.

  • If Siegfried, who was homosexual, refrained from marrying disgraceful Brit Winifred, Wagner family would have escaped all this shameful episode to some extent. Winifred
    was one of Hitler’s earliest admirers, long before the world had heard of him.

  • RE: “Should a holocaust survivor talk to the Wagners?”

    I think that that decision should be made by … [drum roll, please] … by the holocaust survivor.

  • I fail to comprehend a statement such as “One white sheep etc etc etc”.
    Gottfried, whom I have met on a number of occasions, is a delightful, intelligent and entirely different animal from the institutionalised Wagner tribe who all reject him and his philosemitism. He is an outstanding speaker and scholar and Bayreuth’s loss is his personality and untainted charm. Best of all, he resembles his famous ancestor more than any other member of the accursed family.

  • NL, I don’t understand the basis of your argument. Are you saying that Y. Nir and G. Wagner shouldn’t have struck up a friendship? If so, what possible good could come out out of their not communicating with each other? Are you truly suggesting that there should be no such communication for 10 full generations? If so, little wonder the M.E. is such a mess.

  • Shouldn’t that be “black sheep”?

    He’s carved out a nice little niche for himself – well paid, I’m sure, with endlessly fawning tributes from PC media – as the “Anti-Wagner” Wagner.

  • True – one white sheep does not redeem a disgraceful flock. But it redeems the white sheep.

    • Were it not for the genius of Richard the entire flock would be irrelevant nonentities. Thunk about the progeny of any other great composer by comparison — how many of them have hung on to the coat-tails of greatness to provide themselves with an income?

  • The idea that a “should” would be applied in this situation is offensive; as a Holocaust survivor and a person with basic personal agency, Ms. Nir was more than entitled associate with Gottfried Wagner if she so chose.

    It also seems possible to deplore the behavior of many in the Wagner clan through the generations while coming to a different conclusion about an individual member.

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