Daniel Barenboim: Even in World War II, there were places where one could escape

Daniel Barenboim: Even in World War II, there were places where one could escape


norman lebrecht

January 03, 2021

The conductor, in a Covid conversation with the Salzburg chief Helga Rabl-Stadler, has made an unguarded and unfounded comparison between the present pandemic and the second world war.

Helga Rabl-Stadler: Daniel Barenboim, how would you describe the year 2020 in retrospect?

 Daniel Barenboim: I think it was a particularly difficult year. There has never been a global problem of this dimension. Even in World War II, there were places where one could escape. Today, we are all slaves to this pandemic. There are very different aspects of this we must keep in mind:

Of course the first consideration must be health, all over the world and for everyone.

The second consideration must be the huge economic problems. It is terrible that so many people have been driven into poverty by the pandemic.

And third, one must not forget that this pandemic attacked all of us. We cannot relax our thinking. A great nervousness has gripped all our human and professional relationships. There are people who are more fearful than others, but we are all under pressure.

On reflection, he may wish to revise this metaphor. Six million died in the Holocaust because no other country would accept them. Million of soldiers on both sides died because they had no alternative. Millions of civilians died because there was no shelter from bombs or invading armies.

This is a really unwise statement.




  • Sly says:

    Stop comparing anything to WW2. It never ends well.

    • SVM says:

      The ‘lockdown’ measures across the world are killing millions of people through delayed/denied medical diagnosis and treatment alone (including suspensions to childhood vaccination programmes in the Third World). Governments in ‘the West’ have gone totalitarian (to my mind, the UK government’s Coronavirus Act of March 2020 grants emergency powers with chilling parallels to Germany’s Enabling Act of March 1933).

      If we do not make comparisons to WW2, we have learned nothing about how to prevent the atrocities of that time from ever happening again (alas, genocide and war crimes *have* happened again since WW2, albeit maybe not on the same scale).

  • My goodness, did he say this? It’s not unwise. It’s onot even stupid. It’s evil

    • Tiredofitall says:

      A musical talent does not automatically bestow great intellect or wisdom. Witness…

    • HugoPreuss says:

      He was probably thinking about his own family. Remember, he was born in Buenos Aires during the war. Not a wise comparison, but on the face of it not factually completely wrong. There is no escape from the pandemic anywhere in the world. On the other hand, in Argentine his family was safe. Barenboim may be a lot of things, but “evil” is not one of them.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It was probably merely a slip of the tongue, uttered without much thinking, as often happens to authoritarian people. Very unlikely DB was seriously thinking of WW II being a better time. Also he obviously meant it geographically, not morally or politically. It’s true: in WW II you still could go to places which were relatively safe, if you had the resources and the contacts, as Stefan Zweig did – first fleeing to England, then to the US, then to Brazil where he had all the freedom and quiet to commit suicide.

      • Kenneth Weiss says:

        Difficult to determine IF he was thinking:
        His credibility suffers from a long term association with late PLO member and academic poseur[and Lulpater] Ed Said

  • Kenneth says:

    Before we all hop aboard the Anti-Daniel train, let’s consider his usage of the word ‘dimension’.

    Which dimension would that be? Not death count, surely, so let’s nip that in the bud.

    No, it is an existential crisis to the fabric of our lives and cultures. There were concerts in London as the bombs fell, yes? The dimension is that our culture is being oppressed by our own selves, sown by our own paranoia and lamentable responses to this pandemic.

    And now, we are beginning to normalize this behavior, with many making the long-term transition to digital outlets and ‘distanced-experience’. Covid-19 is a catalyst to a greater evil… We’re losing ourselves.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Nonsense. The people who gave this comment a thumb-up are loosing themselves.

      • Kenneth says:

        With all due respect I must beg to differ! Living in Vienna, I have lost so much of my musical life this year – This is an attack of an existential nature! We’ve lost our livelihoods and thus seen our lives diminished. This must be taken seriously.

  • Derek H says:

    I don’t think this observation should be taken to heart as insensitive.

    He is simply attempting to convey the widespread global nature of the pandemic which has impacted on everyone and all countries to some extent. He is not setting aside the horrors of war or the holocaust.

  • A.L. says:

    I think so too. No comparison.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Agreed. It is a nonsensical statement, and suggesting WW II was not THAT bad after all.

    • Kimerbly Davies says:

      No. Are you part of a Holocaust cult religion or what?
      He’s just saying that people in e.g. Malawi (etc.) were not harmed during WW II… but Covid is global.

      Yes… there may be other better ways of expressing that, but give a person the benefit of the doubt, rather than taking a super superior hyper-moralistic stance yourself, whilst looking down and judging others.

  • Ludwig's Van says:

    His comment wasn’t meant to be taken literally – but he intended a certain shock-value, as indeed we are at war with a most insidious enemy. His heart is in the right place, so let’s see it that way.

  • James Weiss says:

    Daniel Barenboim is a jerk. Always has been. Always will be. Here endeth the lesson.

    • Luca says:

      This sort of language is shameful. Shame on the moderator too!

      • Micaelo Cassetti says:

        No shame on the moderator… Freedom of speech still has its uses.
        We can judge intemperate language as we can worthy language. Does anyone want this forum to become any sort of echo chamber?

  • Ed says:

    “Even in World War II, there were places where one could escape”. For example Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, etc. I agree with Barenboim.

    • Patrick says:

      Yes! If one was from the Nazi regime!

    • Fliszt says:

      Yes, during WW2, if one could get to Sweden or the Americas, you were safe. But with Covid, there’s no safe place – even Antarctica has it.

      • Eden Elieff says:

        As if it were simple to escape to America or Sweden. Check out what happened to the US St. Louis. Or how people needed forged documents to leave Germany after ‘38, or how this country maintained quotas. Check out the feckless Bermuda Conference of 1943, which did nothing to help the refugees it was supposed to help. Barenboim’s comment is ridiculously simplistic. If I stay quarantined to avoid infection, I do not fear a knock on my door that would put me on a train to a death camp.

    • Jack says:

      Perhaps if one had influence, money and connections, something none of my relatives had.

    • Mike Z says:

      or China or India or Africa. To Barenboim’s point, most of the planet lived in areas such as these, minimally or wholly untouched by WWII, whereas no such enclave exists for COVID. NONE. That is his point.

      PS. My point is broader — victimization is not a contest.

  • Pianofortissimo says:


  • Luca says:

    What Maestro Barenboim says seems, as in general with him, to be eminently sensible.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Just wait until the leftist media in the US sees how he used the word “slave”. Their heads will explode!
    I get Barenboim’s point, but perhaps it was a bit insensitive.

  • David Derrick says:

    Well, my mother, who was paid pocket money by her father to tear down Nazi posters in 1933, has said the same thing. During the war, it was possible (for SOME people: does that even need stating?) to lead a somewhat normal life. During a lockdown, that isn’t possible for anybody.

  • sam says:

    As I said in a prior post, for which I was roundly criticized, today because of Covid, even Israel won’t take in a stateless (non-Israeli) Jew.

    What is a “homeland” that you can’t go home to (if you don’t already have Israeli residency)?

  • M McAlpine says:

    Oh for goodness sake. I never have much time for DB’s postulating but this appears quite reasonable as long as you don’t take the comparison too far. It has been said that at least during WW2 you could gather to go down the pub or meet with friends and family or go to a concert. I think that is what DB was driving at. Give the guy a bit of slack and stop being too literal. All he said was ‘At least during WW2 there were places [cinema, concert hall, pub, etc] you could escape,’ which is correct.

  • Alviano says:

    I think the hysteria of the original item and most comments unnecessary. WWII was a world-wide event, but even so there were some corners of the world, as at least one poster pointed out, which escaped death and destruction. Corona has, however, covered the globe. To say this does not, to me at least, equate the two. DB only refers to the extent of their effect.

  • JussiB says:

    This is what music conservatories produce – fine musicians but no knowledge of the world. Better to get a well-rounded higher education first, and study music on the side (like Bernstein and many others).

  • JussiB says:

    To be fair, all this banning of restaurant eating and classical music concerts has zero scientific data to back it up. The new Covid surges are due to crowded private and public gatherings and spreading the virus to other family members. The 2020 Salzburg festival had strict Covid protocols in place and ZERO infection. If you really want to shut down restaurants do it by zip code and region. And we all know classical concert goers are generally better behaved and don’t move around during performance like other music genres.

  • Fernandel says:

    Never underestimate Barenboim’s rhetorical skills. He exaggerates on purpose in order to strike the minds. He merely adapts to our time.

  • MacroV says:

    Methinks you doth protest too much. In WWII if you were in the middle of Australia, chances are the war wasn’t going to hit you, other than the impact on the economy or if you had a loved one fighting it. But COVID is everywhere; there’s nowhere on Earth beyond its reach. Give the man a break.

  • Madeleine Richardson says:

    Actually a Jewish friend who was a child living in occupied Belgium during WWII, said exactly the same thing to me during the first lockdown.
    I do know that my parents (Belgian mother and British father in the RAF stationed in Belgium after Normandy) did go out a lot even though it was extremely dangerous.
    In fact on two occasions when he was on leave he had to send my mother home while he helped with trying to get victims out from under bombed buildings.
    My mother was thrown under a bridge due to the blast of a V2 rocket but fortunately survived with minor injuries.
    Many people decided to take risks and that included going to the cinema often with tragic results, such as the bombing of the cinema Rex in Antwerp, again by a V2 and after the city had been liberated.
    It is not possible to judge how you would react under extreme circumstances.

    • Madeleine Richardson says:

      I should perhaps specify that the family of the Jewish lady in question lived under false identities thanks to the Belgian politician, Camille Huysmans, who later became Prime Minister.

  • fflambeau says:

    I think the writer of this misunderstands Barenboim. Ane he is right; there were a few places to escape in WWII.

  • Alexander T says:

    Would it be possible to have Barenboim-free spaces, concert halls, blogs, music documentaries etc etc…..

  • Nancy says:

    Thank you Norman, for your thoughts, which I support.

  • christopher storey says:

    This was a baseless attack on Barenboim, who as usual talks sense. Despite the grievous losses , WWII affected predominantly those in Europe ( including European Russia ) and SE Asia, and even in Europe there were many social aspects of normal life which were preserved . That has to be contrasted with the present situation where social life has ceased, the entire population of the world is at risk, and there is no relief , either physical or mental , from the situation

  • Kind Vivian's reminder says:

    Whose using “Reductio ad Hitlerum” here?
    Is it Barenboim? Or is it the person who pulls in “Six million” and “Holocaust” into the discussion, all of a sudden, out of the blue?

    Please: Let other people do that “magic trick”. It’s does you no favour.

  • Violin Accordion says:

    He’d go anywhere for the opening of a paper bag

    But he’s a bit stymied even for that nowadays

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “This (Barenboim’s) is a really unwise statement.”
    I am in complete agreement with you, Norman.