Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Hitler's "Desert Island" Record Collection

Even as his twisted world collapsed around him, Der Fuhrer Adolph Hitler apparently enjoyed some of his favorite tunes. Or so it seems. A former Soviet intelligence officer, Lev Besymenski, apparently found the 78RPM discs in the storied Bunker after the fall of Berlin. He took them back to the USSR and then never said a thing about it throughout his life. Besmenski died recently and thus the records and some documentation have been revealed.

Surprising to some, even leading some to say it is all a hoax (it would be if they found some Joyce Hatto or Sibelius' 8th Symphony there), is that the collection contained recordings by Jewish artists.

Specifically the talk is about a recording of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto performed by Bronislaw Huberman. Hitler had to have known, or someone would have told him, that Huberman was an exiled Jew and had founded an Orchestra in Palestine in 1936. Recordings by Artur Schnabel, whose mother was killed by the Nazis, were also found. In addition to his beloved Wagner, the collection included some Beethoven, Mozart and other German composers and surprisingly some Russians, Borodin, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff.

So was Hitler an opportunist when it came to antisemitism in music? Perhaps; one must realize that in the 30s and 40s, the number of recordings available were not like today. Some theorize Hitler was a bit of a hypocrite when it suited his purpose. He could claim in public that Jews did nothing to advance the art of music, but in private listen to Huberman play. Most dictators are hypocrites, privately luxuriating in the very things they banned as decadent or dangerous to those they sought to control; Brezhnev loved fast, fancy cars, especially Cadillac El Dorados and Lincoln Mark IVs, the Saudi Royal family is supposed to have a huge, fine liquor collection, just two examples. So this is far from the extraordinary. Thus, it is possible this is the real thing.

But questions remain and it may never be known if these are truly Hitler's. But if they are, it is a fascinating glimpse in to the mind of the monster.

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