Herbert von Karajan was a Nazi

New book about KarajanNot a Nazi, but an opportunistic fellow traveler

Did Herbert von Karajan just come to terms with the Nazis or did he play an active role in the Nazi system? Fred Prieberg [*] first raised the question in his 1982 book "Music in the Nazi State", which is still in the room today: Most Karajan's biographies are vague, if not evasive, about Karajan's behavior in the Third Reich. Klaus Riehle, born in 1963 and studied Islamic studies, on the other hand, takes a clear position and does not mince words. In his latest, more than 600-page book, he presents an overwhelming and astonishing abundance of previously unknown, informative documents that let "Das Wunder Karajan", which was talked about in Berlin in the 1930s, appear in a new light. So far, his actual political role has remained largely opaque, as he did everything after the Second World War to cover up traces and make memories forgotten. The critical Karajan biographer Oliver Rathkolb once quoted an interview by Karajan who allegedly confessed:

"For him, membership in the NSDAP was like membership in the Alpine Club, so that you can spend the night cheaply in a hut."

Karajan's espionage activity?

However, Klaus Riehle has now unearthed documents that cast a slightly different light on Herbert von Karajan. The most explosive document found by Riehle suggests that the star conductor was doing espionage.

"At the first meeting of the Allied Denazification Bureau, the British representative surprisingly stated that Karajan had been listed as a security agent Aachen, dated 1943, in a captured index."

Did Karajan spy on colleagues on his many tours? Riehle does not provide clear evidence, but the abundance of evidence is overwhelming. Karajan's closeness to high SS leaders and his early membership in the NSDAP speak for themselves.

Riehle documents Karajan's behavior towards his illegitimate daughter Ute Heuser in great detail in the paternity suit that she has brought to light. An opaque process in which Karajan managed to evade a paternity test until his death. He was buried under night and fog in his home town of Anif, only 33 hours after his death. Riehle indicates that they might want to prevent a court-ordered removal of tissue samples. But Karajan's claim that he was never in the Wehrmacht is questioned by Riehle. He found the list of Wehrmacht fees of the Berlin Admiral's Palace in 1943/44, in which Karajan was listed. He also quotes a number of contemporary witnesses who claim to have seen him in Wehrmacht uniform, including his wife:

"Because that Herbert von Karajan belonged to the Wehrmacht - even if only for a short period of time - confirms the statements of Anita von Karajan."

Admirable hard work of the author

Riehle scoured libraries and rummaged through archives. His book is an admirable piece of hard work. The sheer flood of documents in the work is impressive. However, the more you read the book, the more unsavory the insight into Herbert von Karajan's alleged involvement in the network of the Nazi system.

"The further you delve into the matter, the more you penetrate this almost impenetrable network. Karajan is certainly not the only Beelzebub, rather you have to regard him as part of the entire network."

Riehle emphasizes that Karajan was probably not a staunch Nazi. But, and that is no less immoral, Karajan was an active and opportunistic follower and shamelessly used every top-class Nazi contact that served him in his career and striving for power. Riehle's book shows that he owed his career more than he later wanted to admit to the so-called millennial kingdom. The miracle that after 1945 he controlled and manipulated all information about himself and his past. In an ambiguous, late interview, he once confessed:

Karajan: "My ideal is, now I say a paradox, to be omnipresent, and you don't actually see me."

Herbert von Karajan's fear of his past being uncovered dominated him until his death. The same thing happened to the singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who was also not free from Nazi entanglements, with whom Herbert von Karajan worked in legendary productions. The irony of life, what the "grande dame of German song" once confessed to me in an interview about the Karajan case:

Schwarzkopf: "A case that has always been reported completely wrongly, and which I actually don't want to correct because it's so terrible that I can't even publish it. So no: I don't want to destroy this impression as he does actually as far as I'm concerned, if I told the truth in that case, at least I would make people wonder, and I don't want that because he was such a great musician. "

Lies building will collapse

Klaus Riehle does not want to destroy Herbert von Karajan at all. But he brings down the body of lies of those contradicting, partly false, partly refused statements by Karajan to later inquiries.

Even if he sometimes uses a very sloppy language and draws conclusions that may not be compelling in every case, anyone who is seriously interested in Herbert von Karajan cannot ignore this book. Its source collection alone is unrivaled. After reading this book, one again considers Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's claim that music is a sacred art to be questionable.

[* Editor's note: In a previous version, the name of the book author was misrepresented.]