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Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth Hardcover – December 4, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Viennese historian Hamann's important biography tells the complex story of Winifred Wagner (1897–1980), Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law, who headed the Bayreuth opera festival during Hitler's rule. An impressionable 18-year-old, British-born Winifred Williams married Wagner's middle-aged only son, Siegfried, in 1915, bearing him the heirs the Wagners so desperately wanted. When in 1923 Hitler solicited the Wagners for political support, an infatuated Winifred joined the Nazi Party, becoming Hitler's loyal devotee. Widowed in 1930, Winifred assumed directorship of Bayreuth amid rumors of future betrothal to Hitler, who, as Reich chancellor, put the festival center stage in his political campaigns. As increasing numbers of Jewish artists were exiled, Winifred bargained to gain exemptions for her friends and was gradually frozen out by Hitler. Without claiming heroic status for Winifred or denying her anti-Semitism, Hamann (Hitler's Vienna) meticulously places Winifred's aid in the context of the nationalist, anti-Semitic Wagners and their circle. Hamann describes the public denunciation of Winifred by her American émigré daughter, Friedelind; Winifred's equally problematic relationships with her other children; and her postwar openness about her affection for Hitler. This is a fascinating portrait not only of Winifred but of the Wagners and their milieu. 8 pages of b&w photos; map. (Dec.)
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"Compelling...[and b]rilliantly translated by Alan Bance, Wagner, as a figurehead of cultural politics, is best dealt with by a political historian like Brigitte Hamann"

(New York Sun)

"Hamann has produced a gripping, full-dress biography of a woman for whom 'fascinating' is too pale a word."

(St. Petersburg Times)

"Hamann provides a rich picture of Winifred's complex personality and of the social and artistic forces surrounding Bayreuth during its Nazi period while giving equal depth and force to the hypocrisies of postwar denazification and Winifred's final years and legacy. An important book for all libraries with in-depth collections on the Nazi era or music history; there are no comparable treatments of this subject in English."

(Library Journal)

"A unique perspective on the Wagners, centered on the clan's most controversial member and most tumultous period...Hamann diligently explores this naive young woman's slow seduction by wealth and power." (starred)

(Kirkus Reviews)

"[I]mportant...this is a fascinating portrait not only of Winifred but of the Wagners and their milieu." (starred)

(Publishers Weekly)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (December 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015101308X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013081
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The subtitle of this book is important - A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth - for Winifred Wagner's institutionalised childhood, her youth with the ageing hippie Klindworth couple and the early years of her marriage to Siegfried are all raced through in around 50 pages (out of 500). Another mere 50 cover the 30 odd years after her de-nazification hearings and the takeover of the Bayreuth Festival by her two sons. The main bulk of this book concerns itself with the 25 years of her relationship with Hitler (and his with the Wagner family and the Festival) and its immediate aftermath.

That said, Brigitte Hamann provides a fascinating and eminently readable account of that relationship. Her attitude towards her subject seems to change as the book progresses. Initially she presents Winifred as a fervently (German) Nationalist, anti-Semitic character, much influenced by the writing and the presence around Wahnfried of her brother-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, even before she met and fell under the spell of Onkel Wolfi, as the family referred to Hitler. (Incidentally, Chamberlain was also English by birth but, like Winifred, became more German than the Germans.) The older Winifred is a rather different person as portrayed here. Throughout the war, as evidenced by many of the testaments taken from her de-nazification hearings, Winifred became some kind of Schindleresque saint, saving everyone she could from the clutches of her top Nazi friends - friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, people she didn't know at all, jews, gentiles, the lot. One suspects that all this is coloured by Winifred's own practical need for self-justification at those hearings and should be taken with a slightly larger pinch of salt than Hamann seems prepared to.
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Format: Hardcover
This biography is for those with a deep interest in classical music history, Hitler and the Third Reich. For those who have the particular interest, this book repays close reading. I must personally thank the author, Brigitte Hamann, for the enormous research project she undertook to bring Winifred Wagner to 21st century readers, and to history. Hamann has meticulously read correspondence, archives, newspapers and conducted personal interviews with those still living. And unlike so many researchers, she brought her story to life in readable language. This is a jam-packed history, brimming with event, and I read almost every word with intense interest. Winifred Wagner's purpose in life was the Richard Wagner festival in Bayreuth, and as head of the festival she maintained a close friendship with Hitler, who was her chief sponsor from 1933 to 1944. The source of this partnership was the so-called "spiritual" relationship between the German nationalist ethos of Wagnerism and the theoretical underpinnings of Nazi Germany. Winifred Wagner was a hyper-nationalist and ardent Hitler supporter since the Munich putsch of 1923, she was a strong anti-Semite as her many letters attest; and yet she extended herself for individuals, especially Jews, many of whom she personally helped and who survived Nazi Germany because of her intervention with Hitler on their behalf. This is fully documented in the book. After the war, unlike most Nazis who hastened to obliterate their past, Winifred Wagner was proud of her friendship with Hitler and made no apologies; never did she try to whitewash her history. She was a remarkable, deeply deluded woman, who ran the Bayreuth festival and headed the Wagner family for many years.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
One of the most interesting books of the many that have been written about Nazi Germany. The book explains the motivation behind the seeming adoration of Hitler by the Wagner family. Having read Friedelind Wagner's book "Heritage of Fire" , it was very interesting to get a more objective account of those years in Bayreuth. The book can be read on several different perspectives and is carefully document. this is a "saver"
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Anyone with an interest in the Wagner clan should find this biography a must read. The book explores in great detail the good, bad and just plain ugly about Frau Wagner. It is a marvelous historical review of the powerful forces influencing German society and Bayreuth in particular. Anyone who reads this book will undoubtedly come away with a more informed view of Bayreuth and one of the most Machiavellian families of the 20th century. The detail is overwhelming but to anyone with an interest in this period it is a riveting wakeup to even more of the extreme machinations of the Nazi regime. I'm sure that a visit to Bayreuth will never be the same, that is, if you have any desire after finishing this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Winifred Wagner lived a long and complicated life. The English orphan was born in Sussex in 1890 living until 1980. She was adopted by distant relatives living in Germany. Winifred as a child lived in music mad Germany where her guardian was known as a man who was friendly with composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) the great opera composer. Among Wagner's massive musical dramas the most famous include: The Ring Cycle, Tannhaueser, Lohengrin, The Meistersingers of Nuremburg, The Flying Dutchman and Parsifal. Wagner was a rabid anti-semite whose racial poison was passed on to his children and swallowed whole by the gullible Winifred. She and the Wanger family were early supporters of Hitler giving him money and providing a warm family atmosphere for the lonely dictator. Hamann charts the rise and fall of the Nazis to put the situation of the Wagner family in a broader social and political context.
Winifred was married off at 18 to Siegrfrid Wagner the son of Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima. Siegfried was 45 and eager for heirs to inherit the Wagner name. Siegrfrid was a mediocre composer of operas which are seldom produced in the 21st century. He and his stern willed mother Cosima both died in 1930. He was bisexual. Winfired was left with the awesome task of In a few years the couple had produced four children:
1. Wieland-The arrogant oldest son who served in a leadership capacity at a satellite concentration camp in Bayreuth. He divorced his wife for a younger woman, was rude and dismissive of his mother's wishes. He tried to distance himself from his Nazi past though he had been beloved by the Fuhrer who kept him out of harm's way during the war. Wieland was the festival director for many years until his early death. I did not find him to be a likeable person.
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