Huberman and Nazi Germany

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In April 1933, knowing that a general cancellation of the decrees banning Jews from public activity could no longer be expected, Furtwängler interceded personally with propoganda minister Goebbels to obtain exemptions for certain figures. Hence, on June 29th 1933 the following decree was issued:

“In the centre of our musical life, must be the cultivation of great German music. But that does not mean that the music of the world outside Germany is not to continue to be represented and enabled to exercise the productive value of its suggestiveness for us, Germans … The same principle is to apply to artists. First, must come German artists, but, in music as in every art, the achievement must always remain the deciding factor. Every true artist must perform in Germany and must be able to be judged by the measure of his capacity. The commission set up by this Decree is the only authority entrusted with the decision in questions of programmes in the musical life of Prussia”

The day after, Furtwängler wrote to Huberman.

“Dear Friend, – the enclosed Memorandum was issued yesterday by the Government and, as you must admit, it is now plainly laid down that every artist, no matter what his race or nation, may perform and has got to perform in Germany. The moment this was published I told the Department that I was going to negotiate with you. In deciding, please bear in mind all the points that we have discussed. Someone must make the first move to break down the barrier. Let me have a word from you soon.
Yours, etc.,
Wilhelm Furtwängler”

Huberman replied in a letter of 10 July that was eventually published in several national papers in September 1933:

“Dear Friend,

Permit me first of all to express my admiration for the fearlessness, determination, tenacity and sense of responsibility with which you have conducted your campaign begun in April for rescuing the concert stage from threatening destruction by racial “purifiers.” When I place your action – the only one, by the way, that has led to a positive result in the Germany of today – alongside that of Toscanini, Paderewski and the Busch brothers, all of which sprang from the same feeling of solidarity and concern for the continuation of our culture, I am seized with a feeling of pride that I, too, may call myself a musician. Precisely these models of a high sense of duty, however, must prevent all our colleagues from accepting any compromise that might endanger the final goal. Although the government’s declarations, which owe their origin to you, may represent the maximum of what may presently be attained, yet, unfortunately, I cannot accept them as sufficient for my reparticipation in German concert life. My attitude is based on the following fundamental objective human and ethical considerations.

The government deems it necessary to emphasize the selective principle of highest achievement as the decisive one for music, as for every other form of art. This underscoring of something that ought to be self-evident would be meaningless if it did not imply a determination to apply the principle of selection on a racial basis – a principle that it is impossible to understand – to all other realms of culture. Moreover, there is a wide gap between the announcement of the principle of achievement arbitrarily limited to art and its practical application – a gap that simply cannot be bridged. For included in the general concept of the advancement of art are, first and foremost, the institutions of learning and art collections. As far as the special realm of the furtherance of the art of music is concerned, municipal and State opera houses are an essential factor; yet no case has come to my attention of the intended reinstatement of those museum directors, orchestra conductors and music teachers who were dismissed on account of their Jewish origin, their differing political views or even their lack of interest in politics. In other words, the intention of the relatively narrow and special field of the concert or recital is to be restored to the free competition of those “real artists” who are to fill the concert hall. And as every concert of importance is connected with extensive international publicity, while the research specialist or teacher can only on rare occasions appear before the public with the results of his work, it is quite conceivable that the few foreign or Jewish artists who have been asked to assist at such concerts might be used as arguments that everything is well culturally in Germany. In reality, German thoroughness would continue to find ever-new definitions for racial purity and apply them to the still immature student of art in the schools, laboratories, and so forth.

I am confident, of course, that you, honored friend, would regret such a result quite as much as would the majority of German concertgoers.

There is, however, also a human-ethical side to the problem. I should like a definite rendering of music as a sort of artistic projection of the best and most valuable in man. Can you expect this process of sublimation, which presupposes complete abandonment of one’s self to one’s art, of the musician who feels his human dignity trodden upon and who is officially degraded to the rank of a pariah? Can you expect it of the musician to whom the guardians of German culture deny, because of his race, the ability to understand “pure German music?” At the same time they deliberately keep silent, on the one hand, concerning the half-Jewish origin of Richard Wagner, which has now been proved beyond peradventure of doubt, and, on the other hand, concerning the historic role played by Mendelssohn, Anton Rubinstein, Hermann Levi, Joseph Joachim, and so forth.

You try to convince me by writing, “Some one must make a beginning to break down the wall that keeps us apart.” Yes, if it were only a wall in the concert hall! But the question of a more or less than authoritative interpretation of a violin concerto is but one of numerous aspects – and, God knows, not the most important one – behind which the real problem is hidden. In reality it is not a question of violin concertos nor even merely of the Jews; the issue is the retention of those things that our fathers achieved by blood and sacrifice, of the elementary preconditions of our European culture, the freedom of personality and its unconditional self-responsibility unhampered by fetters of caste or race. Whether these achievements shall again be recognized depends not upon the readiness of the individual who is “the first to break through the wall that separates,” but, as in the past, upon the urge of the conscience of artists collectively, which, once aroused, will crash through sources of resistance with the impulse of a force of nature, breaking them as it would a paper wall.

I cannot close this letter without expressing to you my deep regret at the conditions that have resulted in my being separated for the moment from Germany. I am especially grieved and pained in my relationship of a friend of my German friends and as an interpreter of German music who very much misses the echo awakened in his German hearers. And nothing could make me happier than to observe a change also outside the realm of concert life which would liberate me from the compulsion of conscience, striking at my very heartstrings, to renounce Germany.

With warm greetings,
Sincerely yours,


Two and a half years later, Huberman became frustrated at the worsening conditions in Germany. Furtwängler had said that all “real Germans” deplored the situation, but Huberman felt that those who had a conscience were duty bound to fight against injustice (admittedly a lot to ask of people at any time, even those in a relatively free democratic state, let alone Nazi Germany!). He accused these people, the German intellectuals, as those truly guilty of Nazi crimes.

[“Open Letter” from Huberman to the Manchester Guardian]


To the Editor of the Manchester Guardian

Sir, – I shall be glad if you will print the following “open letter” which I have addressed to the German intellectuals: –

Since the publication of the ordinances regulating the application of the Nuremberg legislation – this document of barbarism – I have been waiting to hear from you one word of consternation or to observe one act of liberation. Some few of you at least certainly must have some comment to make upon what has happened if your avowals of the past are to endure. But I have been waiting in vain. In the face of this silence I must no longer stand mute. It is two and a half years since my exchange of correspondence with Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler, one of the most representative leaders of spiritual Germany. It will be recalled that Dr. Furtwängler endeavoured to prevent me from publishing my refusal of his invitation to play with his orchestra in Germany. His astonishing argument was that such a publication would close Germany for me for many years, and perhaps for ever. My answer on August 31, 1933, stated among other things:

... In spite of this I would perhaps have hesitated with this publication if the chasm between Germany and the cultural world had not been rendered even more impassable by recent events. Nothing discloses more dreadfully the brutalisation of large sections of the German population than the threats which have been published for weeks in the news-papers that German girls will be placed in the pillory if found in the company of Jews at coffee-houses or excursions, or if they carry on love affairs with them. This kind of baiting could not fail to result in such bestialities of the darkest Middle Ages as described in the “Times.”

The description referred to was in the London “Times” of August 23, 1933, and told the story of a gentle Aryan girl who in punishment of her alleged commerce with a Jew was dragged in a pillory through the principal streets of Nuremberg amid the howls of the mob. As a consequence she suffered a stroke of insanity and was put in the asylum of Erlangen.

Dr. Furtwängler was profoundly revolted not only at the Nuremberg incidents, which he assured me he and all “real Germans” condemned as indignantly as I, but also against me because of my reference to the brutalisation of large sections of the German population. He felt himself compelled to regard this as a “monstrous generalisation which had nothing to do with reality.”

In the meantime two and a half years have passed. Countless people have been thrown into gaols and concentration camps, exiled, killed, and driven to suicide. Catholic and Protestant ministers, Jews, Democrats, Socialists, Communists, army generals became the victims of a like fate. I am not familiar with Dr. Furtwängler’s attitude to these happenings, but he expressed clearly enough his own opinion and the opinion of all “real Germans” concerning the shamefulness of the so-called race-ravishing pillories; and I have not the slightest doubt of the genuineness of his consternation, and believe firmly that many, perhaps the majority of Germans, share his feelings.

Well then, what have you, the “real Germans,” done to rid your conscience and Germany and humanity of this ignominy since these make-believe Germans, born in the Argentine, in Bohemia, in Egypt, and in Latvia, have changed my alleged “monstrous generalisation” to legal reality? Where are the German Zolas, Clemenceaus, Painleves, Picquarts in this monster Dreyfus case against an entire defenceless minority; where are the Masaryks in this superdimensional Polna case? Where has the voice of blood, if not the voice of justice and common sense, been raised against the even more inhuman persecution of those born of mixed marriages between Aryans and Jews, and of pure Aryans who have the misfortune to be the spouses of Jews?

Before the whole world I accuse you, German intellectuals, you non-Nazis, as those truly guilty of all these Nazi crimes, all this lamentable breakdown of a great people – a destruction which shames the whole white race. It is not the first time in history that the gutter has reached out for power, but it remained for the German intellectuals to assist the gutter to achieve success. It is a horrifying drama which an astonished world is invited to witness: German spiritual leaders with world citizenship who until but yesterday represented German conscience and German genius, men called to lead their nation by their precept and example, seemed incapable from the beginning of any other reaction to this assault upon the most sacred possessions of mankind than to coquet, co-operate, and condone. And when, to cap it all, demagogical usurpation and ignorance rob them of their innermost conceptions from their own spiritual workshop, in order thereby to disguise the embodiment of terror, cowardice, immorality, falsification of history in a mantle of freedom, heroism, ethics, science, and mysticism, the German intellectuals reach the pinnacle of their treachery: they bow down and remain silent.

Must, then, the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church in Germany battle alone in their truly heroic struggle for Germany’s honour, tradition, and future?

Germany, you people of poets and thinkers, the whole world, not only the world of your enemies, but the world of your friends, waits in amazed anxiety for your word of liberation.

– Yours, etc,
Bronislaw Huberman
New York, February 25 [1936]

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