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Hitler's Music Collection

Article based on news reports (th)August 6, 2007

Adolf Hitler's music collection included some surprise choices: Russian and Jewish musicians considered "subhuman" by the Nazis. A woman found the music in her family's summer home near Moscow.

An old record player with records
Hitler's record collection was found in an attic near MoscowImage: PA/Chromorange

It's no surprise that music from Hitler favorite composers such as Richard Wagner and Ludwig van Beethoven would turn up in the Nazi leader's personal record collection.

Yet a Moscow attic has yielded a more complex picture of the Führer's musical taste. Nearly 100 records suggest Hitler also listened to Russian and Jewish musicians declared "subhuman" by the Nazis, according to an article in the current issue of Der Spiegel magazine.

A surprising find

Hitler in a tuxedo
Hitler during the Wagner Festival in BayreuthImage: PA/dpa

In 1945, Lew Besymenski, a captain in Russia's military intelligence unit, went with two other officers to the recently captured Reich Chancellery in Berlin. The headquarters of the Nazi party were located near the secret underground bunker where Hitler committed suicide at the end of World War II.

Besymenski's comrades took silverware engraved with Hitler's initials home with them as souvenirs. Besymenski, a music lover, made an unexpected find. Behind several large steel doors that had been closed with special locks were boxes filled with personal belongings.

"It presented us with an odd sight: In each of the rooms there were numerous rows of sturdy wooden boxes all of them numbered," Besymenski wrote in a memoir years later, Der Spiegel reported.

The boxes were awaiting transfer to Hitler's mountain fortress in southern Germany and were filled with plates and various household goods, including Hitler's records.

Records kept in an attic

Portrait of Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky was a Russian composer considered sub-humanImage: dpa

Besymenski 's daughter, Alexandra Besymenskaja, who is now 53, accidentally came across the box in 1991 when she was at the family summer home near Moscow.

She had been sent to the attic to look for a badminton racket. Her shin hit something hard and she saw that she'd run into a stack of records labeled Führerhauptquartier, as the Reich Chancellery is called in German.

She asked her 70-year-old father about the records, but he didn't want to talk about them, saying that he had only listened for years to CDs.

Besymenski didn't want to be seen as a marauder who had ransacked the enemy's personal belongings. He had taken them because music was his personal passion, his daughter said. When he died in June at the age of 86, his daughter decided to talk publicly about her father's record collection.

Of the 100 discs, some are scratched, others are warped or broken, but many remain in relatively good condition. The records include Beethoven's piano sonatas and Wagner's famous opera "The Flying Dutchman."

Hitler loved music, attending the opera almost daily during the time he lived in Vienna.

Hitler's hypocrisy

Picture of German composer Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner was a Hitler favoriteImage: dpa

Surprisingly, Hitler's collection also included Russian composers labeled by the Nazis as "subhuman" such as Peter Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Der Spiegel reported.

One of the Tchaikovsky records featured the star violinist Bronislaw Huberman, a Polish Jew forced to flee Europe when the Nazis took over.

Hitler didn't care who had made the music he listened to in his bunker, despite in his book "Mein Kampf" stating that Jewish art had never existed.

Besymenski, who was a Jew himself, was surprised that so many famous Russian composers were included in Hitler's record collection, according to the memoir he wrote after being pressured by his daughter to record how he had had ended up with the collection.

"I feel that is complete mockery," Besymenskaja told the magazine. "Millions of Slavs and Jews had to die because of the racist Nazi ideology."