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Rediscovered films show a 'friendly' Hitler in Bayreuth

July 29, 2016

Long-lost film material reveals a remarkably "friendly" and "modest" side of Adolf Hitler at the Bayreuth Festival. The Nazi leader's connection to Richard Wagner has long been a thorn in the side of the festival.

Winifred Wagner und Adolf Hitler (c) dpa - Bildfunk
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The film footage of Adolf Hitler at the Bayreuth Festival, revealing Adolf Hitler as a welcome guest in the Wagner family circle, was turned over to the Bavarian State Archive in December 2015 and has now been made available on CD to researchers.

"Viewing the scenes is a slightly disturbing experience," said Sylvia Krauss, quoted in the German newspaper "Die Zeit."

The historian is charged with evaluating the estate of Wolfgang Wagner, the composer's grandson and long-time director of the Bayreuth Festival, who died in 2010. "One sees a completely different side of Hitler, not the statesman, but quite a relaxed and friendly person," said Krauss.

The silent films show the Nazi leader in civilian clothing, "listening, smiling, an astonishingly modest and even submissive Hitler," according to Christine Lemke-Matwey, a reporter for the German newsweekly "Die Zeit," who was also allowed to see the film material.

"It was long known that Hitler was an ersatz father to the Wagner children," explained Sylvia Krauss, "But now you really see it." The scenes also show Hitler in conversation with a "beaming" Winifred Wagner. The widow of Richard Wagner's son Siegfried headed the festival from 1930-1945 and was the mother of four of Richard Wagner's grandchildren.

Book cover: 'Winifried Wagner - Hitler's Bayreuth'
'Winifried Wagner - Hitler's Bayreuth' by historian Brigitte Hamann documents the connection between the 'Führer' and the Wagner family

More a revelation than a discovery

According to Krauss, these images are not completely unknown. Some have been shown by German public broadcasters. Wagner family members have also reported seeing them.

Apart from scenes with Adolf Hitler, Winifred Wagner and her children, they also document an official visit with the dictator flanked by Nazi officials Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels and their wives, a dinner in the Wagner circle with Hitler's architect Albert Speer, and Hitler paying a visit to the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.

Siegfried Wagner
Composer and Bayreuth Festival director Siegfried Wagner was Richard Wagner's sonImage: picture alliance/dpa

Long neglected material

The two films - one roughly three minutes long, the other over 10 minutes - were made by the 16-year-old Wolfgang Wagner in 1936. Wolfgang's daughter Katharina Wagner, the current festival head, turned his estate over to the Bavarian State Archive in Munich in 2013 but the films were not included in the initial delivery.

Film director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg had seen the films in the mid-1970s when working on his five-hour documentary "Winifred Wagner and the History of House Wahnfried." Syberberg photographed them scene-by-scene and kept the stills but did not use them.

At last year's reopening of Wahnfried, the Wagner family mansion and now a museum and home of the Wagner Archive, Syberberg showed the photos to "Die Zeit" reporter Christine Lemke-Matwey.

Winifred Wagner, Adolf Hitler and Wieland Wagner, Copyright:
Winifred Wagner, Adolf Hitler and Wieland WagnerImage: picture-alliance/akg-images

After renewed questioning by historian Sylvia Krauss, the old Agfa film cans - rusted, bent and illegibly labeled - were then turned over to Munich's Bavarian State Archive in December 2015. They had apparently been stored in an upper floor of the Festspielhaus theater for decades, either unrecognized or held back.

Now digitized, the films will be available on CD for viewing for research purposes only. They will not be released to the general public because they also show a person who is still living and whose privacy rights would be violated. That person is Verena Lafferenz, Richard Wagner's last living grandchild.

rf/kbm (with dpa)

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