You’re probably aware of this already, but as a refresher: The 19th century German composer Richard Wagner did not like Jews very much. He is most often cited as “Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer,” which is a tough label to shake. To this day, playing anything from Wagner’s vast oeuvre in Israel remains a hotly contested issue.
But at the Jerusalem auction house that’s currently listing one of the composer’s letters for between $8,000-$12,000, his written word hasn’t attracted quite the same furor.
“We have not been confronted by controversy regarding this item,” a representative from Kedem Auction House told Deutsche Welle.
The owner of the auction house, Meron Eren, can barely hide his delight at the irony of his new acquisition. “Wagner would roll over in his grave” if he knew that a bearded Jew in Jerusalem was going to profit from his letter, Eren said.
Wagner’s letter, written in 1869, attempts to explain his reasons for writing his famous anti-Semitic essay, “Judaism in Music,” published in 1850. It’s a particularly vicious attack on Jewish composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Felix Mendelssohn. In the introduction to the essay, Wagner wrote that he aimed to:
explain to ourselves the involuntary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews, so as to vindicate that instinctive dislike which we plainly recognize as stronger and more overpowering than our conscious zeal to rid ourselves thereof.
In this letter, addressed to the French philosopher Edouard Schure, Wagner expounds on this theme. From the Times of Israel:
Wagner wrote in the letter that Jewish assimilation into French society prevents the observation of “the corroding influence of the Jewish spirit on modern culture,” adding that the French know “very little” about the Jews.
Kind of insane that this guy had space in his heart to write that and Tristan und Isolde, but such are the mysteries of the human soul. Also, you must have to be hate Jewish people so much to, like, sit down and write your buddy a whole letter detailing exactly why you feel that way.
Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.