Instalment 20

Chapter 11

Into the Jungle of Germany

Cannes – Rome Riviera Express

The growing might of a rejuvenated Germany was clear from the train as Eddie approached the city. The line passed through forests, cut past lakes, numerous smallholdings and passed through the heavily industrialised outskirts of the capital before steaming into the imposing Lehrter Bahnhof adjacent to a bend in the River Spree. The weather in early March 1935 was still cruelly variable, bleak winds cut across the city with occasional flurries of snow.

Eddie had wanted to visit Germany for a number of reasons. His mother’s side of the family were all German. He was curious about the source of his musical gifts as well as unravelling aspects of  his ‘difficult’ personality, the obsessive attention to detail, intense concentration and almost insane perfectionism.

He also wanted to replace the Grotrian-Steinweg piano destroyed in the Roscrea fire. Berlin was an important centre of piano manufacture at the time. He intended to visit the C. Bechstein factory. Before the war their grand pianos were considered to be the sine qua non of instruments by many great pianists. Wilhelm Backhaus, Wilhelm Kempff, Dinu Lipatti, Artur Schnabel and the composers Scriabin and Liszt all owned and admired these instruments. Sabine enthused constantly of things German and Austrian and spoke glowingly of the changes Hitler had wrought. She insisted Eddie must come and see ‘The transformation of the country!’ He agreed. Intellectual curiosity and love of travel were two of his most positive character traits.

Sabine was not the only enthusiast for Nazism that he had encountered in his life. Eddie was not particularly interested in politics, preoccupied as he always was with practising for concert engagements. However his Mayfair audiences were mainly conservative and some held extreme right-wing views. Most of  the aristocracy he had met in the 1920s had by the middle of the following decade, under financial and social pressure, developed quite a different outlook on their lives.

Democracy was called into question as an acceptable form of government by those whose education and lineage had given them a sense of entitlement. The middle and working classes were also losing faith in traditional values as the Empire seemed to be coming increasingly under duress. Unemployment was a rising threat. But the overriding fear was of creeping Bolshevism, not the Nazis. Some believed more in the dangers posed by a Judaeo-Masonic world conspiracy and practised what might be conveniently termed ‘parlour anti-Semitism.’

Three of the Mitford sisters at Lord Stanley of Aldernay’s wedding.
From left to right, ‘the traitors’ Unity Mitford and Diana Mitford with the renowned writer Nancy Mitford in 1932 
(Almaty Images)
Nancy Mitford (1904-1973)

‘Uncle Matthew’ in Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate (a caricature of her father David, Lord Redesdale) thought ‘abroad is unutterably bloody and foreigners are fiends!’ or he may have used his favourite term ‘sewers’ for undesirables, remarking ‘wogs begin at Calais’. In real life Lord Redesdale was temperamentally ‘one of Nature’s Fascists’. The family visited Germany, where ‘They were lent a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz and shown all the gaudy trappings of the new regime and they returned full of praise for what they had seen.’*

The Mitford Family – David, Lord Redesdale far right
Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy, and Pamela Mitford at Swinbrook House, in Oxfordshire, England, 1935
(Photograph from Bridgeman Images; Digital colorization by Lee Ruelle)

Redesdale, who defended Hitler as ‘a right-thinking man of irreproachable sincerity and honesty’, was a member of the Anglo–German Fellowship, the Right Club and the notorious pro-Nazi organisation known as The Link founded by Admiral Sir Barry Domvile.

Admiral Sir Barry Domvile (1878-1971)

By June 1939 it had a membership of 4,300 pro-German advocates of various social classes including Gallipoli veterans and the Duke of Westminster. Domvile, a former Director of Naval Intelligence, on a visit to Germany in 1935 praised the freedom of motorists on the autobahns and found Heinrich Himmler ‘a charming personality who wears glasses and in appearance might be a benevolent professor’. Various small ‘patriotic societies’ of an almost ‘Boy’s Own’ variety existed during the thirties such as the English Array, the English Mistery and the Imperial Fascist League.

English Mistery flag
A female member of the Imperial Fascist League

*Jessica Mitford, Hons and Rebels (London 1960), p. 63.

† Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933–1939 (London 1980), p. 308.

There was also surprising sympathy for Italian Fascism and respect for Mussolini’s social achievements. More theatrical than threatening were Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, whose increasingly thuggish and militaristic appearance was derided by observers. ‘They look like Nazi jackboots’ was one comment which attracted the rejoinder ‘More like King Zog’s Imperial  Dismounted  Hussars’.

Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists
Oswald Mosley (1896-1960)

Mosley  himself  was  known   as ‘the Rudolph Valentino of Fascism’. Hitler was considered a clown by some but envied as a statesman by others. They believed he had revolutionised living conditions for the average German and was attempting to restore a deserved degree of national pride after the Great War and the disproportionate punishments of Versailles. Many at this time thought Britain should be allied with Hitler and Mussolini against Stalin. Diana Mitford would marry the British fascist leader.

Nancy Astor, the first woman MP to take her seat in the House of Commons

‘There is no doubt that, from an early date, the European dictatorships had an aura of glamour for certain members of London’s high society. Two of London’s great hostesses, Lady Cunard and Mrs Ronnie Greville, were bowled over by Nazism …’ Nancy Astor and the Cliveden set were influential in this regard although they were never seriously engaged in the ‘spiritual’ metaphysics of Nazi ideology and were pro-appeasement.

The scandalous Lady ‘Emerald’ Nancy Cunard (1896-1965)
Nancy Astor (1879-1964)
Mrs Ronnie Greville (1863-1942) as a young woman

The hostess Mrs Ronnie Greville attended the 1934 Nazi Parteitag in Nuremberg and returned full of such enthusiasm that her report became the talk of London. Socialites found visiting Germany as a tourist destination ‘frightfully exciting’; the Nazis added a dramaturgic and dangerous spice to the Baedeker tour. More serious admirers considered Germany and Britain shared a great deal of ‘common sense’.

The Totenehrung (honoring of the dead) at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally.

The Third Reich was energised from top to bottom by people who wanted to whistle a recognizable tune after a concert, who liked to be able to tell at a distance whether a painting was hung the right way up or not, and who longed for the architecture of pointed roofs, vernacular ruralism, and the Doric order.

*Quoted in Mary S. Lovell, The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family (London 2001), p. 195.

† Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, pp. 168–9.

‡ Gerwin Strobl, The Germanic Isle, quoted in Robin Saikia (ed.) The Red Book: The Membership List of the Right Club – 1939 (London 2010), p. 19.

Over elegant dinners hostesses, dowagers and eccentrics electrified their listeners with ebullient accounts of their travels. Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon writes in July 1936: ‘George Gage lunched, and was enthralling about his visit to Germany last year when he was received by Ribbentrop, Hitler, and escorted everywhere by Storm Troopers. Honor [his wife, Lady Guinness] and I can now hardly wait to go.’*

‘Henry ‘Chips’ Channon (1897-1958) in Belgrave Square 1943

Harold Nicolson wrote angrily in his Diary on 10 April 1939 ‘The harm which these silly selfish hostesses give is immense. They convey to foreign envoys that policy is decided in their own drawing-rooms […] the whole thing is a mere flatulence of the spirit.’ Mrs Ronnie Greville, the illegitimate spawn of a Scottish distiller, was described by him as ‘a great fat slug filled with venom’. 

Sir Harold Nicholson and his wife Vita Sackville-West at home Sissinghurst, Kent

Unity and Diana Mitford spent much time in Munich together and attended the Nuremberg Rallies. Hitler took great pleasure as he said ‘in the light-hearted company of these typical young Englishwomen of today’.

The Mitford sisters Unity (left) and Diana happy among their SS ‘friends’

* * *

How did the  rather  insignificant  society  pianist  Eddie  Cahill  fit into this incestuous hothouse? Quite unwittingly, Eddie had entertained many of these figures who would later became thorns in the side of reasonable men as war inexorably approached. Hastings Russell, the Marquess of Tavistock, 12th Duke of Bedford, was an eccentric and lonely creature in private life but liked classical music and often invited Eddie to give recitals at Woburn Abbey. His much put upon son John (known as ‘Ian’), the 13th Duke, was to befriend Eddie in South Africa long after the war. ‘My father had no political judgement whatsoever,’ he wrote.

An unsavoury character, Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay, had attended one of Eddie’s recitals on his second London concert tour in November 1928 at the home of Lady Stradbroke in Belgrave Square. This Eton and Sandhurst-educated Scot, valiant soldier and Member of Parliament, became increasingly inflammatory and rabidly anti-Semitic as war drew nearer. He founded the infamous Right Club in May 1939. The names of members were entered in a Bramah-locked leather-bound ledger known as ‘The Red Book’ and included Lord Galloway, Lord Redesdale, the Duke of Wellington, William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw)  and  the  spy Anna Wolkoff.§

July 1937: Conservative politician Captain Archibald Maule Ramsay and his wife attend a cricket match between Eton and Harrow at Lord’s cricket ground in London. Ramsay was a former pupil of Eton. (Photo by W. G. Phillips/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Ramsay believed that the coming war was entirely ‘the work of Jewish intrigue centred in New York’. He wrote anti-Semitic verses with such derisory titles as ‘Land of Dope and Jewry’. Churchill interned him under the notorious Defence Regulation 18b at the outbreak of war. The sultry and provocative Princess Mary Brenda de Chimay (née Hamilton)  was also a member of the Right Club and had attended many of Eddie’s Mayfair ‘At Homes’ and knew him well (The Red Book p. 105)

The sultry Princess Mary Brenda de Chimay (née Hamilton) 1897-1985

Much had changed in England since the innocent days of those early recitals in the fun-filled 1920s.

*Robert Rhodes James (ed.), ‘Chips’: The Diaries of Sir Henry Channon (London 1967), 8 July p. 69.

† Quoted in George Ward Price, I Know These Dictators (London 1937), p. 37.

‡ John, Duke of Bedford, A Silver-Plated Spoon (London 1959), p. 155.

§ Saikia (ed.). The Red Book, members of the Right Club are listed pp. 97–132.

* * *

The Prince of Wales was the patron of the British Legion. Eddie was to play often for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in their Parisian exile. The naive Prince made a highly controversial speech at the British Legion conference in June 1935 which gave a propaganda coup to the Nazis. In it he praised the idea of a British Legion visit to Germany and observed

I feel that there could be no more suitable body or organisation of men to stretch forth the hand of friendship to the Germans than we ex-Servicemen who fought them in the Great War and have now forgotten all about it.

Members of the Legion often visited Germany and on one occasion were treated to a ‘quiet family supper with Herr Himmler’. They found him ‘an unassuming man anxious to do the best for his country. Some felt respectful of their ‘very gallant enemy’, especially the Great War ace pilots of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Imperial Air Service) such as Hermann  Göring.  They felt an emotional need of ‘justice for Germany’.

Royal British Legion six man team visit Dachau in 1935 where they were taken on a guided tour of the Dachau concentration camp while Jews were already incarcerated and tortured met with Hitler, Göring and Rudolf Hess had a quiet family supper with Himmler, They took part in Nazi parades with Heil Hitler salutes

This sympathy for Germany before the Second World War often came from the enthusiastic forays to the country by English tourists keen to explore the rich museums and art galleries of Dresden and Berlin. Mountaineering and hiking in the Bavarian Alps or the Black Forest were highly popular outdoor activities with the English upper classes. There was a desperate and compelling desire to avoid another war.

Bavarian Alps in the 1930s
  • † Quoted in Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right, p. 130.

An artist and apolitical creature, Eddie was often privy to heated, even seditious, conversations and arguments across the dinner tables of great houses following his recitals. The social order was changing and as an artist he was rarely consigned to the kitchens and tradesman’s entrance. After dinner in the mansions he frequented in Mayfair, hushed but forceful masculine conversation often dealt with inflammable material concerning the policy of appeasement of the Nazis over fine cognac and cigars.

Eddie was a musician, often a respected dinner guest, even a close friend of many of his hosts. But essentially he performed for them like any other ‘artist of the evening’ and was to all intents considered blind, deaf and invisible. Such extreme points of view as he overheard caused him some disquiet but never sufficient to compel him to report these radical opinions. When on one occasion over the port he revealed his maternal Teutonic roots he was enthusiastically encouraged by his hosts to travel to Germany ‘to see for yourself’. Eddie felt a strong pro-German change of attitude taking place in Britain in 1935. Certainly his curiosity about the country had been greatly aroused.

* * *

Sabine was anxiously waiting to meet him on the platform in Berlin. They both felt rather awkward after so many years apart and both being attractive had naturally had brief affairs.

They caught a taxi to the imposing Hotel Adlon on the majestic boulevard Unter den Linden opposite the Brandenburg Gate, the hotel where Charlie Chaplin, Louise Brookes (Eddie’s favourite actress) and Marlene Dietrich had once stayed. Most of the afternoon and evening was spent exchanging news and attempting to plan for an increasingly uncertain social future. Playing music together thawed their initial emotional stiffness and intimate relations were soon resumed.

Hotel Adlon Berlin in the 1930s
Adlon Bar 1930

They danced many nights away in some of Berlin’s most opulent hotels and visited bohemian nightclubs which offered entertainment for the daring. The School for Physical Culture in Grunewald displayed almost naked young people performing athletic exercises in the spirit of ancient Greece,  the  perfect  Aryan body of Nazi ideology on display. ‘Nudity, light, fresh air, sunshine, worship of living, bodily perfection, sensuousness without either false shame or prudishness.’*

LENI RIEFENSTAHL – Hoop Dance, 1936 Olympics
LENI RIEFENSTAHL – Skipping Exercise Demonstration

Berlin at this time appeared full of energy, charm and friendliness, as if Hitler had rekindled the German spirit. Its citizens felt the country had been reborn and their pride renewed after the impotent years of the Weimar Republic. Nazism would protect them against the creeping wrath of Communism. There was much anticipation of the Olympic Games to come in 1936 and the country rejoiced in a rejuvenated national spirit, a moral strength and a feeling of growing excitement in the new and promising future. A British diplomat wrote: ‘In the Tiergarten the little lamps flicker among the little trees and the grass is starred with the fireflies of a thousand cigarettes’.

In stark contrast to London, Eddie noticed with disgust the ubiquitous militaristic spirit that pervaded the capital with groups of marching, goose-stepping soldiers of the freshly named Wehrmacht accompanied by brass bands. Laughing and singing groups of young boys of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ) played in controlled tasks in the Tiergarten among the elegant horse riders. Hitler had declared 1935 to be Ein Jahr der körperlichen Ertüchtigung or ‘A Year of Physical Fitness’. Physical strength was to be considered more important in the new Germany than educational excellence.

Boys of the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in attendance at the Nuremberg Rally in 1935

Brutal Brown Shirts were everywhere. Nazi swastikas and banners in red and black hung from public buildings that Eddie thought looked like ‘washing hanging out on the line’. Cafés were packed with fashionable diners while expensive cars jockeyed with bright yellow trams and horse-drawn carriages carrying tourists.

Romanisches Café in Berlin – a favourite Bohemian haunt for artists
Partial inside view of Café Wien at Kurfurstendamm in Berlin, Germany early 1930s

Eddie began to feel deep disillusionment with the way the traditional German culture was disintegrating. Discrimination against Jews (albeit low key owing to the increasing international publicity for the imminent Olympic Games) bothered him greatly. He witnessed summary  brutal  beatings  in  the  streets  and  saw a number of Jewish businesses daubed with Stars of David and crude slogans.

The most ill-situated seats in the Tiergarten were designated for Jews and painted yellow. An unremitting and steadily increasing process of persecution was underway.

*Berlin in Lights: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler (1918–1937), trans. & ed. Charles Kessler (London 1971), p. 395.

† Quoted in Erik Larson, In the Garden of the Beasts (New York 2011), p. 50.

This potential threat did not seem to worry Sabine, who felt her own Jewish origins were remote enough and her blonde Aryan appearance attractive enough to make her invulnerable. Perhaps surprisingly, along with many of her countrymen, she felt more pride in being Austrian than in her distant Jewish heritage. Her family considered themselves perfectly assimilated and even looked down upon orthodox Jews with their ‘long curls and grubby kaftans’. She knew nothing of the tough anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws then in the planning, which sought to racially define a Jew and which would condemn her entire family to an uncertain future of ‘resettlement’ if their origins were revealed.* Like many Austrians, she secretly hoped Germany and Austria would eventually be united in an Anschluss ‘once more after the Second Reich, Bismarck and the Prussians’.

Nuremberg Race Laws

* * *

The English classical music world of 1935 seemed not unduly worried by the racial discrimination taking place within the great German musical institutions  and  orchestras.  Musical  life  was  in a ferment in Germany at the time of Eddie’s visit. Orchestral appointments were becoming inextricably linked to the Nazi party’s political control and ‘cultural philosophy’. Otto Klemperer, Bruno Walter, Artur Schnabel and Arnold Schoenberg had already been driven out of the country and the tactically apolitical Richard Strauss would soon be dismissed as Reichsmusikkammer President for supporting his librettist, the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig.

Richard Strauss painted in 1918 by Max Liebermann
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942)

*On 14 November 1935 the Nazis issued the following detailed definition of a Jew:

‘Anyone with three Jewish grandparents; someone with two Jewish grandparents who belonged to the Jewish community on 15 September 1935, or joined thereafter; was married to a Jew or Jewess on 15 September 1935, or married one thereafter; was the offspring of a marriage or extramarital liaison with a Jew on or after 15 September 1935’. Those who were not classified as Jews but who had some Jewish blood were categorized as Mischlinge (hybrids) and were divided into two groups: Mischlinge of the first degree – those with two Jewish grandparents; Mischlinge of the second degree – those with one Jewish grandpar- ent. During the second world war first-degree Mischlinge were incarcerated in concentra- tion camps and ultimately deported to death camps. Sabine was a First-degree Mischling. (Jewish Virtual Library.)

Eddie and Sabine both greatly looked forward to hearing the charismatic Wilhelm Furtwängler conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. On his American tour Eddie had witnessed the partisan rivalry that had erupted in New York between the high seriousness of the German conductor and the white-heat intensity and almost painful precision of the Italian Arturo Toscanini. They had never forgotten the first time they heard Furtwängler together when he conducted Tristan und Isolde at the Vienna Opera in 1929. Both adored the hypnotic passion and the weight of ‘flowing’ legato orchestral sound this conductor was able to produce.

However, in early December 1934, not long before their arrival in Berlin, the charismatic conductor had been fearlessly championing Paul Hindemith in the press.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Furtwängler considered this musician the greatest modern German composer, but his music was deemed by the Nazis to be ‘degenerate’ and the composer himself an ‘atonal noisemaker’. One of the main reasons behind the Nazi proscription however ‘was Hitler’s prudish response on seeing the ‘naked’ Laura in the bathtub scene of Hindemith’s opera Neues vom Tage.’*

Bathroom scene from the Paul Hindemith opera ‘Neues vom Tage

Furtwängler had been cunningly inveigled into ‘resigning’ from both the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Staatsoper for championing music ‘unsuited for the movement’s task of cultural reconstruction’. He had always considered the world of politics and musical culture entirely separate, a distinction he upheld to the bitter end against all Nazi protestations. It was a belief that would cause him endless grief. His passport had been withdrawn. Hitler intended to break him ‘once and for all’ but declarations of loyalty poured in. International condemnation and domestic uproar followed with a wholesale return of season tickets, much to Goebbels’ financial discomfort. A potentially profitable and prestigious English tour by the orchestra was cancelled. A series of guest conductors took over Furtwängler’s planned concerts but they attracted little public support.

*Fred K. Prieberg, Trial of Strength: Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Third Reich (London 1991), n. 62, pp. 349–50.

† Ibid., p. 140.

On 11 March 1935 Eddie and Sabine, deeply disappointed, attended the last occasion on which the Berlin Philharmonic’s programme contained Jewish music. The virtuoso violinist Georg Kulenkampff performed Mendelssohn’s violin concerto under Max Fiedler.* The concert was reviewed in Der Angriff but the concerto and Kulenkampff’s sublime performance were simply omitted from the critical account, his heart-rending portamenti unremarked.

Germany’s plans for war seemed incontrovertible to Eddie when a few days later he witnessed a full ‘air-raid rehearsal’ in Berlin. Göring had been planning this ‘realistic experience’ for six weeks. Junkers three-engined monoplane bombers and Messerschmitt fighters flew over the city in arrow formation at treetop level, lights in houses and vehicles were dimmed, fire engines roared through the deserted streets, gas mains and incendiary bombs were seen to ‘explode’, house windows were masked and the police checked all instructions and the issue of gas masks.

Early in April, less violently but with similar operatic melodrama, Eddie and Sabine, standing hand in hand, were among the wildly excited crowd who witnessed the spectacular state wedding of Hermann Göring to the actress Emmy Sonneman. Looking at the infatuated crowd Eddie felt that National Socialism had infected the German people with a dangerous variety of delirium that would inevitably lead to catastrophe. Faced with a wedding one wonders what was coursing through their minds concerning the future of their own romance.

It was a sunny day. As the bridal couple drove in a massive open Mercedes limousine through the lines of some thirty-three thousand paramilitaries and Nazi storm troopers towards the cathedral, a squadron of the latest German warplanes (forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles) thundered overhead.

Wedding Breakfast with Adolf Hitler, Emmy Sonneman and Hermann Göring

*Georg Kulenkampff (1898–1948) was one of the finest 20th century concert violinists and one of the best-known German virtuosi of the 1930s and 1940s. His recording career coincided with the Nazi period. This, together with his early death, means this brilliant violinist is now virtually forgotten apart from the violin competition dedicated to him. Max Fiedler (1859–1939) was a German conductor and composer and a noted interpreter of Brahms.

† Emmy Sonneman (1893–1973) was a German actress who after marriage to Hermann Göring served as hostess for Hitler on many state occasions earning the title ‘First Lady of the Reich’.

The British ambassador, the acerbic Sir Eric Phipps, commented in a dispatch to the Foreign Office:

A visitor to Berlin might well have thought that the monarchy had been restored and that he had stumbled upon the preparations for a royal wedding … [in the cathedral] the German ladies wore evening dresses and diamonds, the men wore uniform or dress clothes with decorations […] two boys of the Hitler Jugend held her train.*

After the wedding Göring spent an hour alone beside his late wife Karin’s grave at his monumental and ostentatious home, Karinhall.

*Quoted in a full account of the wedding described in Leonard Mosley, The Reich Marshal (London 1974), pp. 246–8.

* * *

At the end of April 1935 Furtwängler was offered a guest engagement  conducting  the  Berlin  Philharmonic for  two Winterhilfe (Winter Assistance) concerts for the poor, prompted by pressure from the unhappy public and the Party’s concern for their international reputation. His first concert was instantly sold out, ovations erupted in the street as the lanky conductor was forced to scuttle through a side door of the Philharmonie. Cars arriving were jammed solid. People without money even attempted to pay for tickets with pieces of Meissen porcelain or black-market cigarettes.

Thunderous applause, clearly an expression of dissent, made it difficult for Furtwängler to begin. He turned directly to the orchestra without the obligatory Nazi salute. At the end of the concert the applause lasted an hour and he was recalled to the stage seventeen times. However by agreeing to conduct this concert he was generally judged by his many critics abroad to have ‘knuckled under after all’.

Yet his fervent belief was to preserve the true spirit of German music which he felt was under threat. Believing passionately in the separation of culture and politics, throughout the war he was to tread the finest of cultural lines and the most skilful of moral compromises with Hitler and the Nazi leadership.

Eddie and Sabine had their wish finally fulfilled on 3 May at the second Winterhilfe concert when they heard Furtwängler conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in Beethoven’s Egmont, the Symphony No. 5 and the Pastoral Symphony. Much to Furtwängler’s annoyance (in a rage he had ripped the wooden covering off the radiator in his dressing room), Hitler, Göring and Goebbels attended this concert. On their entering the hall the audience stood to give the Nazi salute.

The conductor avoided giving this so-called ‘German greeting’ by turning immediately to the orchestra. At the end, Hitler approached the podium to shake Furtwängler’s hand and give him a bunch of roses. A notorious photograph of the conductor bowing to the audience, which included the grim-faced Nazi leadership, flashed around the world and indelibly stained his reputation.* The Nazis were not blind to the power of cultural propaganda and in the future would attempt to use him for this purpose and exploit his possibly naive underestimation of their political intentions.

The infamous concert where Hitler listens to the Berlin Philharmonic, directed by Wilhelm Furtwängler

Eddie always said this all-Beethoven concert was one of the greatest musical experiences of his life. He felt the incidental music to the play Egmont by Goethe captured to perfection the power, drama and heroism of the sixteenth-century Dutch nobleman, Lamoral d’Egmont. Furtwängler’s approach to the 5th Symphony seemed to contain an uncanny, even fierce, anger against the Nazi regime and the Pastoral Symphony seemed full of that extraordinary love of nature possessed by the composer.

Furtwängler is considered a demi-God among conductors by classical musicians. Musically, Eddie felt his conducting was a lesson in complete emotional commitment. With the awkward, almost disjointed, movements of his entire body he appeared unlike any other conductor he had ever seen, the ‘puppet on a string’ effect, as one English orchestral violinist commented later. The beat of his baton seemed impossible to follow, but Eddie noted afterwards that this fluidity of what appeared to be improvised rhythm preserved an extraordinary precision. Furtwängler utilised tempi and attack that made him seem possessed by the spirit of the composer, especially Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner and Wagner. It was as if there was a telepathic communication between conductor, music and orchestra.

Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) conducting expressively
Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1932
(Alfred Eisenstaedt – Mutual art)

*Shirakawa, The Devil’s Music Master, pp. 195–6 for a full account of this notorious concert and at:

Also Cahill’s reminiscence in conversation with the author in Monaco 1968.

This concert was Eddie’s only glimpse of the Nazi high command. He did not at all like what he saw of the Führer. ‘Not one distinguished feature in his entire body, frozen in such a severe expression. And that frightful hair and moustache!’ he told me in Monaco.

Many among the English aristocracy such as Nancy Astor and the so-called ‘Cliveden set’ appeared fascinated by the cosmetic attractions of the Nazi uniform. The infatuated Unity Mitford waited patiently daily for Hitler’s arrival at the Osteria Bavaria in Munich.

Adolf Hitler in the restaurant Osteria Bavaria in Munich, from Eva Braun’s albums October 1932 (National Archives at College Par)

When ‘the greatest man of all time’ finally noticed and spoke to her on 9 February 1935, she described the day as ‘the most wonderful and beautiful of my life’.* Later she was to plead with him to come to an agreement with her country. Shortly after the declaration of war, she attempted to shoot herself in Munich’s Englischer Garten with the pearl-handled pistol given to her by the Führer.

Not all visitors to Germany were impressed with the Nazis, particularly the Duff Coopers. In complete contrast, Eddie’s patron Diana Cooper, perhaps with the benefit of editorial hindsight, vividly and with deliciously ill-concealed venom describes the German Chancellor in unflattering terms at the 1933 Nuremberg Parteitag:

Nuremberg Rally 1933 (Getty image)
Adolf Hitler at the 1933 Nuremberg Rally (Getty image)

At Nuremberg the beautiful town had an extra million Nazis in possession. The organisation impressed us. […] It was not long before thunderous acclamation announced the Chancellor’s advent, but it was a very long time before we heard his guttural, discordant, scrannel-speech. He passed, alone and slowly, two feet away from me […] I found him unusually repellent and should have done so, I am quite sure, had he been a harmless little man. He was in a khaki uniform with a leather belt buckled tightly over a quite protuberant paunch, and his figure general- ly was unknit and flabby. His dank complexion had a fungoid quality, and the famous hypnotic eyes that met mine seemed glazed and without life – dead colourless eyes. The silly mèche of hair I was prepared for. The smallness of his occiput was unexpected. His physique on the whole was ignoble. Slowly he took up his position on the platform alone, while we listened to forty delightful minutes of Wagner [Duff and Diana left fifteen minutes after the oration began ‘We crept out, not unnoticed. Trouble came’].

*Quoted in Lovell, The Mitford Girls, pp. 181–3.

† Cooper, The Light of Common Day, pp. 147–8.

In Germany itself in 1935 only a few perceptive intellectuals such as the writers Thomas Mann and Hermann Broch had misgivings and fears for the future. The Nazis manipulated the irrational through their fertile amalgam of music, mystical dreams, theatrical demonstrations of power, the occult and Norse mythology. Seductive ideas of poetic truth

were fatally woven into the fabric of political truth.

The perceptive, courageous and charismatic Claus von Stauffenberg, soon to recognise the madness of this demagogue and attempt his assassination, thought Hitler ‘capable of inspiring the mass of the people to devotion and self-sacrifice, even though to their own disadvantage’.*

Nina and Claus von Stauffenberg (Bundesarchiv Bild)

*Joachim Kramarz, Stauffenberg: The Life and Death of an Officer trans. Richard Barry (London 1967), p. 44.

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