A recently-discovered film shows a “friendly” and “modest” Adolf Hitler visiting the Bayreuth Festival. Hitler’s relationship with composer Richard Wagner has been a problem for the festival for a long time.
The film shows Hitler as a guest of the Wagner family. It was turned over to the Bavarian State Archive in 2015 and was recently made available as a CD for researchers.
“Viewing the scenes is a slightly disturbing experience,” said Sylvia Krauss, historian. Krauss is evaluating the estate of Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson of the famous composer and the long-time director of the Bayreuth Festival. He died in 2010. “One sees a completely different side of Hitler, not the statesman, but quite a relaxed and friendly person,” Krauss said.
Hitler appears in civilian clothing, “listening, smiling, an astonishingly modest and even submissive Hitler,” in the silent film according to Christine Lemke-Matwey, a reporter for “Die Zeit.”
“It was long known that Hitler was an ersatz father to the Wagner children,” said Krauss. “But now you really see it.” The film shows Hitler conversing with a “beaming” Winifred Wagner. Winifred is the widow of Richard’s son Siegfried and the mother of four of Richard’s grandchildren. She headed the festival from 1930 to 1945.
Besides the scenes of Hitler and Winifred with her children, the film shows the dictator on an official visit with Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels and their wives. It also includes footage a dinner with Albert Speer, the architect for the Nazis, and documents Hitler’s meeting with conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.
The two films were recorded by then 16-year-old Wolfgang Wagner. One of the films is about three minutes long, and the other is over ten minutes long. In 2013, Katharina Wagner turned over Wolfgang’s estate to the Bavarian State Archive in Munich in 2013. The films were not in that first delivery.
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg saw the films in the mid-1970s while making his documentary, Winifred Wagner and the History of House Wahnfried. He photographed scenes but never used them in his film.
Last year, at the re-opening of the Wahnfried, the Wagner family mansion-turned-museum and home of the Wagner Archive, Syberberg showed the photos to Lemke-Matwey.
Krauss heard about the films and made an inquiry to Wagners, who then had the films were turned over to the Bavarian State Archive in December. Until then they had spent decades gathering dust in the Festspielhaus theater.
Now that the films have been digitized, they are available on CD for research purposes only. They aren’t being made public due to concerns that doing so could violate the privacy of Richard’s last living grandchild, Verena Lafferenz, who appears in the video.