Post-script: Readers may be interested to know that right-wing writers like Joachim Köhler merely plagiases from the writings of Theodor Adorno, which they misuse to further their own petty political agendas. I have critically reviewed Adornos essay on Wagner here.
This is a comprehensive review of Joachim Köhler’s book Wagner’s Hitler – the Prophet and his Disciple. The author is a freelance German writer and novelist. I only refer to the English translation by Ronald Taylor. All page numbers refer to the hardcover edition in English.
Joachim Köhler and Adolf Hitler
Title: Wagner’s Hitler – The Prophet and His Disciple
Authors: Joachim Köhler, Ronald Taylor
Translated by Ronald Taylor
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, 2001
ISBN: 0745627102, 9780745627106
Length: 384 pages
I first became aware of this book in the late 1990s when it was initially published in German, well before it appeared in English translation. I generally relegated it to the status of a hoax, and thought nothing of it. I generally found the research of Dieter David Scholtz far superior, as reading Wagner himself only confirms Scholtz’s readings. It came as a shock to discover that the bizarre man I had considered a hoax writer had been translated into English, whereas not one of Dieter David Scholtz‘s books have yet been translated into English. This has effectively given the prosecution free reign over the floor, while robbing the defence of a right of reply. The closest to right of reply given to Wagner has come from Milton Brener’s book Richard Wagner and the Jews, which does a surprisingly good job despite being severely hampered by a reliance on unreliable translations by William Ashton Ellis. A book based on a symposium called Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich contains landmark essays by Saul Friedländer and Joachim Fest, but has also not been translated in English. Köhler’s views have been universally shunned by academic historians, and the story should have ended then and there. However, Köhler’s ideas have taken on an explosive life of their own on the internet, where it does its rounds along with the usual lot of wacky conspiracy theories. Like Daniel Goldhagen’s book, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Köhler’s conspiracy theories have gripped the popular imagination. It is to counter this that I have published this review of Köhler’s book. There is a common link between Köhler and Goldhagen. Both push a view of German culture as the root of the historical Sonderweg, leading straight to Hitler. Sonderweg is usually translated as “special path”. However, sonder can also mean strange, weird, or peculiar in German. A Sonderling means a “weirdo”, literally a “strangeling”. The Germans are caricatured as being the weirdos of European culture. German culture is seen as the profound expression of an innate and deep-seated Sadistic streak. Wagner has been enthroned as the Spiritual Lord of the Strangelings, who allegedly single-handedly steered his nation down the path of its historical Sonderweg. To put it frankly, Köhler’s is perhaps the single most bizarre conspiracy theory book I have ever read on any subject in my life. Even the title seems bizarre – Hitler’s Wagner might have been more logical than Wagner’s Hitler. After all, Wagner died six years before Hitler was born. However, in Köhler’s world of bizarre Satanic conspiracy theories, the dead Wagner exerted absolute control over Hitler. Hitler is reduced to the status of Wagner’s puppet, demoniacally manipulated from beyond the grave:
This is why Köhler’s book is entitled Wagner’s (sic!) Hitler, because apparently Wagner totally owned Hitler. Wagner even possessed Hitler to ghost write Mein Kampf, and for this reason, Köhler freely attributes quotes from Mein Kampf to Wagner. This sort of nonsense really leaves me more puzzled as to what perverse daemon drives Köhler. In an essay published shortly before his death in 2000, Joachim Fest, the famous bibliographer of Hitler was to remark on the astonishing hard work of the author to put together this book. Fest then summarily dismisses Köhler’s book in a single word as a “polemic”. However, I am going to argue that “bizarre conspiracy theory” would be probably be a far better description. Köhler essentially describes a Satanic conspiracy encrypted deep between the lines of Wagner’s operatic works and occasionally finding expression in his prose essays. Köhler thinks he has uncovered a deeply hidden politico-operatic plot for Nazi world domination and systematic genocide of the Jews. Köhler hopes to scandalise the world with his revelation. The implication of Köhler’s uncovered plot is that Hitler was merely the blindly obedient “Disciple” of his “Prophet’s” conspiratorial politico-operatic script, which Hitler slavishly and mindlessly acted out to the last letter. The whole of National Socialism, the Second World War, and the Holocaust were only Wagner’s grand operatic script enacted by Hitler, down to the finest detail, upon the world’s stage. It is a Satanic conspiracy expounded out in morbid detail by Köhler. It is certainly an example of German thoroughness, albeit one servicing a truly bizarre cause. The translator of the English translation, Ronald Taylor, summarises Köhler well by alleging that “time and again Wagner called for the annihilation of the Jewish race, an alien body in an Aryan German state. Hitler took him at his word.” Presumably, these “aliens” Taylor references are of the Close Encounter kind, since never once did Wagner even come remotely close to ever calling for such a thing. Nor does Köhler ever “time and time again” show us examples where Wagner has clear stated any such a thing. At most Köhler keeps quoting Hitler and then ascribes the quote to Wagner time and time again. Wagner himself is never allowed to speak for himself for more than a sentence before Köhler jumps in to lecture us about what the quote “really” means. The one time Wagner is allowed to speak for more than one sentence, it turns out that Köhler has tampered with the quote. In any case, the sheer ridiculousness of the notion that the whole of the Dritte Reich is merely the literal enactment of a nineteenth century opera plot should be obvious to anybody. Köhler’s book is widely said to read like an alien abduction account. That metaphor is fully accurate in so far as Köhler’s methodology goes. Köhler belongs firmly in the company of a long tradition of sensationalist pseudo-histories on the Dritte Reich. For example there is an extensive Occult Reich literature with lurid accounts of Satanist Nazi conspiracies, and cover ups of Nazi survivalism. There are even stories of UFOs being secret Nazi weapons for their impending world-domination.
To read Köhler is like reading an extremely thoroughly documented account of an alien abduction. The supermarket shopping docket shows he was in that area at certain time and place, likewise the receipt from the petrol station, then the dent on the car and the little bruise to the forehead is shown etc etc ad nauseam. Then after endless and excruciatingly detailed, but banal, documentation, the punch line hits: “then the aliens abducted me – I have proved it”. All the careful documentation – the detailed dockets, the endless pictures of the little dent on the side of the car – it all supposedly proves “the aliens abducted me”. You then scratch your head and wonder how on earth the bizarre leap to the conclusion appeared out of left field. The worrying thing is that the seeming thoroughness of the groundwork leading up to the bizarre conclusion will inevitably impress a lot of people. The New York Times reviewer, overwhelmed with horror, gasped and described it as “chilling”.
New York Times: “Chilling”