Enthusiastic Nazi: Winifred Wagner with Hitler at Bayreuth in 1938. Photo: Getty Images
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BERLIN: The heirs of the composer Richard Wagner have promised to open private archives to researchers who are seeking to establish the extent of the family's collaboration with the Nazis.
On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth on Wednesday, his great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner said her father's correspondence would be handed to a state archive to which historians would have access.
The letters that will be released are those of Ms Wagner's father Wolfgang Wagner, a former member of the Hitler Youth and a Wehrmacht soldier, who ran the Bayreuth festival from 1951 to 2008. His mother Winifred was an admirer and close friend of Hitler, and her children were encouraged to call him "Uncle Wolf".
Ms Wagner, who is now co-director of the festival with her sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier, said : "I have decided to hand Wolfgang Wagner's estate to the Bavarian state archive, in the near future, so that access by researchers to these documents is made possible."
She said she had rarely spoken to her father about the Nazis. "He always said, 'We can be very happy that we lost the war,' " she said in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. "He had a very negative attitude to the Nazi regime and was happy that he was injured as a young man, and therefore got sent back from the front and survived."
The composer's family has come under intense pressure to be more transparent. Last week, a prominent German historian accused them of blocking access to archives.
Hannes Heer said Ms Wagner had declined to let him examine her father's estate. Ms Wagner said this was, in effect, due to an organisational error. "Despite intensive efforts it was not possible to arrange contact at the right time. Therefore Mr Heer could not get access, which he justifiably complained about," she said.
The historian said there were still "huge gaps" in the Wagner family's historical record, particularly during the Nazi era when the festival was run by the composer's British-born daughter-in-law, Winifred.
"The facts must come out about the negative role of Richard Wagner and his heirs," Mr Heer said. "Then you can approach the great artist Wagner with a clear conscience. The whole Wagner, with different aspects to his personality, the terrible anti-Semitic side and the great artistic side."
Winifred, who was born in Hastings, England, as Winifred Marjorie Williams and married Wagner's son Siegfried, was an ardent Nazi. Correspondence between her and Hitler is held by a family member who belongs to a separate branch of the family from Ms Wagner.
Ms Wagner said: "It is very difficult to make all the scattered documents publicly accessible, because parts are owned by all four branches of the family, and their heirs must all agree."
Wagner's reputation has been sullied by the use of his music in Nazi propaganda; the Ride of the Valkyries was used in newsreels to accompany footage of air attacks, while Siegfried's funeral march was played on German radio to mark significant deaths, including Hitler's.
Mr Heer said: "Hitler knew all the operas, he knew the musical scores, he really got it. He treasured Wagner as the propagandist of a racially defined German-ness."