Winifred Wagner was a British-born orphan who became Richard Wagner’s daughter-in-law, head of the Bayreuth festival, and one of Adolf Hitler’s closest personal friends. A no-nonsense Englishwoman who displaced Wagner’s formidable widow to become head of the family and the Festival, Winifred fell adolescently in love with Hitler and made Bayreuth the summer gathering place for the Nazi elite from 1933 to 1939. And yet this staunch German nationalist leaped to the aid of Jewish acquaintances and artists as they were increasingly threatened by exile, imprisonment, or death.
Drawing on previously unavailable sources, Brigitte Hamann has produced a meticulously researched and elegantly written biography—the story of the private Hitler and his monumental obsessions, and of the headstrong, dedicated, and misguided woman who remained loyal to his memory until her death in 1980.
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BRIGITTE HAMANN is a historian. Her study of Hitler’s early years, Hitler’s Vienna, was critically acclaimed and an international bestseller. She lives in Vienna.
Starred Review. Viennese historian Hamann's important biography tells the complex story of Winifred Wagner (1897–1980), Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law, who headed the Bayreuth opera festival during Hitler's rule. An impressionable 18-year-old, British-born Winifred Williams married Wagner's middle-aged only son, Siegfried, in 1915, bearing him the heirs the Wagners so desperately wanted. When in 1923 Hitler solicited the Wagners for political support, an infatuated Winifred joined the Nazi Party, becoming Hitler's loyal devotee. Widowed in 1930, Winifred assumed directorship of Bayreuth amid rumors of future betrothal to Hitler, who, as Reich chancellor, put the festival center stage in his political campaigns. As increasing numbers of Jewish artists were exiled, Winifred bargained to gain exemptions for her friends and was gradually frozen out by Hitler. Without claiming heroic status for Winifred or denying her anti-Semitism, Hamann (Hitler's Vienna) meticulously places Winifred's aid in the context of the nationalist, anti-Semitic Wagners and their circle. Hamann describes the public denunciation of Winifred by her American émigré daughter, Friedelind; Winifred's equally problematic relationships with her other children; and her postwar openness about her affection for Hitler. This is a fascinating portrait not only of Winifred but of the Wagners and their milieu. 8 pages of b&w photos; map. (Dec.)
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