Winifred Wagner (born Winifred Marjorie Williams; 23 June 1897 – 5 March 1980) was the English-born wife of Siegfried Wagner, the son of Richard Wagner, and ran the Bayreuth Festival after her husband's death in 1930 until the end of World War II in 1945. She was a friend and supporter of Adolf Hitler (himself a Wagner enthusiast), and she and Hitler maintained a regular correspondence.
Early life and marriage to Siegfried Wagner
Winifred Williams was born in Hastings, England, to John Williams, a writer, and his wife, the former Emily Florence Karop. Winifred lost both her parents before the age of two and was initially raised in a number of homes. Eight years later she was adopted by a distant German relative of her mother, Henrietta Karop, and her husband Karl Klindworth, a musician and a friend of Richard Wagner.
The Bayreuth Festival was seen as a family business, with the leadership to be passed from Richard Wagner to his son Siegfried Wagner, but Siegfried, who was secretly bisexual, showed little interest in marriage. It was arranged that Winifred Klindworth, as she was called at the time, aged 17, would meet Siegfried Wagner, aged 45, at the Bayreuth Festival in 1914. A year later they were married. It was hoped that the marriage would end Siegfried's homosexual encounters and the associated costly scandals, and provide an heir to carry on the family business.
Following their marriage on 22 September 1915, they had four children in rapid succession:
After the death of Siegfried Wagner in 1930, Winifred Wagner took over the Bayreuth Festival, running it until the end of World War II.
Friendship with Adolf Hitler
In 1923, Winifred met Adolf Hitler, who greatly admired Wagner's music. When Hitler was jailed for his part in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch, Winifred sent him food parcels and stationery on which Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf may have been written. In the late 1930s, she served as Hitler's personal translator during treaty negotiations with Britain.
Although Winifred remained personally faithful to Hitler, she denied that she had ever supported the Nazi party. Her relationship with Hitler grew so close that by 1933 there were rumors of impending marriage. Haus Wahnfried, the Wagner home in Bayreuth, became Hitler's favorite retreat. Hitler gave the festival government assistance and tax exempt status, and treated Winifred's children solicitously.
According to biographer Brigitte Hamann, Winifred Wagner was reported to be "disgusted" by Hitler's persecution of the Jews. In one notable incident, in the late 1930s, a letter from her to Hitler prevented Hedwig and Alfred Pringsheim (whose daughter Katia was married to Thomas Mann) from being arrested by the Gestapo.
According to Gottfried Wagner, Winifred's grandson, she never admitted the error of her ways. After the war, her posthumous devotion to the man she cryptically referred to as "USA" – for Unser Seliger Adolf (our blessed Adolf) – remained undimmed. She corresponded with Hitler for nearly two decades. Scholars have not been allowed to see the letters, which have been kept locked away by one of Winifred's grandchildren, Amélie Lafferentz, who has insisted that they not be released until the whole family agrees to do so.
Like Hitler, Winifred Wagner believed profoundly in the rite of a secular cult of German nationalism, of Nordic self-realization, and völkischer aspiration. After the collapse of the Third Reich, a denazification court banned her from the Bayreuth Festival, which she passed to her sons Wieland and Wolfgang.
In the 1950s she again became a political hostess. Her grandson Gottfried Wagner later recalled that "My aunt Friedelind was outraged when my grandmother again slowly blossomed as the first lady of right-wing groups and received political friends such as Emmy Göring, Ilse Hess, the former NPD Adolf von Thadden, Gerdy Troost, the wife of the Nazi architect and friend of Hitler Paul Ludwig Troost, the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, the German NS-movie director Karl Ritter and the racist author and former Senator of the Reich Hans Severus Ziegler.
In 1975, Winifred Wagner gave a filmed interview to Hans-Jürgen Syberberg in which she appeared unrepentant concerning her past. "To have met him [Hitler]," she declared, "is an experience I would not have missed." She was also interviewed that year by David Irving, who reported that she had said she would still welcome Hitler at her door, and also that she had discussed with Hitler the saving of some individuals.
In popular culture
- Tony Paterson "'British' Wagner saved Jews from her friend Hitler" Archived September 7, 2005, at the Wayback Machine. Sunday Telegraph 25 June 2002
- "Hitler links: A Wagner, and not proud of it". The Independent. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
- Gottfried Wagner, Wer nicht mit dem Wolf heult – Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen eines Wagner-Urenkels (Cologne, 1997), p. 69 (quotation translated from the German)