Silenced Voices:
Jewish Singers in Nazi Germany

The towering voice of a Brünnhilde from the old days is heard, singing in a 1930 recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre.  A montage of photos and archival footage depicting the operatic career of German soprano Henriette Gottlieb is flashed on the screen. Her singing is suddenly interrupted by the voice and then the image of Goebbels, denouncing Jewish influence in the arts. The remaining images tell the story of the horrifying end to Gottlieb’s life: this Jewish Valkyrie was shipped to a concentration camp where she was murdered in 1943.

Archival footage from sometime in the late 1930s, somewhere in Germany. A performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy. The singing comes to an ecstatic end. The camera pans from the soloists to the wildly applauding audience and zooms in on…. Goebbels, smiling and nodding.  A long shot reveals that the opera hall has been draped with huge swastikas.  The conductor steps down from the podium and shakes the beaming Goebbels’ hand. It is the world famous Wilhelm Furtwängler. As he withdraws his own hand, there is a vaguely uncomfortable expression on his face.

One of the most perplexing and least scrutinized aspects of National Socialism was its conception of itself as a cultural movement. Its mission was to save Germany from the “bastard” countercultures of modernism, Bolshevism and Jewishness. Beginning with the expulsion of Jewish artists in the name of “Aryanization” and their replacement by non-Jews who were in a position to further their careers, this episode in Nazi history would lead to the death of many of the greatest musicians and singers in Germany, the country considered the center of classical music.

“Silenced Voices: Jewish Singers in Nazi Germany”, a 90 minute documentary-in-progress by New York filmmaker Riva Freifeld, will explore the lives and tragic ends of Jewish opera singers beginning in 1933 when Jews were first expelled from German cultural life. The film will begin with the story of Magda Spiegel, beloved “first alto” of the Frankfurt Opera, who remained in Germany thinking she would be safe because of her artistic position.  But she was eventually deported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz where she was killed in 1944.

Magda Spiegel Biographie einer Frankfurter Opersängerin 1887-1944

By Claudia Becker

For additional information, please contact producer Riva Freifeld.