Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim says the perception of Richard Wagner is unjustly influenced by the fact he was Hitler's favorite composer, infuriating a Holocaust survivors group which blasted the argument as a "moral failure."
"We need one day to liberate Wagner of all this weight," Barenboim told reporters Friday. He is conducting Wagner's "Die Walkuere" for the gala premiere of La Scala's season in Milan next week.
"I think a bit of the problem with Wagner isn't what we all know in Israel, anti-Semitism, etc... It is how the Nazis and Hitler saw Wagner as his own prophet. ... This perception of Wagner colors for many people the perception of Wagner."
Barenboim said Wagner, who died in 1883, was politically on the left and could not have foreseen the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War II.
He said the point is not to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, but rather not to be influenced by perceptions.
Barenboim, a Jew born in Argentina, has long been a champion of Wagner's artistic merits. He angered many Israelis when he played some of the composer's music in Israel in 2001.
The conductor's comments angered a leader of a Holocaust survivors group.
Barenboim's comments "sadly represent an act of moral failure and (are) a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner's banner," Elan Steinberg, from the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement sent by e-mail.
"The unofficial Israeli ban placed on Wagner was a symbolic act of defiance against hate," Steinberg said.
The statement added that "nobody suggests that Wagner's music not be played. But the public Jewish refusal to do so was a powerful message of indignation to the world that exposed Wagner's odious anti-Semitic ideas and those who championed them."