A Souvenir from the Bunker: Hitler's Record Collection Surfaces In Moscow
Part of the music collection stored at the Führerbunker, Hitler's underground shelter during World War II, has been discovered in Moscow, where it lay in the attic of a former Soviet officer for decades. The Nazi leader apparently enjoyed listening to records made by his enemies.
Hitler visited the opera almost daily. And when the going got tough, apparently he didn't mind listening to music created by Jews.
It's set on a mid-May day in 1945 in war-ravaged Berlin. Lev Besymenski, the captain of the military intelligence service of the First Belarusian Front, is given a mission: Together with two other officers, he is to inspect the Reich Chancellery -- stormed just a few days before -- including the underground bunker where Hitler stayed during the war and eventually committed suicide.
Besymenski is an expert, and he also speaks German. He served as an interpreter during the arrest of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus in Stalingrad in 1943 and had only recently, on 1 May, translated the news for Stalin from German General Hans Krebs that Hitler had died. Later he will reveal to the world what the Soviets long treated as something akin to a state secret -- that they found the remains of Hitler's corpse in the garden of the Reich Chancellery.
His comrades have already helped themselves to cutlery engraved with the initials "A. H." They have selected leather cases containing medals and other trinkets. But Besymenski is thinking of something else. He asks the officer to open several large iron doors for him that have been secured with special locks.
"We were faced with a strange sight," he would write decades later: "Several rows of sturdy wooden boxes stood in each room, numbered and packed closely together." German service staff said the boxes were packed for shipment to the Berghof, Hitler's residence in Bavaria, but the trip never took place, according to Besymenski. The boxes were filled with crockery and various household effects.
Besymenski fills a box with souvenirs for himself and later takes it back to Moscow on a special train. Forty-six years will go by before his daughter Alexandra discovers the booty by chance.
It's August 1991, a pleasant summer day in the dacha settlement Nikolina-Gora close to Moscow, where the Besymenski family owns a house. The family has visitors, and steaming blinis are placed on the veranda table at lunchtime. Then it's time to relax. Besymenski sends his daughter into the attic to get badminton rackets.
A Record Collection from the Führerhauptquartier
It's dark and cramped up there, with boxes of books standing around. "My shin hit something solid," Besymenskaya -- who is 53 today -- recounts. "It was a stack of records." They are labelled with rectangular, finely serrated stickers that make her freeze. "Führerhauptquartier," the print on the stickers reads.
She rushes downstairs excitedly with her discovery. "Daddy, what's this, and why is it lying on the attic?" she asks. "Can't you see, they're records. I switched to CDs years ago," the 70-year-old grumbles. That's all he wants to say. "I sensed how uncomfortable Lev Besymenski was about the topic," one of his guests will later remember.
The reason for his nervousness was presumably that Besymenski, who became a respected historian and a professor at the military academy in Moscow after the war, was trying to prevent people from suspecting him of being a plunderer. Nowhere in his later books about Hitler does he mention what he personally took from Berlin to Moscow in 1945: parts of the record collection at the Führer's headquarters.
While it was customary at the time for the victors to take plentiful souvenirs back home, some of them went too far and became embroiled in scandal. Take the example of Marshal Georgy Zhukov. The man who won the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad and later became the Supreme Military Commander of the Soviet Occupation Zone in Germany made off with, among other things, "55 works of classical painting, six boxes containing expensive tableware and tea sets, nine golden watches and 713 pieces of silverware," according to Moscow secret police records. The booty came from the Prussian palaces in Potsdam near Berlin.
Music lover Besymenski, on the other hand, took from the Reich Chancellery what corresponded to his personal passion. He had been a frequent guest at the Moscow Conservatory before the war. He died in June of this year, at the age of 86. And last week, his daughter Alexandra allowed SPIEGEL to view the collection of about 100 shellac records.
Most of them are stored in red and some of them in blue albums. Each album contains about a dozen records. Some records are scratched and others are broken, but most are well preserved.
Album No. 1, weather-beaten due to the dampness and the temperature shifts in the attic of the Besymenski datcha, contains nothing particularly surprising. It includes the Piano Sonatas No. 24 in F-sharp major and No. 27 in E-minor by Ludwig van Beethoven, for example, or the overture to Wagner's "Fliegender Holländer," performed by the Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus with Heinz Tietjen (the director of the Festspielhaus between 1931 and 1944) conducting.
Hitler's second passion, after architecture, was music. He went to the opera house almost daily during his time in Vienna to listen to the music of Beethoven, Wagner, Liszt or Brahms. But to him, only German music counted. Yet Besymenski's collection astonishingly contains works by composers the Nazis considered "subhumans," including Russian composers such as Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Alexander Borodin and Sergei Rachmaninov.
For example, the item with the inventory number "Führerhauptquartier 840" contains a recording by the Electrola company labeled "Bass in Russian with Orchestra and Chorus" -- a recording of the aria "The Death of Boris Godunov" by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, sung by Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin.
Another album contains nothing but works by Tchaikovsky with solo performances by star violinist Bronislav Huberman, a Polish Jew. "I feel this is a sheer mockery of the millions of Slavs and Jews who had to die because of the racial ideology of the Nazis," a stirred-up Alexandra Besymenskaya remarks today.
- Part 1: Hitler's Record Collection Surfaces In Moscow
- Part 2: Taking Refuge in the Music of His Enemies
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