BERLIN — An Israeli orchestra on Tuesday broke a taboo as it played the music of Adolf Hitler's favorite composer, Richard Wagner, in Germany.
About 700 spectators in Wagner's hometown of Bayreuth loudly applauded the Israel Chamber Orchestra as its 34 musicians concluded their concert with the Siegfried Idyll, becoming the first Israeli ensemble to perform a Wagner piece in Germany.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has observed an informal ban on Wagner's music because of its use in Nazi propaganda before and during World War II.
The Wagner family also had close connections to the German fascists and their ideology, and performances of the 19th century composer are kept off Israeli stages and airwaves out of respect to the country's 220,000 Holocaust survivors.
About 6 million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in Europe during the war.
"Some of us were crying, it was a very historical moment," the orchestra's chief executive, Eran Hershkovitz, said. "Sixty years ago they killed us Jews here, 60 years ago this was a brown city and now you have our flag in the streets."
The orchestra, led by Roberto Paternostro, started the concert with Israel's national anthem, Hatikva, and played works by composers banned by the Third Reich, including Gustav Mahler and Felix Mendelssohn, Hershkovitz said.
"It was like a mission to be here: playing Jewish music by Jewish musicians from the Jewish state," he added, saying the performance in Germany amounted to a "victory concert."
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, however, sharply criticized the concert as a "particularly hurtful betrayal."
Hershkovitz rejected that, saying the performance demonstrates to the world the Nazis failed in their attempt to exterminate the Jews and their culture.