Direct quote from Furtwängler, at his denazification trial [he was eventually cleared of all charges] (from Ardoin´s The Furtwängler record) :
"I knew Germany was in a terrible crisis; I felt responsible for German music, and it was my task to survive this crisis, as much as I could. The concern that my art was misused for propaganda had to yield to the greater concern that German music be preserved, that music be given to the German people by its own musicians. These people, the compatriots of Bach and Beethoven, of Mozart and Schubert, still had to go on living under the control of a regime obsessed with total war. No one who did not live here himself in those days can possibly judge what it was like.
"Does Thomas Mann [who was critical of Furtwängler’s actions] really believe that in 'the Germany of Himmler' one should not be permitted to play Beethoven? Could he not realize, that people never needed more, never yearned more to hear Beethoven and his message of freedom and human love, than precisely these Germans, who had to live under Himmler’s terror? I do not regret having stayed with them."
From a recent fascinating article (highly recommended) on Daniel Barenboim in TimesOnline (full article here)
"So how does Barenboim reconcile his reverence for Furtwängler with the fact that Furtwängler conducted for Hitler throughout the war, even after Jews in his own orchestras had been sent to their death?
“I have thought about this all my life. I don’t think Furtwängler was an active Nazi. But he belonged to a generation that still believed one could close one’s eyes to bad things and live through art. They viewed music as separate from life. Which also explains how Hitler was moved to tears by a performance of Lohengrin, and then that same evening was able to send thousands to the gas chambers. "
“Our challenge in the 21st century is to use music not only as an escape from life – in the sense that you come home fed up, put on music, and forget your troubles – but also as a way of making sense of the world. Music is not an alternative to living; it’s a model for living.”