Vienna Philharmonic Reveals Nazi Past in New Report

Sunday, March 10, 2013 - 07:00 PM

Almost half of the musicians in the Vienna Philharmonic during World War II were members of the Nazi party, and 13 members were driven out for being Jewish or married to Jews.

The world famous orchestra on Sunday published details for the first time about its conduct during the Nazi era after a team of historians was given full access to its archives. The report, currently published only in German on the Philharmonic’s website, came after accusations of a cover-up by the ensemble.

Austria is due to mark the 75th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany on Tuesday.

The historians also confirmed that the orchestra honored a senior member of the Nazi party decades after the end of the war. Baldur von Schirach, a Nazi governor who oversaw the deportation of 65,000 Viennese Jews, was awarded a “Ring of Honor” in the late 1960s, after he was released from Spandau prison in Berlin.

The report identified Helmut Wobisch, a trumpeter who was a member of the Nazi party, as the man who gave Schirach the ring, which was a replacement for one given to him in 1942. Wobisch became a member of the Waffen SS, the Nazi party’s fighting force, and yet he was so successful in hiding his past after the war that he managed to become the orchestra's director in 1953 and even won praise from Leonard Bernstein, the Jewish conductor.

In all, 60 out of 123 members of the Vienna Philharmonic belonged to the Nazi party in 1942 – a much higher percentage than in the broader Austrian population. Only 10 players had to leave the orchestra as a result of their Nazi affiliations after 1945; two returned.

Of the 13 musicians driven out of the orchestra for being Jewish or married to Jews, six died in concentration camps, others were deported, none returned. Another 11 players who were married to Jews lived under constant threat of being expelled, the report says (though the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler was said to have stepped in on their behalf). Some Jewish members also managed to escape.

There are details too on how the orchestra's famous New Year’s Concert began as a Nazi propaganda tool. The concert, which today is broadcast to an audience of more than 50 million in 80 countries, was planned to help promote Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ desired image of Vienna as a city of “culture, music, optimism and conviviality.”

The orchestra has kept silent about its past for decades. Its chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, wrote a 1992 history titled Democracy of Kings, which was later criticized for not detailing the orchestra’s Nazi links. He has since said that he did not have all of the available documents when he wrote the book.

The report was supported by the orchestra, which commissioned it in the face of mounting criticism on the Internet earlier this year. It was conducted by three historians led by Oliver Rathkolb, a history professor at the University of Vienna.

Weigh in: Has the Vienna Philharmonic been sufficiently transparent? Will these revelations affect your appreciation of their performances? Please leave your comments below.

Photo: Baldur von Schirach at the Nuremberg Trials (in second row, second from right) (Wikipedia Commons)

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Comments [22]

Anna from United States

What's amazing to me is that this organization is still so blatantly racist and sexist. It seems they are barely embarrassed,have little remorse, and no desire to change.
You can read about the blatant sexism here

http://www.osborne-conant.org/vpo2011.htm

And about their laughable audition process here.

http://www.osborne-conant.org/blind.htm

In having to write a paper about this organization, I am mostly learning that I won't be supporting them by listening to them or purchasing their recordings in the future.

The Nazi background is not the least bit surprising- but even more appalling that it was so much more fervent than those Germans living under the Nazi regime in Berlin.

Oct. 11 2014 01:24 PM
Sid Jerome from Brooklyn, NY

For this information to officially see the light of day took a very long time, didn't it. And the list is far from complete.

Dec. 25 2013 06:06 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Politically and artistically the NAZI -linked membership in Austria and Germany opera companies and orchestras is condoned, but now not accepted for its immorality, was considered essential to those during and immediately before World War 2, as the individuals own concern over their own employment.

May. 10 2013 10:50 PM
Peter Rawlings from Bristol UK

I agree entirely about the vulgarity of the New Year concert. In light of this discussion, its worth reflecting on the politics of its representation.

Mar. 17 2013 05:45 PM
Shai Drori from Israel

As a Jew, I am not surprised. However, I feel that if I would ban any Nazi past performer, or Antisemite, I would have to ban too many bigots around. There are many (Chopin, Burl Ives, etc). For me, the night the Berlin Philharmonic played Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem, in Jerusalem was a night of triumph. The Orchestra that played for Hitler, now played for me, in my Capital, My national Anthem. Antusemites will alway come and go, the music will triumph.

Mar. 16 2013 01:38 PM
Daniel Polowetzky from NYC

What a surprise! Viennese Nazis! And I thought they were "invaded"!
I suppose that Kurt Waldheim was President as late as the 1990s should have given us a heads up.
Hopefully they will put an end to that vulgar New Year's Day concert.

Mar. 15 2013 12:44 PM
Rosanna from NYC

Support of totalitarianism should never be excused whether or not "great music" was performed.

Mar. 15 2013 01:29 AM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Well, I admit that perhaps my analogy was not the best, but my point is that we should not let our appreciation of great music be affected by the political views of the performers.

Mar. 13 2013 08:36 PM
Peter Rawlings from Bristol UK

Is that last analogy a sound one? What if a prestigious American orchestra turned out to have been a supporter of Al-Qaeda?

Mar. 13 2013 04:14 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

To Carol from NY:
You are exactly correct! Our own country has done some things that we can't be proud of. Should people refuse to listen to recordings of American orchestras just because the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or invaded Iraq? That seems pretty ridiculous to me.

Mar. 13 2013 01:28 PM
Carol from NY

Well, I and many of my friends protested greatly about going to war with Iraq, destroying homes and a country, killing civilians, men women and children, but what could I have done about it? What?

Mar. 13 2013 12:58 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

To Madison from Manhattan:
The Catholic Church was never pro-Nazi; in fact, the Catholic Church was among the first voices to speak out against the Nazis and their policies. Many Catholics, especially priests and religious, suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Pope Pius XII and the Church helped to save many Jewish people from the concentration camps, and after the war, the chief Rabbi of Rome converted to Catholicism, taking the Pope's given name, Eugenio, as his baptismal name.
And let's leave politics out of music!

Mar. 13 2013 11:19 AM
Rosanna from NYC

These revelations are not surprising. Consider that the beautiful, historic churches in central Vienna contain many plaques commemorating one or another Austrian military battalion deployed during WW II! Evidently parishioners and clergy viewed them to be serving in the spirit of Jesus Christ ... totally appalling.

Mar. 13 2013 02:08 AM
Peter Rawlings from UK

Talent, inspiration, creativity (and the rest) are in themselves residually political formations/formulations. My point, in part, is that regarding music as some kind of pure, transcendent, realm makes it available more than ever for political exploitation and deployment.

Peter Rawlings
Bristol UK

Mar. 12 2013 04:05 PM
Madison from Manhattan

RobertBarroHrabia...

Catholics didn't suffer at all under the nazis because they were Catholics. Some,very few,suffered because they engaged in anti-nazi activity. The Catholic Church from early on was pro-Nazi. The Bavarian Centrist(Catholic) Party provided the necessary votes to create the position of Führer in the last free Reichstag election . Immediately afterwards, the Vatican became the first power on earth to give diplomatic recognition to this Führer- led Nazi regime.As for the Viennese,as someone said a long time ago, they've managed to convince the world that Hitler was German and Beethoven was Austrian.

Mar. 12 2013 11:34 AM

This article fails to ask the question, "What is the future direction of the Vienna Philharmonic in light of this revelation?" OK, you were in bed with the Nazis. What are you going to do now? The past can't be changed but it can be learned from. Transparency will be acheived when the VP realizes that changes to its practices (for example, the hiring of musicians) must be made to separate itself from this checkered past.

Peter Rawlings from Bristol, UK, I honestly am bothered with what you said about music and polictics mainly because its true. But is it more about talent and character than music and politics.

Mar. 12 2013 09:12 AM

This article fails to ask the question, "What is the future direction of the Vienna Philharmonic in light of this revelation?" OK, you were in bed with the Nazis. What are you going to do now? The past can't be changed but it can be learned from. Transparency will be acheived when the VP realizes that changes to its practices (for example, the hiring of musicians) must be made to separate itself from this checkered past.

Peter Rawlings from Bristol, UK, I honestly am bothered with what you said about music and polictics mainly because its true. But is it more about talent and character than music and politics.

Mar. 12 2013 09:12 AM
Frank from UWS

I find this incredibly shocking and it certainly explains a lot about the orchestra today, which has only 6 women among its ranks, no Asians, blacks or Hispanics and little evidence that it's trying to change. I've long avoided their Carnegie Hall concerts because of their policies; now I wonder about even listening to their old recordings. If I put on Bruno Walter conducting Vienna in the 40s or 50s, it's now clear that I'm listening to a bunch of Nazis. Of course, those musicians are all dead but it still makes me uneasy to be celebrating their accomplishments today.

Mar. 11 2013 11:03 PM
Daniela Imre

How can anyone honestly be surprised by these so called "revelations?" Didn't we always know? Really? And why this "transparency" now after 70 years? Is it because those who experienced the full impact of "Die Deutche Kultur" by the hands of an Austrian Fuhrer are long dead?

Mar. 11 2013 10:54 PM
Peter Rawlings from Bristol, UK

The over-representation of Nazi party members in the orchestra is significant: it serves to remind is that music and its performance cannot be free of politics and may even operate to cloak that reality.

Mar. 11 2013 04:27 PM
RobertBaroHrabiaGrafvonRosenberg from NewBrunswick,NJ

Finally,the truth comes out!What else is hidden in O"sterreich?Lenny Bernstein brought MAHLER,back to Wein und die Welt!As a Jew living in New Brunswick,NYC area,am always apalled by the secrecy of nazis and their sympathsizers.Most Jews&Catholics in Hungary,Poland,Germany,&Austria, suffered incredibly!A tribute&recognition of these performers in way of a plaque with promenient leaders&officials of the government of O"sterreich/Austria and the city of Wien/Vienna should be in attendence, along with government officials from Israel and the living musicians and their families!FEAR&TERROR IS DEVASTING TO LIVE UNDER,FOREVER in OUR HEARTS

Mar. 11 2013 01:40 PM
NYMike from Manhattan

In the photo of the current VPO, I counted 6 "elected" women members. I wonder if that exceeds the number of Jewish members, if any.

Mar. 11 2013 12:36 PM

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