Vienna orchestra reveals link to disgraced Nazi
Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart, left, standing with German conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler and musicians. Photo: AFP
BERLIN: The Vienna Philharmonic, one of the world's leading orchestras, revealed the depth of its collusion with the Nazis Sunday night, admitting that it honoured a senior member of the party decades after the end of the Second World War.
It confirmed that a "ring of honour" was awarded to Baldur von Schirach in the late Sixties after he was released from Spandau prison. Von Schirach, the Nazi governor of Vienna, oversaw the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews.
At a press conference at the Vienna State Opera, a team of historians commissioned by the orchestra to investigate its past said the ring was sent to von Schirach as a replacement for one given to him in 1942.
Adolf Hitler sitting between his close collaborator Martin Bormann, right, and future Governor of Austria Arthur Seyss Inquart, left, at Vienna's Opera in March 1938. Officers in the next box give Hitler the nazi salute. Photo: AFP
The possibility of a cover-up of the incident, notably in a book about the orchestra by its president, Clemens Hellsberg, was one factor that prompted the inquiry.
The historians, led by Oliver Rathkolb, professor of contemporary history at the University of Vienna, disclosed that 62 out of 123 active wartime members were Nazi Party members and two were in the SS, according to a summary of the report released to The New York Times.
One SS member, a trumpeter, also worked as a spy, denouncing fellow musicians. He lost his post after the war but rejoined in 1947 and later became executive director.
A handout photo released by the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) shows a page of its membership registry book with the crossed names of Jewish musicians of the orchestra during WWII. Photo: HO
Details were also published of 13 musicians driven out of the orchestra over their Jewish origin or relations. Five later died in concentration camps.
Austria took several decades after 1945 to acknowledge and express regret for its central role in the Third Reich and Holocaust. Monday, the country marks the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss, its annexation by Nazi Germany.
The Vienna Philharmonic's New Year's concert, broadcast to an audience of more than 50 million in 80 countries, was inaugurated under Nazi rule, helping promote Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' desired image of Vienna as a city of "culture, music, optimism and conviviality".
Bernadette Mayrhofer, one of the team of historians, said the ostracism of Jewish musicians had begun even before the 1938 German annexation.
"It was known whether somebody had Jewish roots or a Jewish wife," she told Reuters.
The orchestra has been heavily criticised in recent years for not acknowledging the part its Jewish musicians played in its history, or its own collaboration with the Nazis.
Harald Walser, an Austrian Green politician and one of the orchestra's most persistent critics, has demanded the Vienna Philharmonic open its archives for a full and open inquiry.
The three historians were given less than two months to examine the archives following a decision by the orchestra's management after this January's New Year's concert.
The Vienna Philharmonic says it is not obliged to grant public access to the archives, since it is a private organisation, although it does allow access to selected historians and scholars.
The Daily Telegraph