Vienna Philharmonic asks historians to look into alleged Nazi past

(JTA) — The Vienna Philharmonic has asked three historians to research the orchestra’s alleged Nazi past.


The announcement on Jan. 22 comes after Harald Walser, a historian and Parliament member for the Austrian Greens, said in an interview that the orchestra demonstrated sympathy for the country’s Nazi leadership during World War II.

Walser cited a listing on the Philharmonic’s official website, which describes a concert delivered on New Year’s Day of 1939 as a “sublime homage to Austria,” when in fact it was a celebration of its unification with Nazi Germany in 1938.

The New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic takes place each year on the morning of Jan. 1 in Vienna and is broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 50 million in 73 countries.

According to Walser, the orchestra has not released all its documents from the Nazi era or has destroyed some of them. He has called for forming a committee of inquiry into the role of the Vienna Philharmonic during the years 1938-1945.

The orchestra has tasked historians Fritz Truempi, Oliver Rathkolb and Bernadette Mayrhofer with looking into the “politicization” of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1938 to 1945, the fate of its Jewish musicians during that time and its relations with Nazis afterwards, according to an orchestra statement, the French news agency AFP reported.

Walser claims that after the war, an emissary of the Vienna Philharmonic had a new copy of its Honor Ring ring and gave it Nazi war criminal Baldur von Schirach, who was responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Austrian Jews to death camps, in 1966 following his release from Berlin’s Spandau Prison for war criminals. He received the original ring from the orchestra in 1942. 

Six Jewish musicians from the Philharmonic were murdered by the Nazis in Austria, and 11 deported to death camps, according to reports.

The historians’ report is due in March.

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