New report reveals a former SS officer managed the orchestra as late as 1968.
On the eve of the 75th anniversary of Austria’s annexation by Germany, a damning new report reveals the strength of the Vienna Philharmonic’s ties to the Nazi party, before, during and after the war.
The report, co-ordinated by respected Vienna University professor Oliver Rathkolb, reveals that during the period from 1938 onwards, 13 musicians were expelled from the orchestra for being Jews or married to Jews. Of these, six were murdered in German concentration camps while the rest were deported.
It also shows that 60 of the Vienna Philharmonic’s 123 players were members of the Nazi party during World War II. Amongst the general Austrian population only 10% could be shown to have been party members by 1945, making a figure of almost 50% within the orchestra abnormally high. A mere ten Nazi sympathisers were expelled from the orchestra after the war.
In a damning indictment of the orchestra’s casual attitude to former Nazis, the report singles out the case of Helmut Wobisch, a member of the Nazi party since 1933 (when it was still illegal in Austria), who was the orchestra's managing director from 1954 until 1968. Wobisch became a member of the SS in 1938 and was instrumental in denouncing fellow musicians to the authorities. He had been dismissed at the end of World War II because of his ties to Hitler’s regime, but he successfully covered up his past sufficiently to be reinstated as principal trumpet in 1950. He maintained his links, however, with former members of the Nazi elite, in particular former Nazi youth leader, Baldur von Schirach. Von Schirach was convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg and sentenced to 20 years in Spandau prison. In 1966, Wobisch presented him with a replica of the orchestra's “Honorary Ring”, a replacement for von Schirach’s original, confiscated by US troops after the war.
In a move to diffuse the situation, the orchestra’s present chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, who is also their current historian, has issued a statement maintaining that the reinstatement of the award to von Schirach by Wobisch was a private initiative.
The report also suggests that the famous New Year’s Day concerts were commissioned by the Third Reich as part of the Nazi propaganda machine.