Discussion of Its Nazi Past
(Sent to various lists May 8, 2000)
I would like to comment on one of the articles about the Vienna
Philharmonic's Mauthausen Concert, "Music At Nazi Death Camp Ignites
Protest" [_New York Times_ (May 6, 2000)] since it contains false
information. The author, Roger Cohen, one of America's best foreign
correspondents, asserts that the Vienna Philharmonic has been open about
its Nazi Past:
"But Clemens Hellsberg, the Philharmonic's president, who has done much to
throw belated light on the orchestra's dark years under Hitler's Reich, has
defended the concert as a sign of hope for a new millennium and an
This is not true, and quite misleading. Neither the orchestra nor
Hellsberg has done much to reveal the orchestra's Nazi past. In fact, they
have been rather quiet about it.
Hellsberg outlined the basic facts of the period in a book length history
of the orchestra entitled _A Democracy of Kings_ [_Demokratie der Koenige_
( Mainz, 1992)], which he wrote for the Philharmonic's 150th Jubilee in
1992. It is a large, glossy, very expensive book published only in German
and little known outside of a dedicated circle of Philharmonic fans in
Austria. It did little or nothing to bring attention to the orchestra's
Nazi past. The book is almost entirely unknown in the english-speaking
world, and is little known even in Germany.
Hellsberg's brief summation of the orchestra's Nazi collaboration is
relatively open by the standards of Austrian society, but it often has a
rationalizing tone. After the war, for example, the Philharmonic took a
pay cut to provide a pension and chauffeur for composer, Hans Pfitzner, one
of the most virulent anti-Semitic spokesmen of the Third Reich's music
world who, among other things, advised the regime on racial cleansing.
Hellsberg's book describes the Philharmonic's support of Pfitzner as a
humane act and a "milestone" in the orchestra's history.
As recently as December 1999 the Philharmonic's website was still
substantiating the orchestra's claim to cultural authenticity by quoting a
highly racist book entitled "Inheritance and Mission" by Wilhelm Jerger, a
SS Lieutenent who was chairman of the orchestra from 1938 to 1945.
Jerger's book includes tables of the orchestra's father to son genealogies
with asterisks by the names of all non-Aryans. Jerger's comments were only
removed from the website after I placed a notice about them on the Internet
on December 31, 1999. (For details see my post to the IAWM list posted on
December 31, 1999 at:)
In reality, the facts about the orchestra's Nazi past became known to the
international community only through protests against the orchestra
organized by the International Alliance for Women In Music. I prepared
information about the orchestra's collaboration and lax post-war
de-nazification, which Monique Buzzarte put on her "ZAPVPO" website. Due
to the publicity generated by the protest, Buzzarte's website received over
ten thousand hits by the 1997 Carnegie Hall protests. I also put the
information on numerous Internet discussion lists which brought it to the
attention of thousands of professional musicians and many journalists.
This work led to important articles in the media about the orchestra's Nazi
collaboration and lax post-war de-Nazification. The most important
articles were written by Jan Herman, who was at the _LA Times and is now at
MSNBC. He is continues to write about the orchestra's dark history, and is
still the ONLY journalist to correlate the orchestra's past with its
current exclusion of women and people of color.
Now the Phiharmonic is being scrutinized even more closely due to the
IAWM's efforts and Haider's rise to power in Austria.
The New York Times credits Hellsberg and the Vienna Philharmonic with an
openness about its Nazi past it has never had, not even in recent weeks.
It is a past difficult for them to openly address since they continue to
discretely exclude women and people of color.
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