The Vienna Philharmonic’s

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

educational gesture." 


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.


William Osborne

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