Mauthausen concert Press Summary

Sent to various lists on May 9,2000


Below are translated excerpts from various Austrian and US newspapers about

the Vienna Philharmonic's controversial Mauthausen concentration camp

memorial concert.  The concert was recorded and there is going to be a

Mauthausen CD.  It will be sold at concentration camp memorial sites with

the proceeds going to their benefit.  (This has been satirized as grotesque

in a couple newspapers.)


_Die Presse_, a leading Viennese daily (May 8, 2000) comments about the

concert and the changes made to the camp for it:


"In this concentration camp--or better said: what remains of the grounds

after a few attempts to "prettify" it--in this slaughter yard, the elegant

Sir Simon Rattle will give the downbeat for Beethoven's "Ninth."  The

guests of honor--above all the President and EU Commissioner--will

demonstrate how affected they are, each according to his talent.  After

all, television will be there broadcasting. That way Mr. and Mrs. Austria

can sit on the couch with beer and chips, and duly honor those murdered

through being worked to death."


Die Presse also comments that even though the Austrian government was not

invited, Elie Wiesel still canceled his appearance:  "And since then Zelman

[the event's organizer and Director of the Austrian Jewish Welcoming

Service] has stood in the crossfire of party politics.  Even many of his

friends do not want to have anything more to do with the matter.   An

embarrassment has been born out of out of a good thing, a result of the

cramped relationship Austrians have with the history of their parents and



[I read in the _Sueddeutsche Zeitung_ May 8, 2000 (a major German paper)

that the new Austrian government eliminated -all- of the Welcoming

Service's funding.  It will have to continue with the much smaller sum it

receives from the city of Vienna.]


_Der Kurier_, another large Viennese daily, writes on May 8, 2000:


"The President of the Israelite Cultural Community, Ariel Muzicant, found

bitter words for the memorial for the Jewish victims: 'We are confronted

daily with politicians that do not possess any sensibility.'  In Austria

there is a majority that would rather not come in touch with history. 'But

we won't let ourselves be fobbed off with just any celebration.  The future

and the present must change so that memorials have some sense.'" 


[In the same paper the Austrian head of state, Thomas Klestil, defended the

controversial concert:]  "More than words, it is music that touches humans

most deeply.  Music can comfort pain and fill the soul with hope."  And

Clemens Hellsberg, chairman of the Philharmonic, comments, "No other

concert in the history of the orchestra has been more discussed than this



_Salzburger Nachrichten_, May 8, 2000 writes:


"Nothing is more fatal than the mistaken belief, that we today could not,

like our forefathers, come to a moral collapse such as Mauthausen

symbolizes.  55 years of the Second Republic has  put only a thin veneer of

civilization over the darkness in our hearts.  We must notice that

political storms press hard on this delicate surface.


"The lacquer of civilization is destroyed through a Politik that incites

hatred, through xenophobic political campaigns, through  slogans and

placards that awaken the most primitive feelings of envy -- it is also worn

down by people who think that xenophobes are dealt with by merely tossing

them cakes.


"The lacquer is destroyed by top politicians who give respectful praise and

recognition to the demon that once raged in Mauthausen - and it will also

be damaged by communities that counter this reprehensible behavior, not

with the power of arguments, but rather through the denial of dialog."


_The New York Times_ writes on May 6, 2000:


The controversy has been sharpened by the particular history of the Vienna

Philharmonic, which performed Beethoven's "Fidelio" at the express request

of Hermann Goring 10 days after the Anschluss in 1938. The orchestra

harbored many openly Nazi members, responded with equanimity to the

deportation to death camps of six Jewish members and for decades after the

war turned a same blind eye to these events, as did most Austrians.


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.


"We must sensitize the eyes and ears and especially the hearts of people to

need and misery in this world," he said in a recent interview with Die

Presse. When the orchestra was criticized at a performance in Paris shortly

after Mr. Haider entered government in February, he pointed to the

Mauthausen event as proof of its credentials.


Sir Simon Rattle, the British conductor who will soon take over from


Abbado at the Berlin Philharmonic, will conduct the performance, one that

has led Sir Simon to a great deal of soul searching. He declined to be

interviewed, but earlier this year he told The Guardian that in the end

silence was not an option for a musician offered such a rare opportunity.


"I think we will be reaching into ourselves to try to express what is

necessary through the music," he said then. "When the alternative is

silence, there isn't really an alternative for a musician."


Sir Simon added: "It's retreat or resist, and now is the time to resist. To

do anything else would play into the hands of reaction and racism."


Sent to various lists May 10, 2000


The Jerusalem Post

May 8, 2000, Monday


HEADLINE: Austrian president voices anger over Mauthausen crimes

BYLINE: Melissa Eddy, Ap



Some critics have also pointed out the Philharmonic's reluctance to come to

terms with its Nazi past. Like official Austria, the orchestra has only

recently acknowledged that 47% of its members belonged to the Nazi party.

Five Jewish members perished in the camps. The orchestra leadership hopes

the performance will benefit its image.


The idea for the concert was born five years ago, the brainchild of Leon

Zelman, a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor who now heads Vienna's Jewish

Welcome Service.


Some 200,000 people, - including Jews and many political prisoners - were

interned at Mauthausen. Half of them were worked to death or otherwise



Harry Weber, who survived the Holocaust in Palestine, but whose mother

perished at Mauthausen, opposed the idea of music at the camp.


"You shouldn't make a concert at a concentration camp," he said. "Especially

not the Ode to Joy." But the political climate made the musicians more

determined that Beethoven's music and its call for goodwill should transcend



"Maybe I'm naive, but when I hear Beethoven's words 'All men will become

brothers,' these are the words of the New Europe," said Zelman.



This is from the TIMES of London, May 8:

SECTION: Features

HEADLINE: In this terrible place, an Ode to Joy

BYLINE: Richard Morrison


... the suggestion for such a concert would surely have been dismissed

as obscene and exploitative, had it not come from a survivor of Mauthausen.

Leon Zelman was 17 in 1945 when he was liberated. [...]


But when he suggested that the Vienna Philharmonic play Beethoven in

Mauthausen, plenty of people (including some fellow survivors) were

appalled. Even some of those sympathetic to Zelman's aims declared that the

idea of playing a concert in a place where such atrocities took place was

unbelievably tasteless. Others questioned the extravagance of staging this

enormous one-off event in a remote quarry. Even though the performers did

not take a fee, there was still the cost of building a stage and acoustic

shell for the orchestra, laying on power and amplification, and running

cables up the hillside.


The wisdom of choosing Beethoven's Ninth was also queried. Yes, Schiller's

Ode to Joy does speak of universal brotherhood. But, according to some

contemporary reports, the Nazis themselves used to play recordings of

Beethoven in the death camps. Indeed, the French anthropologist Esteban

Buch's recent histoire politique of the Ninth even has a contentious

chapter, titled Beethoven as Fuhrer, on the composer's role in helping to

fashion (albeit unwittingly) the philosophy of the Teutonic master-race. All

very disturbing.


Then there was the involvement in the concert of the Vienna Philharmonic,

whose own dark and unheroic history between 1938 and 1945 mirrors Austria's

national experience only too clearly. It is much to the credit of the

present VPO members, of course, that the truth about its years as a "Nazi

orchestra" has now been acknowledged and published. Even so, it makes

gruesome reading.


Eleven Jewish orchestra members were dismissed immediately after the

Anschluss of 1938. Six were subsequently murdered in concentration camps.

Another nine of "mixed blood" were retained only because the VPO's

conductor, Wilhelm Furtwangler, argued that their dismissal would leave too

large a gap in the musical resources. There is, admittedly, only one

recorded case of a VPO player denouncing a colleague. Nevertheless, by the

end of the war more than 50 players were card-carrying Nazi party members.


So why, when all this is considered, did Zelman campaign so strongly for the

VPO's Mauthausen concert to happen? "I know that some of my fellow survivors

would have preferred the quarry to stay as a shrine," he told me. "But I

wanted to bring music here precisely because it is a provocation. It will

make people, especially young people, think freshly about this place, and

what happened here. As Primo Levi said: 'Without remembrance there can be no



My thanks to Regina Himmelbauer for help with collecting this information.


William Osborne