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
"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
"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
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 3
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
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:
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
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
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.