At last, Vienna Philharmonic cancels honours it gave to Nazi leaders

At last, Vienna Philharmonic cancels honours it gave to Nazi leaders


norman lebrecht

December 21, 2013

In the run-up to its New year showcase, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has let it be known that honours it gave to six Nazi leaders have been withdrawn. It has also admitted past intentions to present an honour to Adolf Hitler.

The six who have been stripped of Vienna glory are:

Baldur von Schirach, the Gauleiter who purged Vienna of its Jewish population;

Arthur Seyss-Inquart, butcher of Holland;

Salzburg and Carinthia Nazi governor Friedrich Rainer;

SS leader Albert Reitter;

Vienna Mayor Hanns Blaschke;

German Reich Railway boss Rudolf Toepfer.

Too little, too late.


  • Unfuckinbelievable that it took them this long. No, all too believable.

  • David Boxwell says:

    What is striking, too, is that _only_ 13 members of the VPO were Jewish (like Arnold Rose) or had Jewish family/marital ties when the Anschluss (aka “The Open Invitation to Invade”) occurred. They probably didn’t have blind auditions in those days . . .

  • PK Miller says:

    what were they thinking??? Why would the VPO even have considered honors to ANY Nazi or Nazi sympathizer? Yes, there were those who went along to get along, easier to do that, save their hides, their families, etc., than to resist. But my God–to consider honoring Nazis, those who were responsible for thousands of people being murdered and Hitler himself? It IS too late. Ugh…

  • Melisande says:

    You only have to read Edmund de Waal’s book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” to fully realize the hidden anti-semitism that sickened this country for centuries. This poison and megalomania is not easy to cure, so it appears. Not even art.

  • Ken Weiss says:

    The Austrians were much better Nazis than the Germans; and unlike the Germans, they really haven’t acknowledged their past

  • Michael says:

    Just wondering : shouldn’t Daniel Barenboim better resign from the New Year’s concert engagement ?

    Or could it be that he realised that all those responsible for the truly scandalous medal rewarding business are dead and none of today’s players have anything to do with it ?

    Regarding the male /female issue:

    Isn’t Barenboim guilty of endorsing it by taking up the baton ?

    I wonder what future blogs will think of him ,standing in front of a near all male band.

    ” He knew it and he conducted . ”

    Not a good position to be in.

    Otherwise: give the VPO a rest until the 1st of January.

    They are already a horn down and need to practise all these fiddly Polkas and Waltzes ,playing them to an estimated audience of 50 million people ( minus some people here ,but that won’t show up in the statistics I am afraid .)

  • Hasbeen says:

    Lets give the whole tiresome story of Vienna’s chauvinism and Nazi past a rest ! For at least 10 years !!

  • Although inexplicably late in revoking those ‘honours’ (they should have done so in 1945) the VPO, with its long history of anti-Semitism, is likely to face more criticism for awarding the honours in the first place than for its delay in posthumously withdrawing them. But those of us who weren’t living in Austria following the Anschluss shouldn’t attempt to judge the actions of people trying to survive in atrocious political circumstances. Maybe at the time it was felt that awarding ‘paper honours’ to Nazi criminals who didn’t deserve them was a small price to pay to ensure that the orchestra was protected.

    In that environment, everyone had to make compromises in order to survive, and those of us who have never experienced life in a totalitarian state are often selective about past actions to which we draw attention. We remember that Richard Strauss dedicated a song to Goebbels (though the composer later asked his publisher to withdraw the dedication) but we forget that Strauss was outspoken about his contempt for Nazi racial policies (the secret police intercepted a letter he wrote to Stefan Zweig about this and forwarded it to Hitler himself). Similarly, we are aware that Fürtwangler conducted concerts in Hitler’s presence, but it’s forgotten that he was under continuous official surveillance for his support of Jewish musicians, as confirmed by extant Nazi memoranda. Likewise, Karajan is remembered for having applied for Nazi membership (an application he made in his 20s for the same apolitical ‘career’ reasons that forced musicians to apply for Communist Party membership in the USSR) but few realise that Karajan dropped his membership at the first safe opportunity, and we forget the documentation that Hitler subsequently personally took steps to block Karajan’s career (and not just because Hitler had contempt for Karajan’s conducting of Meistersinger).

    Many people living in today’s relatively democratic UK would be circumspect about saying anything that contradicted their employer’s views for fears of the effect that this might have on their promotion prospects, yet these people complain that prominent cultural figures living in Nazi Austria didn’t make more effort to stand up to a massive killing machine. I doubt whether many of us would have dared played the role of hero in Austria in 1938-1945. Let’s just be grateful that the VPO now recognises that to retain these ‘honours’ is grossly inappropriate, and let’s applaud their integrity in making the right decision. It is never too late to condemn anti-Semitism.

    • Steve says:

      a sane perspective on this, and other related matters.


      All this is very much to the point. And it should be realized that the people currently playing in and running the VPO have nothing, no, really nothing to do with what happened in the past. They inherited a ‘black page’ of history which they did not write, and it is ridiculous to mount the moral high horse and bash the orchestra again, and again, and again.

    • Robert Levine says:

      On the other hand, it’s worth remembering that the proportion of VPO members who joined the Party was far higher than that of the Berlin Philharmonic – and, if I recall correctly, many of the VPO musicians joined the Party before the Anschluss.

  • I’m glad to see so many people sitting in the comfort of their chair passing judgement on this good gesture made by the WP. (“Too little, too late?”) Especially since none of you were there when the tyranny had its grip on this land.

    And people wonder why critics get such a bad rap.

  • John says:

    70 years on, eh? And we are expected to care? Pul_EASE! If Barenboim or anyone else resigns from anything to do with the VOP you can call me Eva Braun.

    Let’s all take a deep breath…..and grow up!

    • At least a million Jewish children were murdered by the Nazis, and they would have liked an opportunity to “grow up”.

      “70 years on” and ten of thousands of those children could still have been alive today, which gives those massacres of the 1930s and 1940s a contemporary relevance.

      Of course we should be “expected to care” about any symbolic gesture of this kind by the VPO. Any acknowledgement by a major organisation such as the VPO of past errors of judgment is to be welcomed, especially when mindless anti-Semitism persists in the modern world.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        The WP are not “a major organization”. It is in the small world of classical music, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a tiny number of people who in the past had and who still have no influence at all on how the wheels of history turn. So this story is of some small interest to a small group of people who are interested in classical music and its history, like us, but in reality, it’s totally irrelevant.

  • Janine says:

    It has been confirmed that Karajan applied for Nazi membership TWICE! Do you know when he dropped it – at the first SAFE opportunity – 1945?

    • Richard Osborne covers all this in his well-researched “warts and all” biography of Karajan. Applications for Nazi membership were similar to those for Communist Party membership in the USSR, in that the initial provisional application needed to be followed through at a later date before membership was confirmed. I believe Karajan applied as early as 1935, because without party membership he couldn’t get work, but having obtained the musical appointment he wanted, he then never followed the application through and conveniently allowed it to lapse. He was guilty of opportunism, and of manipulating the system by exploiting temporary membership for career purposes, but no more than that.

      After 1945, the stigma of having even the remotest association with the Nazi party, no matter how tangential, caused many prominent figures to lie about their past. Contrary to what is often stated, Karajan didn’t lie about his past; he simply refused to discuss it with people who couldn’t be expected to understand the extenuating circumstances of what the social situation was like in 1933-45, but his silence has often been wrongly interpreted as indicating that he had something to hide. We should remember that Karajan was cleared after exhaustive enquiries by the Allies’ denazification process, So why do people without access to the detailed information available to the tribunal persist in refusing to accept the “not guilty” verdict?

      For decades, music-lovers have condemned cultural figures for their alleged ‘association’ with the Nazi party, yet many of these music-lovers have probably never heard of the six Nazi criminals honoured by the VPO, let alone the horrendous details of their activities. Let’s have some sense of perspective over where the blame lies.

      • Michael Schaffer says:

        But Raymond, that would mean that people would actually have to inform themselves about boring stuff like facts and history and all that! It’s so much easier and quicker just to have a “strong opinion” based on hearsay.