Who behaved worse after 1945 – the Vienna Philharmonic, or the Berliners?

From my essay in The Literary Review, on Fritz Trümpi’s new book about the two Nazified orchestras.

… Compare this to how the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra treated its former concertmaster. Szymon Goldberg, a Polish Jew, was recruited to Berlin in 1930 by the conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler. Expelled from the orchestra in 1934, he roamed Europe and Asia, finally winding up in a Japanese internment camp on Java. In 1945 he wrote to the Berlin Philharmonic, asking for his job back. They refused. Ten years later he applied for compensation. His request was refused again. It was 1970 before the orchestra acknowledged that Goldberg, a violinist of high pedigree, had been unfairly dismissed.

It is case histories like these that illuminate the persistence of Nazi practices decades after the war….

Read the full review here.

That’s Goldberg in the concertmaster’s seat.

share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • “Trümpi calls this bureaucratic process the ‘politicization’ of the orchestras. To my mind, it had more to do with the nullification of individual conscience and the mass suspension of moral responsibility.”

    Exactly, more banality of evil. This article adds yet another dimension to that haunting 1945 BPO recording of Bruckner 9. Lest we forget…

  • Shocking.But the usual nonsense about Karajan and his “conservative”repertoire.In fact,especially during the 50s and 60s,Karajan performed,among others,Penderecki,Henze,Ligeti,and,also in the 70s made a famous recording of the complete orchestra works of the second Viennese school.Check Richard Osborne’s monumental biography.

    • …. which raises the question why the works of the ‘Second Viennese School’ (totally ridiculous term), Ligeti, Henze and Penderecki, if being performed on that level by such a famous and very capable conductor (to say the least) have not caught-on and have not become part of the regular repertoire – with the exception, perhaps. of Berg’s Violin Concerto and Wozzeck.

      • Have they not? I would imagine that, worldwide, most of the works on Karajan’s Second Viennese School recording, get a decent number of performances every year, and they’re certainly not forgotten, if not actually beloved. They all seem well represented on Youtube.

        • Yes, YouTube is great in that respect. But in the live concerts of the performance culture, they are rare. They form a small niche interest, again with exception of the Berg concerto.

          • I never understood why Carlos Kleiber conducted “Wozzeck” when the rest of his repertoire was so conservative. Perhaps it’s because his father Erich had done so and it had infuriated the Fuhrer!!

            Talking about both orchestras and as to one was ‘worse’ than the other, Erich Kleiber could not find work in his home country, Austria, in the decade following WW2 and I’ve always felt nobody forgave him for escaping to Argentina before the start of the war.

            They’d find reasons enough to punish those they considered ‘disloyal’!!!

  • In the first years after the war, the shock waves of what had happened, with the climax of the opening of the concentration camps, was for many people just too much to bear, and orchestral musicians who had had to survive under existential threat and failed miserably, en masse, to follow moral imperatives – which would have had to be paid with loosing their job – were slow to break-out of the mental box within which they had forced themselves to live. So they went-on for a while, like a wheel that got loose from a car that had crashed. Human nature was no longer what it never was in the first place.

      • I don’t know whether that is true. In fact, joining the party was a precondition to get a job as a conductor in those times – still prewar. Trying to have a career in such times was quite different fron postwar times. It is hard for us nowadays to get inside the heads of those musicians, living in times that were struggling to get out of abyssmal resession, unemployment, scarcities on every level, eroding society with violence in the streets, in short: as if the world were crumbling – which was indeed the case. To dedicate yourself to such otherwordly art as classical music must, for some people, have meant a jungle mentality like: whatever it takes, I will do it as long as it gets me somewhere. The shame and frustration after the war must have been as abyssmal (Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Karl Böhm, Clemens Krauss, etc.)

        • First, it is true. Second, Furtwangler never joined the Nazi Party, nor Jochum, Keilberth, Schmidt-Isserstedt, and how many others I cannot say. It would a matter easier to research if most writers on the subject of musicians in Nazi Germany did not concentrate almost entirely upon those who were members and, even then selectively, upon the same few most prominent ones, although with non-member Furtwangler ever the main target. Bohm, a Nazi supporter through and through, and an unrepentant one, is rarely mentioned; Krauss, Knappertsbusch, et al, only in occasional asides.

          Re the review posted, there is little research behind it also. Of the 110 members of the BPO, ten were Party members. Of the 117 members of the VSO, 45 were members. The question NL raises can hardly be answered with any authority without taking that into account, and much more. Journalistic reviews of such works are rarely useful. I should look for reviews of the book by established authorities such as Michael H. Kater (The Twisted Muse) and Michael Haas (Forbidden Music and, importantly, his wonderfully informative blog of the same name).

        • “In fact, joining the party was a precondition to get a job as a conductor in those times”
          No, it was not. There were a lot of conductors (and artists in general) who never joined the party and still made careers on the top: Furtwängler, Eugen Jochum, Knappertsbusch, Böhm, Clemens Krauss, Schuricht … The Nazi government really didn’t see that as necessary. Even important and powerful figures as Furtwängler and Tietjen were not urged to join the party. Only because people as Karajan and Kabasta did it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a precondition.

          • Nor does it mean that it wasn’t. It mostly depended on the attitude of the local party bosses in charge of cultural matters, and on the status of the candidate. People who were already established were left alone more than those who weren’t (like Karajan).
            He couldn’t have joined the party in 1935 out of his own volition because the NSDAP closed the doors to new members in 1933 (in April or May or so, I think) after they had floods of new applications following their success at the March 1933 elections. Thereafter, for a number of years (can’t remember exactly until when), one could only join by invitation.
            The fact that he did join in Aachen in 1935 clearly means that while he did fill out an application in Salzburg a few years earlier, that never went into effect. Nor did it save him from losing his job in Ulm.
            There was also an internal investigation by the NSDAP in the later 30s into whether he actually was an active party member, as he apparently hadn’t paid his dues for years. So it doesn’t look like he took his membership very seriously.

          • True, as I said above, but Knappertsbusch and Krauss were stout fellow-travelers and Bohm a Nazi activist. A distinction must be made between them and other non-Party members who were not sympathizers in any way.

          • Not this again, yawn.

            Böhm was a major Nazi opportunist. Happy to take over in Dresden after Fritz Bush was driven out by the Nazi mob.
            Furtwängler enjoyed an older age, he was already a star when the Nazis rose to power.
            Karajan on the other hand was an overambitious young talent eager for a career.
            He would have sold his grandmother if necessary for his career, as he pointed out himself in interviews.
            Karajan was not a Nazi. He just did whatever he deemed necessary as a young conductor, even if morally questionable, to be successful professionally.
            So these comparisons between Karajan and Furtwängler are pointless exercises.

        • Karajan first joined the Nazi party in 1933 in Aachen, not exactly when it was necessary as some of you claim to be accepted as a musician. This was the very beginning of the Third Reich, and his only reason for doing it was his belief in Nazism, as colleagues have spoken about. He then joined the party again in 1937 or 1938 just do make sure his early regiatration was binding.

          • These dates and the information attached to them are all incorrect. Part of the confusion may be based on the fact that after the membership freeze which went into effect in May of 1933, those who were allowed to join anyway “by invitation” usually had their membership backdated to May 1933, and that seems to have been the case with Karajan when he joined in Aachen.

          • Also, you are quite mistaken when you think 1933 was a little early for someone to join the party primarily because he felt he “needed to” rather than out of conviction. It became very clear very soon after they came to power that they would take over and “clean house” everywhere quite massively. And they did. How “thoroughly” again mostly depended on local party officials and how prominent and connected those who were on the potential “blacklist” were.
            That’s exactly why so many rushed to become members in February through April of 1933, and why the NSDAP closed itself to new applications in May.
            In any case, whatever Karajan’s status was at the time, he was let go from his job in Ulm (IIRC, the following year) anyway, and that in itself sheds some light on how connected and active he was (or rather, wasn’t) in the party.

          • It’s funny, too, that “Heath” refers to Osborne’s book which clearly contradicts literally every “fact” he stated here. Plus he clearly does not understand the context at all.

          • Michael Shaffer, you put words in my mouth. I never said anything about a job in Aachen in 1933. I said that he joined the Nazi party in Aachen in 1933. Are you saying that you have the Osborne book right in front of you, and that is says something different.

            Yes, all of you who give all of these Nazis the pass, and I insist on calling it that, I do judge, because there were enough people that did leave Nazi Germany at the time, because they were gassing and burning thousands of humans beings daily. As far as Karajan’s Nazi sympathies are concerned, watch documentaries in which colleagues speak, read articles in which contemporaries were interviewed. But when it really comes down to it it’s this: How on earth can you exonerate men, Karajan, Boehm, and so son, who were at the helm of the cultural arm of the Nazi machine; their concerts giving moral support to soldiers, high-ranking Nazis, and to Hitler himself! Shame on all of you to give throw out words like “opportunist!” It was wrong to be involved so highly in The Third Reich, and I am SICK AND FED UP of callous individuals like yourselves. They burned 10,000 people a day at Auschwitz for God’s sake!!! Taking part in the regime is a high crime!

  • Appalling. Excellent review, Norman, and certainly brings to mind the perils of nationalism at its extreme. I don’t believe that’s where things are headed now, though: the political climate seems to be course-correcting for a one-world liberal blindness that had overtaken many governments. However, I am no more prescient than the next idiot, so I’m maintaining watchful vigilance as world populations shudder to adapt to a very different reality.

  • A surprising fact – both BPO principal cellists came to the US. Schuster was Leonard Rose’ predecessor in the NY Phil while Graudan became part of a sonata duo with his wife.

  • Reparations.

    Their art was stolen from these Jewish players just as the artwork of Jewish families were seized by the Nazis.

    Their descendants should be compensated by the salaries and benefits they would have received in their lifetimes had they stayed on as orchestra members.

    Chairs should be in their names, so the principal violin chair at Berlin should be from now on the Szymon Goldberg Concertmaster Chair.

    • Economic compensation for his descendants does not seem possible, since Szymon Goldberg was childless. He was married twice, and both his wives have also deceased. A “Szymon Goldberg Concertmeister Chair”, or a professorship in his name, seems to be a very good idea.

    • Good news guys – Goldberg himself was compensated for his lost income since 1934 in 1970, when Norman said they “acknowledged that he had been unfairly dismissed” but he forgot to mention the compensation (it is explicitly mentioned in Trümpi’s book). He did request to be re-instated in his former position as concertmaster in the 1950s but part of the problem was simply that none of the positions (they typically have three 1st concertmasters) was open as a letter from Wolfgang Stresemann, the Intendant of the orchestra, also quoted in the book, confirms. Stresemann himself was probably sympathetic to the request as he as the son of Gustav Stresemann and a mother from a Jewish family had had to leave Germany in the 1930s, too.
      So there is a whole lot more context there that you have to know before you can actually understand the situation. Don’t make kneejerk judgments based on filtered and incomplete information.

    • Precisely, Sue. That very point lay behind my comment on it in my reply to John Borstlap above, and today it is a common problem.

      • Literary reviewing is a very sophisticated art, practiced so little these days. If I were writing the review I would have looked beyond the dust-jacket to find out more about the contents.

        • Plus what is surely the most important rule of all, a principle, indeed — do not agree to review a book on the subject of which you lack sufficient knowledge. The review editors and many of the reviewers in such sources as, e.g., the NY Times in recent years plainly do not understand that ‘a bit of an interest’ in a subject is not enough.

          • Bravo. And on the subject of orchestral musicians’ behaviour during the War; let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Some of it was survival, some expedience, some fear, some bewilderment. I can’t say because I wasn’t in any of their shoes.

          • Good comment Sue. The many armchair moralists, who never were challenged in their decision making the way these people were in those times, are just annoying.

            It’s easy to always do the right thing in a) hindsight and b) without facing any personal consequences or repercussions.

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien is an excellent book about the different choices and lives of musicians during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath in China. Worth a read if you are pondering the differing courses musicians took in the Third Reich.

  • It would be interesting to read the actual letters back and forth, between Goldberg and the Berlin Phil, when he asked for his position back in 1945, eleven years after he was forced out. A worthwhile undertaking for some good investigative journalism and scholarly enlightenment.

        • Regarding Karajan – I can’t seem to reply to that post – the 1933 in Aachen is correct according to multiple biographers, including Osborne who wrote an entire appendix on his registration dates. His anti-Semitism and general pro-Nazi sympathies have been recorded in length. I know how it is though when you admire someone’s genius, and give them the pass because you really don’t want to believe it. That, though, is in bad faith.

          • I didn’t say anything about “giving him a pass” – this subject is not easy to evaluate but any evaluation has to be based on a clear understanding of the facts and the context. You are clearly not familiar with either and your facts are still wrong, no matter how often you repeat them. I have the Osborne book right here, BTW. In 1933, Karajan wasn’t even a candidate for that job in Aachen.
            So don’t put words in my mouth about “giving him a pass” just to distract from the fact that you know neither the facts nor the context. I have no interest in “excusing Nazis” as my own family was deeply affected by the regime. I am interested in who was a “real Nazi” though, and who wasn’t. And I have my doubts about the latter when it comes to Karajan. That doesn’t make him any sort of “hero” either, far from it. But his behavior during he period makes him look more like someone who had no clear understanding of what was going on at first, and who then turned into a “casual opportunist”. There is no indication though that he used his party membership and/or political connections in any sort of “clever” way, on the contrary. It looks like he only learned the political aspects of making a career much later, after the war, and after he had had to take a good hard look at his life and his previous careless decisions during the Nazi period while he was banned from working.
            I wonder here “his anti-Semitism and general pro-Nazi sympathies have been recorded in length”. Can you point me to reliable sources about that?

  • What DOES drive such preoccupation with the tired old Nazis and those
    fated to live in Europe at that time? The illusion that we, WE would have done much much better?! Really, such rubbish.
    Whether as victims, bystanders, ‘opportunists’ or perpetrators I suspect we would have behaved no differently whatsoever , most certainly
    not the professional moralists of today, with their rarified ha ha opportunistic fish to fry. Only a very very few of us would have resisted, rescued, risked anything, let alone everything, by putting others before self and family and career ambitions, practicing the Golden Rule, doing good, fleeing from evil, understanding that there are things one simply does not do.
    For that is who and what we are, down the ages and in eternity. But how we love giving ourselves a ‘pass’ rather than taking even the most fleeting glance in a mirror. What does history teach us but that all of us are capable of anything, anything at all.

  • >