Was he the Oskar Schindler of classical music?

Was he the Oskar Schindler of classical music?


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2020

The conductor Hans Swarowsky enjoyed the confidence of the music-loving Nazi governor of Poland, Hans Frank, a man responsible for millions of murders.

After the War, Swarowski became the go-to conducting teacher in Vienna, with Abbado and Mehta among his pupils.

Now reports are emerging that he saved lives in Krakow by hiding Jews in his chorus and orchestra, regardless of whether they could sing or play. Report here.



  • M Smith says:

    You mean Oscar

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    I am sure you mean Oskar Schindler, the industrialist, rather than the 19th century painter. Unless of course you are referring to Emilie, the wife of Oskar, who assisted her husband’s activities. In all these cases one may as well go along with the feel good story & ignore likely ambiguity of motivation in the individuals involved. The idea of an individual becoming close to the members of the Nazi regime in order to save lives seems too good to be true.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Incidentally, I have just remembered that Emil Schindler is the father of Alma Mahler. The man that Alma loved best in her life, while contemptuous of her sexually unfaithful mother. An irony that carried on to her own daughter Anna, living a very colourful sexual life herself while resentful of her own mother.

  • Bill says:

    Who is Emil Schindler? Oskar Schindler is the chap buried on Mt. Zion with Righteous Among the Nations on his tombstone. Hard to see how anyone who’d watched Neeson’s performance in the Spielberg film could forget his name!

  • Brian says:

    Oskar Schindler, surely.

  • Dave says:

    After the war, Swarowsky changed his name to Swarowski, it would seem.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Chilling story…. he was a hero.

  • Ben says:

    Do you mean Oskar Schindler? Emil Schindler was a 19th century landscape painter.

  • REGERFAN says:

    You mean Oskar Schindler? The only Emil Schindler I know was Alma Mahler’s father.

  • Helena says:

    Do you perhaps mean Oskar Schindler? Emil Schindler (1842-1892) was an Austrian landscape painter.

  • Martin says:

    Don’t you mean Oskar Schindler? Emil was a painter and father to Alma, who went on to marry Gustav Mahler.

  • Petros LInarods says:

    You are probably thinking of Oskar Schindler. Emil was the father of Alma Schindler, whose first husband was Gustav Mahler.

  • Olros says:

    Any relation of Oskar?

  • Ingeborg Baumann says:

    What a great brave person.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    There were very brave people during WW2 who put everything at risk to help others. You saw these same brave people running TOWARDS danger just before the collapse of the world trade towers in 2001.

    We need to have more faith in human beings and not less.

  • Jack says:

    Norman, did you happen mean Oskar Schindler?

    Oops, I see eleven other people mentioned this.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    If true, then orchestra and chorus were complicit in the deception. Many risk takers to be honored.

  • fflambeau says:

    I cannot speak about his helping Jews during the Nazi years but he was certainly a great teacher. Look at a list of his students: Claudio Abbado, Alexander Alexeev, Zubin Mehta, Leonid Nikolaev, Paul Angerer, Ádám and Iván Fischer, Jesús López-Cobos, Gustav Meier, Miltiades Caridis, Aleksandr Alekseyev, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Gianluigi Gelmetti, Brian Jackson, Alfred Prinz, Bryan Fairfax, James Allen Gähres, Albert Rosen and Bruno Weil.

    For that alone he deserves a medal.

  • fflambeau says:

    It is possible since many of his conducting students were Jewish.

    On the other hand:

    1) probably lots of other conductors students were also Jewish;
    2) how do you square this with being a friend of the “Butcher of Poland”;
    3) 99.9% of today’s French appear to have parents firmly tied to the resistance (although most all of the French were willing collaborators and that included almost all of the military higher-ups). Maybe the same thing in play today?

    We will probably never know.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That 99,9% of the French were in the resistance is a wrong assessment. It was 123,2% including 18,5% nazis.

  • fflambeau says:

    This could be true but we really don’t know.

    There seems little real evidence to support this (not a single person is named who was allegedly saved nor does the article present anything of historical evidence).

    Lots of people embellished their record after the Nazis failed. But the Maestro certainly chose his friends strangely: Hans Frank was called the “Butcher of Poland”; meanwhile, Richard Strauss was a great composer but also quite a willing Nazi, he was the head of the the Reich Music Chamber (at the invitation of one Joseph Goebbels). Further, the famous conductor Herbert von Karajin joined the Nazi party twice and was esteemed by leaders as their Wunderkind. Von Karajin was the person who recommended Hans Swarowsky to an opera position in Vienna.

    He also willingly went back to Nazi Germany after being forced out of Switzerland (not mentioned in the article). An odd thing for an anti Nazis to do. In 1943, the Maestro took up a position in Salburg, a center of Nazism (also not mentioned in the article).

    To me, it doesn’t have the ring of truth to it; it’s kind of like all of those French who claim they were related to members of the resistance when almost all French people were willing collaboraters. I’d like to see contemporary historical evidence of this especially from diaries. There’s nothing to support the claims in the article at all.

    In the future, I’m sure we will also hear of anti-Trump sentiment that was concealed too but by fervent supporters.

    There is also a blurred line between compromise, complicity and collaboration.

    • Dan oren says:

      Were you tortured by a French nanny that tore you to lambeaux?

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        That’s some kind of dance, isn’t it!!? I’m presuming ‘tore’ is a typo of “taught”??

        And, point of grammar: Nanny WHO, (use WHO for a person and THAT for an object).

    • John Borstlap says:

      “Richard Strauss was a great composer but also quite a willing Nazi…” Not true, Strauss was never a member of the nazi party. He wanted to use his position to improve music life. Stupid, indeed, but he was not a nazi. He worked himself out of the nazi sympathy anyway, not by protesting against their crimes but simply because of who he was.


    • Saxon Broken says:

      ffambeau “Richard Strauss was a great composer but also quite a willing Nazi”

      Er…no he wasn’t. He was compromised, behaved somewhat cowardly (as many did), privately hated the Nazis, and tried to muddle through. As most people did.