Salzburg may rename Karajan Platz over Nazi past

Salzburg may rename Karajan Platz over Nazi past


norman lebrecht

June 09, 2021

A commission of historians has presented the city of Salzburg with an investigation into the Nazi activities of 66 individuals who were associated with the festival during the Third Reich.

Thirteen are considered major collaborators.

They include the conductor Herbert von Karajan, car chief Ferdinand Porsche, festival activist Heinrich Damisch, composer Hans Pfitzner, cathedral organist and Mozarteum professor Franz Saueras and musicologist Erich Schenk.

This is the first time Karajan has been formally indicted for Nazi activities in a public forum.

The report, which has yet to be published, is described as ‘explosive’.

Demands are being made to rename all public places that are associated with these characters. Read on here.


  • Pianofortissimo says:

    “This is the first time Karajan has been formally indicted for Nazi activities.”

    H. v. Karajan was “de-nazified” after WWII.

    • Kenneth says:

      Indeed. This post makes me sick… it’s disrespectful, a power-play, and done for the wrong reasons at the wrong time.

      Some people spend their lives wishing they could be a fraction as great as Herr von Karajan, but as they likely never will be, they content themselves with attempting to dismantle legacies left by truly great people. Such is the left’s playbook of today.

      In his city, what’s more. Shame. Will they go after his statue in his birth house as well? What about his foundation? Perhaps have his grave moved to a place fitting of sinners? Surely that would fix world history.

      • MJA says:

        Kenneth – I couldn’t agree with you more. NL must be struggling to contain his excitement over this, as it’s something he’s campaigned for for years, and mainly on what I will carefully call extra-musical grounds. I still remember a disgusting piece he wrote in (I think) the London Evening Standard in 2008 referring to Karajan as “the old monster”. I strongly suspect the manipulative language of this post would not stand up to scrutiny (it’s not an “indictment” and note the use of the tabloid word “explosive”, characteristic of a certain kind of sensationalist journalist’s approach to the truth). As for Salzburg, they need to be careful. I feel they have already done enough on this complex and nuanced front with the sign they’ve put up in Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. But I started going there for Karajan when twas a student and I still go there now in his memory. If they are so weak-minded and hypocritical as to do this thing then I’ll simply stop going, and I’ll spend my money elsewhere. I suspect others will too. Norman will probably love that, as he also seems to hate the Salzburg Festival (though that doesn’t stop him accepting their invitations to go and speak). I hope not to give him, and those in his camp, the satisfaction.

    • Gustavo says:

      This report reads like an ice cold script from the past and shows no respect for the artistic life achievements of the listed individuals who helped Salzburg to fame and commercial success after 1945.

      The eradication of historical facts through woke-washing comes very close to cultural fascism.

      • JS says:

        So his collaboration with nazis isn’t a historical fact? or simply it’s a historical fact you don’t want to be reminded of?

      • Emil says:

        Just so we’re clear, is it woke to say Nazis were bad?
        Just want to make sure where we stand on that question.

        • Patrick says:

          We have enough of the Nazis. They were a problem up to 1945. What about looking at dictators now like in China, Burma, Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea. That would be constructive . Oh by the way, how many communists were convicted for their crimes after 1989?

          • Emil says:

            Thank you for informing us that Nazism was bad until 1945 and has not been a problem since.

        • Gustavo says:

          It’s woke to say that anyone ever associated with Nazi-Germany and Salzburg needs to be put down on a list after 76 years and, on top, to be assigned a category of criminal severity.

          Taking such a formalistic approach to Nazi-eradication would also require assessing whether the whole Salzburg festival shouldn’t be dropped because one of the musical founders was Richard Strauss – who later would successfully play the Nazi-system as “Präsident der Reichsmusikkammer” (to protect his Jewish daughter in law, of course), was put down on the “Gottbegnadetenliste”, and was only saved from further queries post 1945 because an American lieutenant happened to like music and took Strauss’ artistic achievements into account.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Expect much, much more of this moving forward; the jackboots of correctness are out and this time they’re wielding huge, thick cultural truncheons.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Thank you for the link. In the report, H. v. Karajan (page 28) is taxonomized under “category 3” (“Due to serious involvement with the Nazi regime, discussion and action by political decision-makers are required”), together with Hans Pfitzner and Erich Schenk, inter alia. For comparison, in the “less Nazi” category 2 we can find names like Wilhelm Backhaus, Karl Böhm, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Krauss, and Richard Strauss. Carl Orff seems to be just a “Nazi-light” (category1).

      No mention that H. v. Karajan was from 1942 married to Anna Maria Gütermann, who had a Jewish grandfather (thus a Vierteljüdin according to you-know-who).

      • HugoPreuss says:

        The really bad guy here is Pfitzner, who was a raving nationalist and antisemite way before anyone had ever heard of Hitler…

        Besides, there are a few accomplishments of Karajan after the war era as well. Presumably, the square was named for them.

        Is there any real or moral crime he had committed 1933-45, besides being a party member?

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Excellent question.

          I also wonder whether anybody, jewish or gentile, suffered as a result of Karajan’s actions. If for the latter there were even a hint of evidence, we would have been hearing about it in this blog often enough.

          • Henry williams says:

            According to helmut stern who worked with karajan . He never regretted
            That he was a joined the party.

          • MJA says:

            Henry Williams – Helmut Stern would say that, wouldn’t he? He had his own agenda.

  • Gustavo says:











  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    Well, HvK craved immortality, and on this evidence he is winning it. For here we are, 32 years after his physical death, and people who never clapped eyes on him are preparing for yet another round of argy-bargy over what he did or didn’t do between 1933 and 1945. If there is a form of existence post mortem, those nearby must be hearing that chilling, mirthless laugh.

    What the business reminds us is that no conductor since has impinged on the general public consciousness to anything like the same extent. Berlin is still expanding, and some town planner may one day find it expedient to name a new street there the ‘Sir-Simon-Rattle-Allee’. But it is hard to imagine the residents, or anyone else, caring about that one way or the other.

    • Norbert says:

      And surely what is interesting here, is a catalogue of all the artists who worked with him (repeatedly) KNOWING he had been a party member.

      What to do about all of them? It’s just human weakness, and ego, and ambition, and hypocrisy I’m afraid!

      The same was true of James Levine. People were happy to work with him, having heard many strong rumours for decades.

      The same is true of Roman Polanski who sodamized a child and was found guilty in a court of law. Didn’t stop anyone from working with him…Dame Maureen Lipman and Emilia Fox (as examples of two excellent British artists) on a film titled The Pianist.

  • Luca says:

    Karajan was never a “major collaborator”. He joined the party in order to get a job. He also conducted in Paris after its fall. If he had refused he would have been sent to a work camp, as Backhaus was.

  • fflambeau says:

    Nothing new here. Herbert von Karajan was a Nazi party man and benefited from his party associations. This has long been known.

    I try not to play his recordings (there are always plenty of good choices).

    • John Borstlap says:

      I always make a special effort to not play his recordings, which is difficult, every day again and again and again. The agonies of temptation when his Götterdämmerung lies there, in full sight, so – at least he contributed to moral awareness.

  • henry williams says:

    why did the BPO choose him knowing
    that he was a member of a certain party.
    did the not check his background.

    • fflambeau says:

      Dear Henry Williams, a man with the first name of Adolf was in charge of all Germany at the time and Germany had “absorbed” Austria. Figure it out; read some history. HvK joined the Nazi party in 1933 (very, very early).

      • henry williams says:

        what i meant was 1956 when
        he was appointed conductor
        of the BPO. did they not check
        his background.

        • Saxon says:

          Yes, and they did, and they did not really care. Since most of the people choosing had lived through the Nazi era, they knew that Karajan was not ideologically a Nazi, but merely someone trying to establish his career in difficult circumstances.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Oh, whatever! But no-one suggests changing the name of the Harry-S.-Truman-Allee in Berlin. A young man who made the youth mistake of joining that terrible political party vs. someone who is directly responsible for the death of 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s the world we live in.

    • esfir ross says:

      Berlin Philarmonie on Ben-Gurion street, the enterance on HvK platz. It’s apolling that street named after BG that said Arabs have to go and did.

    • Norbert says:


      Are you absolutely mad? Harry Truman didn’t cause the death of 200,000 Japanese.

      The Japanese military leadership did.

      You should try reading some history. They were warned through the neutral Swiss, and evidence was adduced. They ignored it. Even when the first bomb was dropped they refused to surrender or even BELIEVE the images of Hiroshima.

      • Franz1975 says:

        Whatever the reasons, the nuclear bombing of Japan is an atrocious war crime commited by the US.

        I agree with FrauGeigerin 100%.

      • PianistW says:

        The Japanese dropped the two bombs that killed 200,000 human beings? No, the weapon was developed and built in the US, the bombs were onboard US airplanes, and dropped by order of the US president. How can Japan be responsible for the nuclear bombs? Is the US responsible for the attacks on September 11th? It is, as someone commented here, and atrocious war crime and the crimes of Japan or Nazism don’t make it less disgusting and evil.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      After the Hiroshima bomb the Japanese cabinet *still* refused to end the war. After Nagasaki it was evenly split and only the intervention of Hirohito led to surrender. Without the bombs the allied forces would have invaded Japan, leading to millions of Japanese deaths and to the death of tens of thousands of allied soldiers, if not more.

      One can also argue that using these new weapons in 1945 prevented WWIII, since neither the US nor the SU wanted to risk using them again.

      And if the American public had discovered that a powerful new weapon had been developed at enormous cost and then *not* used, causing many, many American deaths, Truman would have been impeached in a minute. And rightly so.

      • Norbert says:

        100% right Hugo.

        And people also forget there was a third bomb armed, primed, and flown, but it couldn’t be dropped for bad weather and poor sight of the target.

        I love what Franz1975 (above) says…”Whatever the reasons, the nuclear bombing of Japan is an atrocious war crime commited by the US”

        That’s a logical fallacy!

      • esfir ross says:

        Bombs were drop to scare and to stop Stalin that after Hitler defeat could get under his regime more of Europe. Stalin didn’t have atomic bomb yet.

        • Saxon says:

          Er…not true. The USSR, despite genuine fears from the west, was exhausted and needed an extended period of peace to recover. There was no prospect that they would launch an invasion of western Europe.

      • Ashu says:

        [Without the bombs the allied forces would have invaded Japan, leading to millions of Japanese deaths and to the death of tens of thousands of allied soldiers, if not more.]

        What have your Japanese friends had to say about it? Mine thought the bombs were… not a good idea.

    • Fracoviolino says:

      Couldn’t agree more. This is a great example of the hypocrisy of the times we live in and the tyranny of the unified ideology and all that comes with it!

    • Frenchjune says:

      It is interesting to read the comments of US-Americans trying to defend the undefendable.

      But, hey, don’t blame them, they have been brainwashed since a young age to believe that the USA is the land of the free, that no wrong or atrocities are commited by their governments, and that the killing 200000 people was a necessary act that saved lifes (ask the families of the victims or all the people who died in the years after the bomb from cancer if they agree). If Japan would have wiped off a city like Salt Lake city (pop. 204087) with a nuclear bomb in 1945, would the US-Americans still believe that it was neccesary and saved lifes because America surrended to Japan? I don’t think so. So, yes FrauGeigerin is right, it is a shameful act of hypocrisy.

  • Alan says:

    Resist. Push back. The post modernist/ neo Marxist/critical race theory bandwagon rolls on.
    Do not accept the findings.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      ….because you’re probably next on their list. And they have lists; oh yes, most definitely. Lists rather than talent and intelligence.

      G&S might have had lunch with these types…HMS Pinafore…”the only ship he’d ever been in was a partnership”. What fun they could have had with wokies who tell porkies.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    In Vienna, it is the custom to affix commemorative plaques to the homes of departed musical figures. It is related that Johannes Brahms was out for a walk one day with Edouard Hanslick, the leading Viennese music critic, and Brahms’ greatest booster in the epic Brahms-vs.-Wagner wars. As they passed one of those plaques, Brahms turned to Hanslick and said “I can just imagine the sign on your house after you die”. Hanslick, who was flattered, asked Brahms what he thought it would say. Brahms said “For Rent”.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Great story!

      Brahms’ humor was not very refined but always very funny.

      He once fooled famous musicologist and Beethoven expert Nottebohm, another friend of his, when they went into the Prater and bought a portion of fries. Nottebohm’s fries were packed in a sheet of paper he gradually began to recognize as a Beethoven manuscript sketch, getting very excited, until Brahms told him, laughing, that he had set-up the whole thing with the vendor, had copied the ‘sketch’ himself.

  • Karl says:

    …and yet they still have an orchestral academy in his name. Mitlaufer, sympathizer, collaborator, coward.

    • henry williams says:

      why the BPO chose him i cannot
      understand. there were plenty of
      good conductors around who were never members of the party.
      did the conductor have to be
      German or Austrian.

  • Hochrechtschaffenkeitkoordinazionsleiter says:

    Dig up all autobahn built during Nazi rule and ban any roadbuilding on those sites. All factories on site of *Nazi* industry must be demolished. We must institute national stamping days, where these are stamped on for hours by people who are not descended from disgusting non-human *Nazis*, in a new ritual “for the people”. Any activity that also took place under Nazi rule must now be banned, as evermore tainted. For instance, all children will be conceived by hygienic, modern and untainted artificial insemination, which will be, of course, denied to the descendants of anybody descended from *actual Nazis*, obviously. The armed forces of Germany must be expanded and mobilised on an international mission to hunt down and destroy anybody who ever has owned a Volkswagen Beetle. All new cars made must be named “beech boy” to demonstrate solidarity against Beetles.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      And, please, don’t be hypocritical enough to buy a VW Golf, BMW or Mercedes Benz – maker of the German staff car. Or Siemens – or any other progressive German company.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    No indictment for Karajan. The comission ranked him in the third of three categories of involvement, the lightest one. This is more or less consistent with the well documented earlier findings that Karajan was an “also ran” (Mitläufer).

    Many thanks to DJones for the link to the report.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Dear Petros,

      The third category is the one for the bad guys.

      🙂 Pff

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Thank you. Blame me (in mezzoforte) for my hasty reading. But I wouldn’t change my other comments. Do you think otherwise?

        • Pianofortissimo says:

          Witch hunt on dead witches. Like when metereologists used to release an aerostat to see what happens. They will come after the living “witches” later.

          • Petros Linardos says:

            Beating a dead horse is the analogy I like, especially in the case of Karajan bashing.

            On the other hand, while there are no easy answers to renaming location, debating on the basis of researched facts is healthy I think.

      • John Borstlap says:

        It depends from which side you look at the matter. The scoundrels looked at it upside-down.

  • jan neckers says:

    Very interesting. Reminds me a bit of the Nürnberger Gesetze. Of course victims and perpetrators cannot be compared. But what strikes me is the mindset of putting people in categories; by the nazis according to their Jewesness, by the modern Sittenkommission into 3 categories according to their guilt. The commission advises unanimously to change 9 street names. For most of us only Pfitzner will be well-known. Porsche too is a big name though not for music lovers. Karajan is in category 3 (highest guilt) but is not unanimously condemned. Only a majority of the 8 person strong jury asks to remove his name. As a historian myself I always wonder how these virtue signallers would have done themselves in the thirties and early forties. The same can be said of the Salzburg politicians who ordered the report 22 years after Richard Osborne’s fine biography told us all on Karajan’s behaviour.

    • Saxon says:

      They would have done well in the 1930s since they know how to “play the game” and be seen to believe and act according to current mores.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Nazis only? Shostakovich and Khatchaturian squeaky clean then?

    • Dave says:

      I’m not sure that HvK slept with a suitcase ready in case the Gestapo knocked on his door at dead of night.

      That said, if I were to get rid of all my recordings of composer or performers with some dubious aspect to their behaviour, I’m not sure there’d be a lot left.

      As for the silly reduction to Salzburg “may” get rid of those names, “will” would be a real story, and “probably won’t” is more likely.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      No; as dead a Julius Caesar.

    • Luca says:

      They were living under a relentless dictatorship and were constantly watched and spied upon. How would you have reacted?

      • mythreecents says:

        So are we these days. Try to openly oppose some of the current fashionable ideas of history cancelling, gender theories, positive discrimination/inclusion/quota, and you will see how it goes for you.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of Karajan & co this merely amounts to Austria’s very belated attempt to rewrite history and expunge itself of its own involvement with the Nazis. There is nothing known about Karajan now that was not known during his life but Saltzburg certainly embraced him as one of its finest sons and packed out his festivals, collecting huge profits on the way. So are we having a belated attack of conscience?

  • operacentric says:

    It’s hardly news. Seems somewhat ungracious given Karajan brought the Salzburg Festival to the pre-eminence it enjoyed during the 50s-80s, as well as huge sums of money. Oh, and the Festspielhaus Salzburg didn’t seem so sensitive to his past then.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Readers on Der Standard’s pertaining thread had splendid comments.
    Instead of *cancelling* history — in which, after all, an entire generation was participant and largely complicit — why not tell the *whole* story, warts and all?

    • “Herbert von Karajan. Renowned conductor. Media figure. Nazi collaborator. Joined the Nazi party TWICE.”
    • “Ferdinand Porsche. Automotive engineer, inventor, industrialist. Nazi collaborator. Enabler of Hitler’s war. War profiteer. Profiteer of forced labor.”

    It’s the way to rub people’s noses into the complexity of *their own* history.
    Salzburg cannot be separated from the Festspiele; the Festspiele cannot be separated from Karajan. Karajan cannot be separated from his twin NSDAP card numbers.

  • Patrick says:

    Karajan or even Bohm insulted on a plaque inside the Festival Hall. It is so easy to comment history in the comfort of an armchair 76 years after the end of the World War and 32 years after Karajan death. Of course they never came with this during the lifetime of these giants . If I were the Karajan and Bohm family I would ask to have nothing to do any more with pitiful Salzburg. Karajan and Bohm don’t need the association with the city, the place or the festival . Their place in History and their status as musical giants is already well documented.