Salzburg’s Nazi victims rename Herbert von Karajan Platz

Salzburg’s Nazi victims rename Herbert von Karajan Platz


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2021

There are 13 streets and public sites in Salzburg that bear the names of prominent Nazis.

Today, as the festival reopens, a group representing concentration camp victims will symbolically rename the square that commemorates the city’s most formidable musician after Mozart, the controlling conductor Herbert von Karajan.

Read here.


  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Good grief. He joined the Nazi party twice!

  • Kenneth says:

    Or they could spend their time and resources fighting actual living radicalism that still pervades in some places.

    Let the Festspiele be non-political, please…

    • Tiredofitall says:

      Too late

    • It only take a moment to rename a street.

      Renaming a street doesn’t is remove one from future ventures.

      They can still fight the other problems, too.

      It seems like you imagined otherwise.

    • Norbert says:

      @Kenneth. Respectfully, I think you mean “racialism,” not “radicalism” which is an entirely acceptable and normal cycle of political renewal. Tony Blair was radical prior to 1997 for proposing a move to a more moderate politics i.e. abandoning Clause 4. This is still radical although centrist.

      Just saying.

  • Donna Pasquale says:

    When you listen to musicians talking about playing under Karajan they say they had more freedom from him than any other conductor. so in what way was he controlling-certainly not musically.

  • Jackson says:

    Karajan was never a true Nazi; he just needed to get a job. The people who made this decision have nothing to be proud of.

    • Herbie G says:

      Furtwangler had the job first. He never joined the Nazi party. He refused to sack Jewish players and in so doing he defied Goebbels; when they were in mortal danger he gave them all testimonials, which enabled them to get work in the countries to which they fled – principally the USA. He refused to do the Hitler salute at his concerts – finally, under pressure, he used to walk on to the stage with his baton held aloft in his hand. He feigned illness in order to avoid conducting on Hitler’s birthday. He hated Hitler and publicly stated that he was an enemy of the human race. He resisted Nazi demands time and time again and repeatedly excoriated them in public. Despite all that, he remained in his post until, in 1944, the Nazis discovered that he had supported the resistance movement; he had to flee to Switzerland to avoid certain arrest by the Gestapo within hours.

      Karajan was selected as his successor on the basis that he supported the Nazis, being a member of the party, and was willing to exercise his art to support their cause. He opened his concerts with the Horst Wessel Song.

      At the end of the war, Karajan was exonerated and went on to pursue a stellar career. Furtwangler, on the other hand, had to face a trumped-up denazification tribunal, spearheaded by the Americans who were determined to bring him down as a symbol of the Nazis’ cultural policies. He was entirely exonerated of any involvement with the Nazi Party but he was a broken man afterwards and still traduced by some musicians for not leaving Germany, including, to their shame, Vladimir Horowitz and Artur Rubinstein.

      Putting musical considerations aside, this is the tale of a courageous musical and moral Titan on the one hand and, on the other, a squalid, unprincipled, mercenary opportunist prepared to sell his soul (if any) to the highest bidder.

      With all that being said though, I am not in favour of renaming the streets. Some people (not me though) like his performances and there’s no doubt that he was a major figure in musical history. Renaming streets, destroying statues, cancelling people and re-writing history are all the hallmarks of Black Lives Matter, an unashamedly Marxist organisation dominated by mob rule, torching buildings and intimidation.

      Finally, just to set the record straight, my dislike of Karajan is nothing to do with his Nazi connections. I love Karl Boehm’s performances and Hans Pfitzner’s music, both of whom were far more suspect than Karajan in their relationships with the Nazis. I believe that music and politics are entirely independent; it would be convenient if great works and performances were always by fine, principled people but sadly that’s not the case. I simply dislike Karajan’s devotion to chromium-plated technical perfection at the cost of all else. I find his performances soulless, and I don’t like the techno-whizzkid personality cult surrounding him either. I class him as a consummate performance technician, similar to Lang Lang.

      • Norbert says:

        @ Herbie G.

        I don’t think one can be more eloquent than that. Bravo.

      • M McAlpine says:

        Just to correct your history. Karajan did not become the conductor of the BPO till well after the war, neither was he appointed as Furtwangler’s successor. In fact he ended totally out of favour with the Nazis. This does not excuse his joining the Nazis party but the myth of his Nazism has grown beyond all comprehension.

      • Novagerio says:

        Herbie G: You seem to forget that HvK was 25 in 1933. Furtwängler was 22 years his senior. Just saying.

        • Saxon says:

          Agree with Novagerio. Furtwangler had considerable room for dissent since he was the the most famous conductor of his era, and the Nazi machine could not afford to lose him given their cultural policies.

          Karajan was a very young man who had no real option but to join the Nazi party (like millions of others) if he wanted to get a job and start his career; he couldn’t really leave a get a job elsewhere. This is something lots of people have to do in unsavoury regimes (think of Shostakovich joining the Communists). There is simply no evidence that Karajan ideologically supported the regime.

      • Tamino says:

        Fake news. Historically uninformed.

      • Jackson says:

        “a squalid, unprincipled, mercenary opportunist prepared to sell his soul (if any) to the highest bidder.” I think you are exaggerating a little. Are you aware of what daily life was like under the Nazis and what happened to those who failed to comply. Furtwangler is a different case: he was extremely well known and admired by Hitler. Karajan was only a beginner in comparison.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Very true. The same could be said about people like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, having to make a career in hell.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      He never expressed even the mildest regret for having joined the party (twice apparently) or for its genocidal legacy. It’s true that far more fervent Nazis like Karl Bohm got off comparatively unscathed.

      • John Borstlap says:

        If HvK would have extensively explained his past, and made excuses, no doubt an avelance of different opinions and quarrels would roll over the musical landscape and absorb any attention that his performances could possibly invite.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      To be perfectly honest about all of this historical stuff; the Nazis were enthusiastically encouraged by intellectuals, the middle class and public servants.

      Sounds familiar somehow, doesn’t it.

  • Maria says:

    Maybe easier to say Mozart Platz than Karajan or Herbert von Karajan Platz, but you can’t just erase history with a naming ceremony and a bit of paint. Wait and see what else gets painted over in Europe.

    • Alexander says:

      I also think that history doesn’t have conditional mood

      • Tiredofitall says:

        Quite the contrary. Historians are constantly re-evaluating the past. What we see is not always fact.

    • Really says:

      Changing a name doesn’t equate to “erasing history”, as alarmists here would suggest. And in any event, this whole “ceremony” is merely symbolic. I don’t understand the tsk-tsking?

  • John Borstlap says:

    The picture shows K’s nationalistic sympathy during a performance of the Meistersinger Prelude.

  • Franz1975 says:

    Any person born in the last days of the Nazi era would be at least 75 years old now. I suspect that most people involved are neither victims, nor understand who Karajan and his involvement with Nazism was, and cannot separate art from artist.

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    With Richard Strauss having been a Nazi party member, is it time to consider cancelling his legacy as well, or was he one of the “good” Nazis?

  • Herr Doktor says:

    It needs to be said – Herbert von Karajan deserves to have all memory of him permanently erased!! He singlehandedly organized the Holocaust, he built Auschwitz with his own hands, he personally operated the gas chambers, and then he showed up at night to conduct favoritze Nazi operas such as Die Meistersinger for cheering audiences. A very busy man during World War II! Of course he should have his name removed from Salzburg.

    (Are all the Karajan-haters happy now?)

    Put me in the column of thinking he is the greatest conductor who lived in my lifetime. And the scholarship by Richard Osborne is amply clear that Karajan did not join the party twice, but just once, and was not a Nazi true-believer or anything close to it–he simply wanted a job (Aachen) and the way he was going to get it was by joining the party. End of discussion.

    If he was such a Nazi, please explain why he married a woman (Anita) considered Jewish by the regime in 1942, when the Third Reich was anything but finished at that time.

    • Tristan says:

      finally someone who gets it right! This is all hilarious her as he was without any doubt one of the greatest conductors ever, he like Mahler when conducting and directing opera was responsible for a revolution when it comes to first class presentations of opera live; literally all singers and musicians who worked with him will underline this. Our world has gone crazy and one can’t rewrite history instead we need to face why and what happened. Our mediocre media is full of fake news and doesn’t ground on any facts. I’s simply awful!
      Thanks for getting it right! Karajan as a musician was one of the greatest ever and we we have lots of documents saved for the next generation I so much believe in it.

    • I’m glad to see at least someone citing actual scholarship and not just ranting, which the web is decidedly quite good for, whatever the topic. Osborne did actually spend years researching this, and there’s ample scholarship on F as well, one might start with a little book called “The Devil’s Music Maker.” I do wish Norman would weigh in here, as he’s addressed much of this in short form already in his work with DG. Watch his videos if you want a precise, on the DG site.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      People here have scant knowledge of history. In Nazi Germany, once Hitler rose to power as Chancellor, an iron clamp was put around the entire German citizenry. Dissent was not only impossible – it could lead to a very short life. Families were threatened and people were shot or imprisoned for the slightest ‘threat’ to the regime. In fact, Hitler had a strong and competent ring of henchmen and active surveillance which amounted to a war against his own people.

      In those circumstances what in the name of god would YOU have done?

      • Tom Phillips says:

        Well: principled humane and moral people like the NON-Jewish Erich Kleiber and others fled and established sucessfull careers elsewhere or at least like Furtwangler never actually joined the Nazi party. All of these were options that Karajan did not take. One could at least express retrospective regret – which of course he never did. None of this amounts to a call for his “cancellation” – I own and enjoy multitudes of his recordings – but he is morally a very degraded human being.

  • Interesting says:

    Yes, he may not have been a Nazi at heart, he did what he had to do–which is hardly an accomplishment to be celebrated.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    When was that square next to the Festspielhaus renamed after Karajan and what were the reactions back then?

    We can debate ad nauseam what it meant to be an also run with a half-Jewish wife. Actually we recycle the arguments periodically in this blog, with each side digging deeper into its trench.

    It is much harder to question the contribution of Karajan’s contribution to his home city’s renowned festival.

    Personally I could more easily understand if Vienna nixed its Herbert-von-Karajan-Platz. His 8 years at the State Opera pale by comparison to Hollender’s 18, not to speak of his 33 years at the Salzburg Festival.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    An appropriate gesture. But if this had been done in a historically confederate U.S. city in response to the historic oppression of blacks, I am sure many of the right-wing commentators on this site would be shrieking about “cancel culture” and that their descendants should “stop seeking themselves as victims.”

  • Stas says:

    There’s still an academy in his name under the shadow of the Berlin Philharmonic which children desperate for approval are attracted to like flies to drek and besserwisser back stand section, musicians who tuck their short sleeved shirts into their shorts come July, use to wag their overbearing unimaginative fingers at, come probespiel time.

  • Paul Dawson says:

    Once this controversy has passed, the protesters might choose to head 70km north, to Marktl am Inn.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      Why Marktl am Inn? I looked it up, only to find out that it was the birthplace of Pope Benedict XVI.

  • Le Křenek du jour says:

    Karajan’s attitude reminds me of Sacha Guitry, ‘homme de lettres’, playwright and wit, who joyously profiteered from the Vichy régime, lionized Pétain, and was crestfallen when accused of collaboration with the Nazi occupant. His line of defense was that he collaborated as little as he could, while doing his possible to help those in need.

    Alphonse Boudard, a true and tried résistant, smote Guitry with this devastating réplique:
    « Vous fîtes du peu que vous pûtes, mais vous fûtes pute quand vous le fîtes. »

    I’d love to see, be it for one day only, the Karajanplatz re-baptized ‘Place du passé simple’.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Google Translate comes to the rescue of those of us for whom the passé simple remains a distant memory of decades ago, and who also aren’t up on French slang. Boudard’s retort was sharp, indeed.

    • Jackson says:

      The comparison with Guitry is absurd: Karajan did not “lionize Hitler” nor did he “profit generously” or collaborate. May I remind you that Wilhelm Backhaus twice refused to tour conquered countries with Furtwangler and was each time sent for a period in a work camp?

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    Some people don’t understand the difference between being actively involved in politics and war, and joining a party because it was what put you in a position to continue working in an increasingly difficult climate. Some people want everyone to be clean, spotless, and a hero… all great men and women have pasts, sometimes not-so-exemplary pasts, and not-so-great sides.

    Get over it, get a life, and fight for what really is important in our time and stop trying to rewrite history. The problem with it is that fighting for what is important is time consuming and requires personal sacrifices, and fighting for the superficial and aesthetic is much easier and can be done comfortably from your apartment’s coach.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” Oscar Wilde

  • Allen says:

    But support communism and nobody will mind very much.

  • Gary Freer says:

    Pretty tough being a leading artist or musician living and working under the constant threat of arrest by secret police of a murderous regime. Shostakovich joined the Communist Party in the Stalin era and wrote music for propaganda films. Are we going to ‘cancel ‘ him too?

    Or perhaps we could show some mature judgment, understanding and compassion.

  • fflambeau says:

    I’m not sure K was such a great musician; conductor yes, musician, no. Careerist, yes; he never did much with his vaunted pianist skills. I don’t think he ever composed any music, for instance. He was also very definitely a Nazi (he was a Nazi party member and according to Wikipedia, he “never hesitated to open his concerts with the Nazi favorite “Horst-Wessel-Lied”) and led to the ouster of many other talented musicians from their careers.

    He was excellent with Wagner and Bruckner. Good for Eugene Ormandy, a truly outstanding conductor (much better, in my opinion), who refused to shake K’s hand.

  • Ann Beelivabl says:

    perhaps it should be renamed
    EX-Herbert von Karajan Platz?
    Thus he would be remembered for this music making and the ex would serve as a reminder that he was a nazi. It would also be a cheaper option, just add EX…….

  • Gustavo says:

    I have started erasing his name on each single disc of The Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca.

    • Jackson says:

      Why not just toss them all into a rubbish bin or have you nothing better to do?

    • Novagerio says:

      Gus, you need to see a shrink pronto, pal…

      Out of curiosity, are you gonna do the same with Böhm? And Krauss, and Knappertsbusch and Keilberth and Kempe? And Backhaus and Edwin Fischer, and the whole Berlin or Vienna Phil, and just any Germanic musician or institution that was born in the “politically incorrect” part of Europe, in the “politically incorrect” scope of time?…

      Are you going to avoid and eventually boycott AP (Associated Press), Allianz and Audi, Barclays, throw out old BASF-cassettes, Bayer, BMW, Coca-Cola & Fanta, Deutsche Bank, General Motors, Ford Automobiles, Farben, Krupp, Siemens, Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz & Porsche, Nestle, Messerschmidt, Standard Oil, Thyssen, and/or simply the entire 20th century industry?
      Can you even live with history?…

      • M McAlpine says:

        It appears to be ironic that a certain racing driver ‘takes the knee’ against slavery, while the team firm he drives for was run on slave labour during the war! We have to be very careful if we are going to be consistent here!

        • Henry williams says:

          I have met people that would never buy a german or Japanese car. Because of their record of torture in the past.