Vienna Phil’s SS man is still honoured back home

Vienna Phil’s SS man is still honoured back home


norman lebrecht

March 15, 2023

The Vienna State Opera has marked the 85th anniversary of the Anschluss this week with a conversation with historian Oliver Rathkolb. He pulls no punches about the company’s trumpet player Helmut Wobisch, who became principal trumpet and commercial director of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1954 to 1968, the period of its greatest expansion.

Wobisch joined the Nazi party on April 1, 1933 and the SS 18 months later. In 1939 he was coopted as a full member into the Vienna Philharmonic. He was also head of music tuition for the Hitler Youth and a friend of major criminals.

Swiftly denazified after the war, he proved himself a brilliant whitewasher of the Austrian past.

Rathkolb now says: ‘Wobisch was denazified by the Federal President’s office in a fast-track procedure. The many awards he received speak volumes about this mentality of “none of it matters any more”. By the way, streets in Carinthia are still named after him.’

It is worth noting that Georg Solti and Leonard Bernstein were both aware of his SS record and continued dealing with Wobisch over engagements and recordings for fear the orchestra would only appoint someone worse.

This happy cafe, by the way, is on Helmut-Wobisch-Weg 99 9551 Bodensdorf


  • Robin Blick says:

    Even though, starting with Hitler, Kaltenbrunner and Eichmann, Austria provided more than its fair share of Jew- killers, it played the victim game after the war, and was allowed to de-nazify itself, enabling a war criminal to become Secretary-General of the United Nations.

    • Doc Martin says:

      Ah yes, Kurt Waldheim. I once met him during Lohengrin at Wiener Staatsoper.

      • Gianni says:

        Waldheim wasn’t a “war criminal”, he wasn’t even member of the Nazi party or an antisemite. Please read the Wikipedia article on him in case you haven’t done that.

    • Gianni says:

      I may only hope you’re not referring to Kurt Waldheim. Because then you don’t seem to have noticed that he wasn’t a “war criminal”, he wasn’t even a member of the Nazi party or an antisemite. Read the Wikipedia article on him in case you care about facts.

  • Mike_T says:

    Wobisch gets several mentions in John Culshaw’s very readable but somewhat hagiographic account of the VPO/Solti ‘Ring’ recording, “Ring Resounding”.

    Not these kinds of mentions, obviously…

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Not a surprise that Culshaw would be “hagiographic” about a recording he himself produced. One of the greatest performances in classical music history in fact.

  • A.L. says:

    Oh well. Hitler was German and Beethoven Austrian.

    • Gianni says:

      Right, Hitler had to be German in order to become Reichskanzler in 1933. In WW I he fought in the Bavarian army, he lost his Austrian citizenship after 1918 and later became a German citizen. Hitler always resented being Austrian, he resented Austria, and after the Anschluss in 1938 Austria was renamed Ostmark. But of course you have heard about that, right? 🙂
      Whereas Beethove relocated from Bonn to Vienna and continued to live there until his death. I haven’t heard about his citizenship, but obviously he wasn’t very keen to live in Germany. 🙂

  • arnold says:

    why didn’t the jewish conductors like bernstein and solti said
    no we don’t conduct while wobisch is geschäftsführer?

  • Gareth Jones says:

    I still can’t fathom how the WP was permitted to play a concert in a gravesite at Mathhausen KZ in 2000, Rattle conducting. Shameful in every way

    • Robert Holmén says:

      I suppose because all the people involved in the tragedy were gone from the ensemble and the people in the ensemble now wanted to recognize what the previous generation had ignored, rather than continue to ignore it.

      • Tim says:

        Tragedy seems like an odd term to describe the deliberate mass murder of millions. Crime seems like a better one, and it’s a bit harder for an institution like the Vienna Philharmonic to shake, given its complicity in the crime.

      • Gareth Jones says:

        That’s a reason to honour and memorialize publicly the five Jewish members of the Orchestra murdered by the Nazis in camps – which the WP, new and old, has failed to do. It is not a reason to play a concert in the Quarry at Mathausen, where 30,000 human beings were murdered and where, horribly, a stage and plastic seating for seven thousand wealthy patrons were erected over their graves.

        • Gianni says:

          For your information: The place of the former concentration and extermination camp is called Mauthausen.

    • Novagerio says:

      Gareth: Because the oldest member in the current Vienna Phil is born in 1952.

    • Jobim75 says:

      Reconciliation, resilience….it’s needed at some point. WP contrition could have been earlier and stronger but they showed good will, especially last 10 years so you re partly right….

    • William Osborne says:

      The Mauthausen Concert, replete with a rock concert type projection screen, was a PR event done at the height of the protests against the VPO for its exclusion of women and people of color. The concert was highly criticized at the time by people from a wide range of fields. Here is a report of an example:

  • De'Allen says:

    ‘for fear the orchestra would only appoint someone worse’. Worse than an SS man?! Pathetic excuse.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Sadly in Austria at that time there was always far worse people. Like Karl Bohm for instance who never suffered in the least for his fervent Nazi allegiances unlike the far less complicit Karajan and Furtwangler.

  • Na-me says:

    Woodrow Wilson is still a icon of the left in the US including buildings and departments bearing his name. These honors take many years and much education to undo.

    • trumpetherald says:

      Nonsense from the right.

    • Tom Phillips says:

      I don’t know a single person on the “left” (US or otherwise) who has any admiration for Woodrow Wilson, lifelong white supremacist, KKK apologist etc. And Princeton University – of which he was once President – has in fact removed his name from buildings.

    • MacroV says:

      Au contraire. People of “The Left” (whatever that is) have been the ones pushing to have his name removed from sites and to have much greater attention paid to his racist doings.

  • Worn says:

    “Because the orchestra would only appoint someone worse?” Like who? What a bizarre thing to say. Bernstein wrote: “I am enjoying Vienna enormously—as much as a Jew can. There are so many sad memories here; one deals with so many ex-Nazis (and maybe still Nazis); and you never know if the public that is screaming bravo for you might contain someone who 25 years ago might have shot me dead. But it’s better to forgive, and if possible, forget. The city is so beautiful, and so full of tradition. Everyone here lives for music, especially opera, and I seem to be the new hero.” Forgive and forget… i guess it’s that simple. Sigh.

    • Malcolm Jay Kottler says:

      A detailed article about Leonard Bernstein and Vienna is online:
      “Leonard Bernstein And Vienna: A Complicated Relationship”
      By Michael Bernstein

      “Leonard Bernstein’s nephew explores the icon’s love for the city of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler and how it helped him overcome Austria’s Nazi past.”

    • Music Lover says:

      “…the new hero”? Or “the token Jew”, perhaps?

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Delusional and self-serving as he so often was (“I seem to be the new hero” is clearly the main motivation in this case).

    • William Osborne says:

      A great musician, but one of the failings of Bernstein was an excessively facile flexibility.

  • freddynyc says:

    By all accounts Bernstein was only flattered to be accepted by all the Nazis in the WP…..

  • Doc Martin says:

    During a break at a concert at Schloss Ambras, when I attended Innsbrucker Festwochen, I had a odd conversation with a Swiss woman, who said no one in Austria ever mentions the war. I noticed every time I brought the subject up, folk tended to show panic or stress.

  • Des says:

    Anyone remember this scene at Colditz?

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Very typical Austrian then.

    • Gianni says:

      Your remark reminds me of old Nazis and antisemites who love(d) to accuse others of being “typical Jewish”.

  • Patrick says:

    I took one trumpet lesson from Wobisch in 1978 – at his home in Vienna. After the lesson he asked, “do you have to study with Wobisch?” I ended up with another teacher at the Hochschule. I was young and disappointed. Now, not so much.

  • Tamino says:

    No doubt Wobisch was a Nazi in mind. But as a VP musician he didn’t (have to) actively take part in the war (also not in the SS).
    He was suspended from the orchestra after the war and reinstated in 1950 after his official ‘denazification’. So he served some kind of punishment as far as his employment is concerned.

    I suppose it was that twisted part, that he didn’t actually commit war crimes himself, that allowed Solti and Bernstein to forgive him.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    “Rathkolb now says: ‘Wobisch was denazified by the Federal President’s office in a fast-track procedure. The many awards he received speak volumes about this mentality of “none of it matters any more”. By the way, streets in Carinthia are still named after him’.”

    I read that as something of a recrimination (or is the right word, ‘incrimation’?). Am I the only one that sees it that way? . . . . That certainly doesn’t sound like Rathkolb is honoring Wobisch to me.

  • Lightbringer says:

    Georg Kreisler – Weg zur Arbeit

    One song explained it all