Nearly 70 years later, Nazi past still haunts Vienna Philharmonic

Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn(Photo: Richard Schuster)
Vienna Philharmonic Summer Night Concert Schönbrunn(Photo: Richard Schuster)

It has been nearly three-quarters of a century since the end of World War II, but the hatred of the Nazi regime, what it did and what it stood for, still runs deep in the hearts of many.  

When the Vienna Philharmonic travels abroad, it is often the target of picketing  by those who accuse the orchestra of discriminatory practices.

James Oestreich writes in The New York Times that “charges that (The Vienna Philharmonic) shields access to its archives to conceal the darker aspects of its Nazi past” brought an unusually swift reaction from the orchestra.

One of the stories which reportedly roiled the waters began with the 1942 presentation of a “ring of honor” to Baldur von Schirach, the governor of Vienna, as the orchestra celebrated it’s 100th anniversary. Schirach, who participated in the deportation of tens of thousands of Viennese Jews to extermination camps in Poland, would serve 20 years in prison for his role.

Schirach’s ring apparently disappeared during that time, but after his release from prison, the orchestra presented him with a replacement. In his Times article, Oestreich asks “Has the orchestra been trying to hide this information?”

The orchestra hired three historians, said to be independent, to comb through it’s historical records from that era and post the results on it’s website.  

Some of the preliminary findings were recently released to the Times as the orchestra prepared for a weekend series of concerts at Carnegie Hall.  The name of the orchestra representative who presented the ring is to be revealed on March 10, during an Austrian television documentary on the orchestras “Nazi period.”  According to Oestreich’s article, “new records have been recently unearthed in a deep cellar of the Vienna State Opera in the far back of a room which should contain only opera scores.”

Rumors, innuendo, secret stashes of papers, sounds like this would make a great opera.  Stay tuned.

Read more: Orchestra to disclose it’s Nazi past (NY Times)

Watch: Strauss’ Beautiful Blue Danube from the Vienna Philharmonic 2013 New Years Day concert