The arrest in Vienna of discredited British historian David Irving for lying about the Holocaust got us to thinking: Is good news finally breaking out somewhere? Austrian authorities are holding him without bail, pending trial, for breaking a 1947 law that criminalizes Holocaust denial. His lawyer now says he’s changed his views — that gas chambers were, in fact, used in Auschwitz, contrary to a 1989 speech he gave in Austria 16 years ago, and that the Holocaust did indeed happen.
This also got us to thinking about our recent item on the hidebound circle jerks of the Vienna Philharmonic, whose long-buried historical relationship with the Holocaust still has contemporary echoes. For instance, at Anton Bruckner Private University (formerly the Bruckner-Konservatorium) in Linz (Hitler’s hometown), not far from Vienna, the big concert hall is named for Wilhelm Jerger, who was director of the conservatory until 1973.
Jerger, right — a contrabassist in the Vienna Philharmonic, and a Lieutenant in the Schutzstaffel (SS) — became the chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1938, when a program was set in motion to “Aryanize” Austrian culture after Austria was made part of Germany through the Anschluss. Musicologist William Osborne tells us:
During Jerger’s leadership, six Jewish members of the Vienna Philharmonic died in the concentration camps. Eleven were able to save their lives by timely migration. Nine additional members were found to be of “mixed race” or “contaminated by kinship” (“Versippte”) and reduced to secondary status within the orchestra. Twenty-six “non-Aryans” were thus either murdered, exiled or reduced in status while SS Lieutenant Jerger led the orchestra. [For documentation see: Dr. Clemens Hellsberg, Demokratie der Koenige: Die Geschichte der Wiener Philharmoniker (Zurich: Schweizer Verlagshaus: Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau; Mainz: Musikverlag Schott, 1992) p. 505. Hellsberg, who has a Ph.D. in musicology, is the current chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic. His book contains numerous discussions of Jerger’s activities.]
In 1942, Wilhelm Jerger wrote a book celebrating the Vienna Philharmonic’s centennial: Erbe und Sendung (Wien: Wiener Verlag Ernst Sopper & Karl Bauer, 1942.) Jerger’s book illustrates his devotion to Nazi ideologies. He includes the genealogies of several prominent father-to-son generations that formed a historical continuum within the ranks of the Philharmonic. Jerger places an asterisk by the name of every “non-Aryan” listed in the tables. Jerger explains that the Aryan stock of these Philharmonic families was so “tough” that the purity of their “blood” was never notably damaged by what racists refer to as “dysgenic influences”:
“And here it is demonstrated, that in spite of manifold influences of blood from elsewhere, this Mind [Geist] continues to implant itself with great toughness through the ancestral lineage, and that it is often very sharply imprinted. It is understandable, that such an inheritance must beget outstanding musicians, who in their stylistic education and in their experience of orchestral playing are already extraordinarily schooled. This is Mind from Old Mind, which helps tradition and inheritance, a dominant trait [überkommene Anlage] to a special development and fulfillment.” (Page 87, translated from the German)
Schooling is acknowledged as important, but only in the context of a special “blood” inheritance that transmits “Mind”. This follows National Socialism’s ideology of Ahnenerbe, which asserts that cultural traits are genetically inherited. Jerger also presents a racist portrayal of Gustav Mahler, who became the General Music Director of the Vienna Philharmonic in 1898, replacing Hans Richter, who had led the orchestra for the previous 23 years. (The Vienna Philharmonic refers to the Richter years as its “golden age.”) Mahler’s tenure was troubled in part by a continual pattern of anti-Semitic harassment and he left the orchestra after three years. Using his own words and quoting those of Max Kalbeck (a famous critic at the time,) Jerger draws a comparison of Richter and Mahler that reveals the anti-Semitic attitudes Mahler confronted:
“A completely different type of personality entered with Mahler, ‘as there’ — to speak with Max Kalbeck’s vivid words — ‘instead of the tall blond bearded Hun, who placed himself wide and calm before the orchestra like an unshakable, solidly walled tower, there was a gifted shape [begabte Gestalt] balancing over the podium, thin, nervous, and with extraordinarily gangly limbs.’ In fact, a greater contrast was really not possible. There the patriarchal Hans Richter in his stolidity and goodness, and his extremely hearty and collegial solidarity with the orchestra, and here Gustav Mahler, oriented to the new objectivity [neue Sachlichkeit] — nervous, hasty, scatty, intellectualish [sic]-the music a pure matter of his overbred intellect.” (Page 57, translated from the German)
Racist views are apparent in the language (“intellectualish,” “overbred,” “new objectivity” (a new aesthetic associated with Jews), “gangly limbs,” “scatty” vs. “blond,” “stolid,” and so on). They reflect anti-Semitism and National Socialist aesthetics. The transparent sub-text is one of chauvinistic masculinity and genetic superiority.The book illustrates that Jerger was not an innocent bystander caught up in historical events. He was an active and avid cultural leader of the Nazi movement.
“Linz is by no means the only Musikhochschule with this problem,” Osborne adds. “In Munich, Germany, the Musik Hochschule is housed in Hitler’s personal office building. It was called the Fuehrerbau, and was designed by Paul Ludwig Troost, the same architect who designed Munich’s Haus der Kunst.” Osborne continues:
The Fuehrerbau is considered to be one of the most perfect stylizations of Nazi architecture still in existence. A lot of people get the creeps just walking into the place. There are stories still in circulation that people were tortured in the basement where the student cafeteria now is. Across the street is a sister building that looks identical and was a Nazi administration building. Much of Munich was destroyed by Allied bombing, but, ironically, these two buildings survived almost unscratched.
Yes, we know, much has changed in both Austria and Germany. But so much apparently has not.
Anyway, we think all of this is worth remembering when the Vienna Philharmonic’s traditional New Year’s concert is broadcast worldwide and when Carnegie Hall presents the orchestra this March for its annual concerts in New York.
— Tireless Staff of Thousands