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Latest: Vienna Philharmonic appoints independent historians to study its links with top Nazis

Clemens Hellsberg, player-president of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, has moved fast to allay public anxieties over the orchestra’s Nazi past.

He has named three prominent historians - Oliver Rathkolb, Fritz Trümpi and Bernadette Mayrhofer – who will have full access to the archives to look into the orchestra’s conduct after the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938. The results of their study will be published in March on the VPO website.

In particular, the historians will want to know why the orch gave its Ring of Honour to two mass murderers, the Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach and to Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who presided over the ethnic cleansing of the Netherlands. Seyss-Inquart was hanged at Nuremburg. Schirach, who was jailed for 18 years, remained in friendly contact with the orchestra.

seyss

The three historians were handpicked by Hellsberg, who is the VPO’s official historian. One of them, Rathkolb, had previously announced that ‘there is nothing new’ to discover about the VPO’s Nazi record.

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Comments

  1. Marko Velikonja says:

    March doesn’t seem like a lot of time. The Berlin Philharmonic seems to have done a much better job exploring and reporting on its past. There’s a fascinating documentary on the Digital Concert Hall.

  2. Hellsberg is also going to propose to the orchestra that it rescind all awards it gave to Nazis. Even if much belated, these are positive steps – symbolic acts of reconciliation.

    I hope that the head of the commission, Oliver Ratkolb, realizes that there is very likely new material to be discovered and published. In his history of the orchestra, Hellsberg said nothing about the Ehrenring given to Schirach or Seyss-Inquart. And I hope Schirach’s son, who now lives in Berlin, will soon say who the emissary from the orchestra was that gave a new copy of the Ehrenring to Schirach in 1966.

  3. Greg Hlatky says:

    “We have top people studying this. Top. People.”

  4. One concern I have is that the commission members were hand picked by Clemens Hellsberg – the orchestra’s Chairman. I hope there will be ample opportunity for other scholars to examine the archive – and without delay. In 2009, for example, Prof. Walter Manoschek was forbidden access to the archive after repeated requests. He is a history professor at the University of Vienna whose specialty is crimes committed by the Wehrmacht during WWII. From 2004 to 2006 he was the Chair of the University’s Institute for Staatswissenschaft. Why was he not included, among others? At issue is not only what is reported, but also commentary, analysis, and contextualization. The perspectives of a single commission with favorable ties to the orchestra might not create the necessary confidence that we have the full picture.

  5. Why does this selection of a ‘trusted few’ to view these documents eerily reminiscent of the LBJ hand-picked Warren Commission which was supposed to tell the rest of the public what really happened in the murder of JFK?

    • A very good point. Obviously, there is something much bigger going on here, a conspiracy of epic proportions that they are trying to cover up. If they allowed full and independent access to their archives, we would finally learn the truth about what many have suspected for a long time: it’s the Wiener Philharmoniker who really were behind JFK’s assassination. Baldur von Schirach orchestrated it from behind prison walls. That’s what he got the second ring for when he got out.

      Suddenly it all makes sense!

      • Making frivolous comments about individual and mass murder strikes me as distasteful. NL

        • Norman Lebrecht says:
          January 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm

          “Making frivolous comments about individual and mass murder strikes me as distasteful. NL”

          Agreed – that was basically the point I tried to make with my clumsy sarcasm. I find the linking of this to silly conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination inappropriate and distasteful.

          What Schirach and Seyss-Inquart did in their political activities is historically relevant and has been thoroughly documented and investigated. Their connections to cultural organizations like the WP are somewhat interesting to a margin group like us, but in the larger historical context, that is more or less completely irrelevant. Blowing this so much out of proportion also makes the larger context less relevant. It only serves as a platform for some individuals who appoint themselves moral judges from the safety or a distant time and place. I want to know more about these things, too, but that shouldn’t serve as a pretext for people to gain attention for their own agendas and allow them to smear people who are in the same organization but who have no other connection to the time and the crimes other than that they are in the same organization now. And since that organization was and is there primarily to make music, there is nothing sinister about it. The historical facts are facts, but they are also historical.

          This self-righteous finger pointing from the safe distance also obscures any real understanding of the context in which these things happened, and why they happened.
          There is a very good BBC documentary series about Auschwitz. In the commentary, the director says that he has interviewed many who worked in the stalinist apparatus and most of those people told him “we were just following orders”. But when he interviewed SS people, none of them said that. They said that they really believed that the Jews and the Bolsheviks etc were “the enemy” and that they therefore felt justified in killing them.
          That’s pretty horrible, but that’s also what I heard when I talked to some old Nazis myself. I mean real ones, not passive followers. It was extremely difficult for me to understand just what kind of mental and ideological world they lived in – and, in many cases, continued to live in for the rest of their lives.

          In order to try to understand that, we have to try to understand what world they actually lived in, and how their world view was shaped and related to that. And that world they lived in was extremely complex and conflicted. That world wasn’t just Germany and Austria, but that’s how many treat it, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. Until some of those people start doing their own historical home work instead of just obsessing about the Nazis, and the Nazis alone, they have no chance of understanding that. It makes the issue much smaller and much more simplistic than it actually is, and therefore also trivializes it.

          • @Michael said,”I find the linking of this to silly conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination inappropriate and distasteful.”

            You are making a false analogy — the comparison was to the selection of a ‘trusted few’ historians who would, similar to the WC, then tell the rest of the public what to believe.

            But then to question the conclusions of an elite group is ‘silly’? Is reasoning for oneself also ‘silly’?

      • Interesting, especially coming from @Michael, who apparently still refuses to acknowledge the possibility that HVK is controlling the BP from the grave.

        Quit making my point for me!

        • “Michael, who apparently still refuses to acknowledge the possibility that HVK is controlling the BP from the grave”
          you do the gentleman an injustice. I thought he made his points very cogently in that particular discussion. The same was true of whoever made the contrary point, that HvK could be propped up as a hologram for future BP concerts.

          • With all due respect, didn’t @Michael appear to beg the question of how to compare performances of a deceased maestro with those still living while referencing only live performances? Perhaps that was just another instance of HVK mesmerism…

          • I agree, he did, so we had a basis for a good discussion there, and it turned out that we actually agreed on far more than it appeared at first. About that one point though, the hologram thing, I didn’t address that in that discussion because it was not so relevant, but since it comes up again, I also wanted to point out that that also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the musical relationship Karajan had with the orchestra. Even though he was very firmly in control, the music making was never just the mechanical execution of a well rehearsed standard interpretation. It was usually very flexible and spontaneous in the concerts. So the hologram thing wouldn’t work.

            This live performance illustrates that very well:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Va_0m-d4uw

            A favorite moment here is at 0:49:20 when Karajan stops conducting and just lets them play. He only intervenes again at 0:49:47 to take the whole orchestra down one dynamic level which he achieves with a very slight downward gesture of his left hand, nothing more. That’s as far from a mechanized performance as it gets, you can’t do that with a pre-recorded hologram (and yes, I know, it was just an over-the-top image to make a point, but that point wasn’t a good point).

          • Pamela Brown says:
            January 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

            “With all due respect, didn’t @Michael appear to beg the question of how to compare performances of a deceased maestro with those still living while referencing only live performances? Perhaps that was just another instance of HVK mesmerism…”

            No, I didn’t appear to beg that question at all since I addressed all these points in exhaustive, maybe even exhausting detail. We are actually in another discussion here, and my points are still there to read, so I will not repeat myself once more here.
            That has nothing to do with “HvK mesmerism” either because the discussion was never really about how good he was in comparison to his successors. It was about how much his legacy still influenced the playing of the orchestra today (or not). It became however clear in the discussion that Robert thought that Karajan was far better than his successors, while my own position is that h was certainly a great conductor, but his successors aren’t necessarily “worse” – just very different.
            In any case, it’s a pity you have never heard this orchestra live with any of the above. You have really missed a lot.

        • I have to admit I have long lost track of what your point actually was since you just keep saying “thanks for confirming my point”, but when I go back in the discussion, I can not find an original point of yours about the subject, no arguments to support whatever it may have been originally.

          Your questions, however, did make me think about the subject of how good an idea one can have of an orchestra’s sound and style of music making with a particular conductor from recordings alone. I had never thought about how “realistic” an idea people can develop from recordings alone since my own listening to recordings is complemented and “calibrated” by the extensive live concert going experience I have. I realized that people who do not have those references can arrive at very wrong conclusions about the causes of in themselves correct observations.
          Mr Kenchington’s observations that a lot of the contemporary conductors of the BP seem to have far less control over the orchestra than Karajan had did certainly strike me as very sensible once he explained it, however, due to the very limited live samples that were available to him, he arrived at the wrong conclusions for the causes of that.
          So there is really no need to acknowledge the “possibility” of “Karajan conducting from the grave” when I have already explained in detail that that is definitely not the case.

          • Any possibility of perceiving the irony of trying to compare performances of a dead maestro with those who are alive by using only live performances as a basis of comparison?

          • Pamela Brown says:
            January 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm

            “Any possibility of perceiving the irony of trying to compare performances of a dead maestro with those who are alive by using only live performances as a basis of comparison?”

            You are asking essentially the same question over and over and over again, acting as if I hadn’t addressed exactly that question in detail several times over. I think it should be very clear from what I said about this that I don’t think that one can only judge from live performances. But it has become clear to me that one also needs a comprehensive live listening experience to properly judge what one hears on recordings. You do not have that background when it comes to the performance traditions of the BP, so you can not judge that at all. Maybe that is why what I keep saying makes so little sense to you, while it makes a lot of sense to everybody else who participated in that discussion. Including the original “hologram” poster, Mr Kenchington (or was it Ketchington). I don’t quite understand why you have such a hard time letting go of this subject. You have never heard the BP live, probably very few if any of the other top European orchestras, so, no I don’t think you are in a good position to judge what they really sound and play like. Sorry.

          • @Michael said, ” I can not find an original point of yours about the subject, no arguments to support whatever it may have been originally.”

            I am comfortable with my position that HVK’s influence over the BP is still pervasive. Nothing you have said has been in the least persuasive.

            Why not agree-to-disagree and move on?

          • Pamela Brown says:
            January 23, 2013 at 2:40 am

            “@Michael said, ” I can not find an original point of yours about the subject, no arguments to support whatever it may have been originally.”

            I am comfortable with my position that HVK’s influence over the BP is still pervasive. Nothing you have said has been in the least persuasive.

            Why not agree-to-disagree and move on?”

            You never had a position of your own on this. You haven’t contributed a *single* argument of your own to this discussion. Everyone who replied to my comments – even my original “opponent” Robert – found them very convincing – except for you. Whether that is because you simply lack an understanding of this subject or because you simply can’t admit when you are wrong, I don’t know. Fact is, I have seen and heard the BP in action with Karajan, his successors and dozens of guest conductors, and you haven’t. So it is up to you to come to terms with that and “move on”.

            I just criticized William Osborne for calling to ignore people and I consider it impolite to just ignore people even if I find them annoying, but it seems you are really just trolling here. I really enjoyed the discussion but you haven’t added anything to it except for snooty non-replies.

          • @Michael said,” I really enjoyed the discussion but you haven’t added anything to it except for snooty non-replies.”

            Michael seems to have forgotten the basis of this ‘discussion’. I stated that I agreed that IMO HVK might just as well be conducting the BP from the grave. He disagreed and went on to make a lot of claims that seem lacking in any sort of logic. None of them have been in persuasive to me.

            Those are not ‘non-replies’ — it seems there is simply nothing left to discuss.

    • It’s true, Pamela, the issues surrounding the orchestra’s collaboration and its lax post-war de-Nazification are so complex that no one commission or historian can provide all of the perspective needed. We can best understand these events through consideration of many viewpoints. I hope there won’t be one official narrative while all others are suppressed.

      • Unfortunately, it appears the spin process has already begun. To continue the parallel with JFK, 50 years after the event the WC defenders are just as adamant as they were at the start, and anyone who disagrees with them is supposed to be discredited.

        • The analogy is preposterous. Don’t you see that there is a big big difference between the murder of the president of one the most powerful nations on earth and the alleged giving of an abscure honour ring to a nazi ? OK, it’s bad, shameful even if the 1966 second present of the ring is true, but it’s a footnote in the history of antisemitism in Europe, and an even smaller footnote in the history of the Holocaust. And as for the fact that some VPO members were nazis, or kept the same opinions after the war, I don’t see what can be really interesting about it. It was true for many other groups of people, and you could probably say the same of railwaymen or schoolteachers.

          This perpetual denunciation of old nazis, most long dead, is just tiresome, and especially since it’s a blatant case of double standards : if it’s so important to root out, even posthumously, every admirer of totalitarian regimes, all Russian artists should also be investigated. Who worked for the KGB, who worshipped Stalin or still does, what do you know. But then, nobody seems to care.

          • @Julien said, “Don’t you see that there is a big big difference between the murder of the president of one the most powerful nations on earth and the alleged giving of an abscure honour ring to a nazi.”

            Well, if you minimize it enough you just might have a point.

            But does anyone really know all that is in these documents? Is it fair to poison the well ahead of time?

  6. I would certainly echo this comment by William. Of course for twenty years now such an official narrative has stood firm, and however candid Hellsberg’s book appeared in 1992, its inadequacies have been all too clear for some time now.

    This latest announcement has attracted the usual Viennese idle talk, some of it scurrilous, but having heard much of it there are a few things I would report. Firstly, that Hellsberg is inviting these historians less than willingly; if anything we ought to credit the older members of the orchestra who have forced his hand, even if they are motivated purely by Realpolitik (a good few of them claim to know the identity of the 1966 ring bearer and have acted on the basis that suppression of skeletons is proving more damaging than the skeletons themselves). The 1966 incident is a different matter, but awards made during the Third Reich to leading Nazis, particularly those who considered themselves cultural benefactors, were standard currency and would merit at best a footnote in any thoroughly researched historical study. The reason they are causing such bad press for the Philharmonic is that most Austrian public institutions, if only belatedly following the 1991 Vranitzky speech, have been more open about their histories.

    Rathkolb may have been selected by Hellsberg, and certainly following some rapprochement if his comment about the archive yielding nothing new is anything to go by, but he was at one time a fierce critic of Hellsberg’s archival politics and as a historian of the Third Reich has undertaken research with Wiesenthalian vigour. It is surely not in his interests to undermine his academic reputation with a less than thorough job at the Philharmonic. Since Rathkolb made that comment we have also learned of honours distributed to Seyss-Inquart and the Klagenfurt Gauleiter Friedrich Rainer, which he concedes as a ‘richtige Verteilungsorgie’.

    But again, these revelations of which honour was given to which Nazi is properly the stuff of footnotes, and as the remit of historical research to be undertaken during a limited six week window is remarkably facile, chiming somewhat awkwardly with the dim view Hellsberg has projected of historians and musicologists who would engage with this part of the Philharmoniker’s history (repeatedly in the press, painting them as meddlesome nuisances out to smear the orchestra, in itself an astonishing calumny, given that I now learn that Walter Manoschek has also been denied access to the archive). On this front Hellsberg has shown no change in thinking and after Rathkolb has reported his findings I suspect it will be even harder for others to get into the archive than before.

    William mentioned the importance of perspective with reference to de-Nazification, and an example of the counter-productivity of Hellsberg’s archival policy would a paper I could give on that subject were I able to cross-check sources in the Philharmoniker archive. While the de-Nazification of the orchestra was carried out less than fully, and a number of members retained their jobs illegally in non-compliance with the rules that applied at the time, the orchestra’s lobbying played a limited role. I have reached this conclusion based on findings in Culture Ministry files which confirm and expand upon the version of events given in Ernst Fischer’s memoirs (which maintain that Fischer, the minister at the time, was swayed by various cultural and national identity arguments but in favouring the orchestra did so independently). In arriving at these kinds of conclusions one naturally wishes to cover all bases, and all I am missing is examination of some private papers held by the Philharmonic archive. It is somewhat ironic as this is all in aim of a paper which Hellsberg would surely like to give himself. Then again, perhaps that is the problem.

  7. @William is touching on a topic that is verboten — the ongoing Nazi ties to the underworld of classical music. The posts in this thread give a clear indication of just how unacceptable discussion on this topic is.

    But ironically, at the same time, everyone seems to acknowledge that many in the music community who had Nazi connections just kept on going and were highly successful.

    • There is nothing ironic about that because it is indeed widely known and acknowledged that cultural institutions and personalities in the 3rd Reich were deeply entangled with the regime – and it’s not a “verboten” subject at all. It comes up in this forum alone several times each week. I haven’t seen any posts which suggest that this is a taboo subject and that William is a daring taboo breaker who must be silenced. Indeed, he is the only one here who asked for people to be silenced and their contributions to be ignored.
      But there are those posters, me and others, who call for a less myopic treatment of the subject, for a wider context and the inclusion of subjects which are indeed very much tabooed, like the historical context in which all this happened, the ideological similarities with and ties to contemporary countries, in many of which the skeletons in the closet are rarely if ever discussed – like yours. Many act as if the Nazis were a completely isolated incident in history, and that’s why that’s all there ever is to talk about when we discuss the period.

      An aspect of this subject which is never really touched on is just *why* all these cultural institutions were so entangled with the regime. For lack of understanding of the background, people tend to just write that off as “because they were all Nazis and willing collaborators”. But it’s not nearly as simple as that.

      • @Michael said, “There is nothing ironic about that because it is indeed widely known and acknowledged that cultural institutions and personalities in the 3rd Reich were deeply entangled with the regime”

        Only, perhaps, if there are newly-revealed documented details. Then that can become another momentary thorn-in-the-side to the grand assumption that ‘everyone knows and everyone is just fine with it.’

      • Just for the record, I have not asked that anyone be silenced, nor could anything I have said be fairly construed as such. My suggestion was and is that rants, misappropriated comments, and ad hominine attacks merely be ignored because they lower the level of discourse — a problem that is compounded when they are responded to. BTW, “Sock puppet” is a technical term for a certain kind of use of the Internet, and a common problem when people post anonymously. See:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sockpuppet_(Internet)

        • Thanks – that’s a very informative article.

          I think you’re right about ignoring these offensive posts — sometimes hard to do, though, especially when they hog so much of the bandwidth around here. ;)

          Here’s another link which might be of interest in this context:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_you_are_lynching_Negroes

          • Yes, the practice of Sock Puppeting has become a problem on the Internet. In 2011, the US Army paid a Californian company, Ntrepid, 2.7 million dollars to develop sock puppet software that would allow a single operator to create numerous fake online personas to dominate Internet discussions with U.S. perspectives and propaganda. It’s called “online persona management” software. The software shapes an on-going stream of comments with different linguistic styles and biographical backgrounds to make them seem like they are coming from a group of individuals instead of just one working for the U.S. military. I suspect other groups will also find the software of interest.

    • Actually, it can still be difficult in many circumstances, to discuss the history of the Third Reich in Germany and Austria– especially when specific people, locals, or institutions are invovled. A good example are the experiences of the historian Anna Rosmus who endured years of harassment and even death threats to research the Nazi history of her town, Passau. Her book was published in 1984. A film based on her experiences was made in 1988 entitled “Das schreckliche Mädchen” (titled “The Nasty Girl” in English.) It provides a fairly accurate picture of the sorts of enforced silence and intimidation that remained in Germany after the war and which can still be experienced to this day — though things are getting much better as the last of the direct participants in the Reich pass away. You can read about Rosmus here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Rosmus

      Rosmus’ experiences provide perspective on some of the discussion a late on Slipped Disk about what people prefer to not see discussed.

      The entire video of “Das Schreckliche Mädchen” is on Youtube with English subtitles. Though fictionalized to some degree, it is a good way to gain at least some understanding of the more difficult sides of Germany’s Vergangenheitsbewältigung (a German word that means something like processing the past.) The video is here:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vY5MhNOlzM4

      The German director Michael Verhoefen (not to be confused with the Dutch Hollywood director Paul Verhoefen) has produced several films dealing with Germany’s Vergangenheitsbewältigung. His anti-Vietnam war film, “o.k.” caused a scandal at the 20th Berlin International Film Festival. His films are notable for their use of a Brechtian Verfremdungs effect, a kind of ironic distancing that allows us to look at the subject in a more detached manner. “Das Schreckliche Mädchen” is meaningful to me because my wife and I have faced similar problems due to various aspects of our advocacy for women in music. (And here again, if crude responses full of misappropriations and ad hominine attacks are made to my post, I will simply ignore them. They are the least of what Abbie and I have faced. And even though things are getting far better in Germany and Austria, those posts are reminder of the problems and resentments that still exist)

  8. Verhoefen – not to be confused with Paul Verhoeven in fact.

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