The panel of three historians charged with investigating the VPO’s Nazi record has presented an incriminating report.
In brief, almost half the orchestra – 60 out of 123 musicians – were members of the Nazi Party by 1942. All Jewish members were expelled and erased from its history. Six were murdered.
Only 10 Nazis were expelled from the orchestra in 1945. Two were soon readmitted. One, the trumpet player Helmut Wobisch, had joined the Nazi party in 1933 and the SS in 1934. He became director of the orchestra in 1953. Leonard Bernstein referred to him jovially as ‘my dearest Nazi’.
Wobisch, it appears, was the man who arranged for the orchestra’s cherished Ring to be restored in 1966 to Baldur von Schirach, the Nazi governor of Vienna who presided over the murder of tens of thousands of Jews, dissidents and other minorities.
The report could hardly be more damning. What matters now is how the Vienna Philharmonic address these issues from the past in remedying its present policies of discrimination and inequality.
UPDATE: The orchestra’s present chairman, Clemens Hellsberg, who is also its official historian, describes the award of the Ring to Schirach as a private initiative on Wobisch’s part. That is not a credible position. No individual can take action on behalf of the collective without others being aware of it. Wobisch cannot have acted alone. What’s more, knowing that he was a former SS man, colleagues in the orchestra should have scrutinised his every action for traces of the past.
SECOND UPDATE: The conspiracy of silence.