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Home > Orchestra : History > Orchestra

The Vienna Philharmonic under National Socialism (1938 - 1945)

In 1938, politics encroached upon the Vienna Philharmonic in the most brutal manner. The National Socialists dismissed all Jewish artists from the Vienna State Opera and disbanded the Association of the Vienna Philharmonic. It was only the intervention of Wilhelm Furtwängler and other individuals which achieved the nullification of the disbandment order and, with two exceptions, saved the "half-Jews" and "closely-related" from dismissal from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. However, five members of the orchestra perished in concentration camps, despite the intervention of the new Nazi chairman of the orchestra, who attempted to rescue them from deportation. Another two members died in Vienna as a direct result of attempted deportation and persecution.

A total of nine orchestra members were driven into exile. The eleven remaining orchestra members who were married to Jewish women or stigmatized as "half-Jewish" lived under the constant threat of revocation of their "special permission".

Yet also within the orchestra, as part of the NS Personnel Organization State Opera (NSBO), there was an active illegal cell, so that even before 1938, when the ban of the NSDAP was in effect, 20% of the members of the orchestra belonged to the Nazi party. In 1942, 60 of the 123 active orchestral musicians had become members of the NSDAP.

The Project "Vienna Philharmonic - A Historical Overview of the NS Era"

Oliver Rathkolb

Starting in April 2011, Oliver Rathkolb has been collecting new material on members of the Vienna Philharmonic who fell victim to the Nazis and/or were forced into exile. This material will be given its due place on the revised website of the Vienna Philharmonic. Much of it is derived from primary sources dealing with the biographies of the two murdered members of the Vienna Philharmonic, of the five who died following persecution and/or imprisonment in a concentration camp and of the nine who were driven into exile. The stories of the eleven members of the orchestra who had Jewish wives or were branded “half-Jews” have also been subjected to close study and analysis.

Julius Stwertka (1935) ≡ InfoJulius Stwertka (1935) | + Zoom

An equally intensive search has been going on for new material in Austrian and German archives relating to NSDAP members in the orchestra. This area in particular has seen new documents becoming available since 2000, most notably the denazification documentation in Vienna’s Stadt- und Landesarchiv. In January 2013, the player-president of the Vienna Philharmonic, Professor Dr. Clemens Hellsberg, commissioned an independent group of historians – Bernadette Mayrhofer, Fritz Trümpi and Oliver Rathkolb – to integrate the results of their research and their publications, including newly found documents and finds made in the orchestra’s archives, into the Vienna Philharmonic’s website. First samples should be available online by 12 March 2013.

In the wake of the press conference on 10 March 2013, the first texts, photos and documents concerning the Vienna Philharmonic in the National Socialist era are now online on the Website of the Vienna Philharmonic, edited by the aforementioned historians, a process that will continue through to August, gaining in complexity all the time.

Bernadette Mayrhofer has written biographical sketches of those members of the orchestra of the Staatsoper and of the association of the Vienna Philharmonic who were either forced into exile by the Nazis or lost their lives as a result of Nazi persecution. As far as the sources so far available have allowed this, these sketches highlight a great number of biographical facettes in their quest to do justice to the diversity and complexity of the biographies of the exiled or murdered members of the Philharmonic. Her sketches will also address both the traumas and the achievements of the nine exiles. Attention will be paid to isolated individual attempts at assistance on the part of the orchestra’s governing body, without detracting from the suffering caused by forced displacement and murder. Her work will be completed in August 2013.

Rosé Quartet (1915) ≡ InfoRosé Quartet (1915) | + Zoom Fritz Trümpi provides an overview of the orchestra’s politicization during and after WWI and of how this process developed in the First Republic and in the era of Austrofascism. Trümpi is particularly strong on the interdependency between the Nazi regime and the Vienna Philharmonic’s newly appointed governing body. Newly discovered sources enable him to present a study of the history of the orchestra as an association. He interprets the Philharmonic repertoire in political terms and studies the orchestra’s media presence in the Nazi era.

Wiener Philharmoniker im Musikverein (1942) ≡ InfoWiener Philharmoniker im Musikverein (1942) | + Zoom New sources play a similar part in Oliver Rathkolb’s analysis of the marginalization and exclusion of Jewish sponsors and sections of the audience. The second focus in his contribution is on the great number of honorific awards made to Nazi potentates, including Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Baldur von Schirach. The re-award in 1966-1967 of the Vienna Philharmonic’s ring of honour to Baldur von Schirach shortly after his release from Spandau – the first award had been made in 1942 – will be discussed in this context and the veil of mystery that surrounds this incident will be at least partly lifted. Another focus of Rathkolb’s work is the genesis of the “New Year Concert” tradition, from the Strauss concerts under Clemens Krauss in 1927–1933 to the Special Concert on 31 December 1939 in the Großer Musikvereinssaal, the Philharmonische Akademie “Johann Strauss Concert” on 1 January from 1941 to 1945 and, finally, the “real thing”, the New Year Concert in 1947 under Josef Krips. A chapter on the goals and the implementation of denazification focuses on continuities both in regard to personnel and content. In both cases, these continuities stretch back to before the Nazi era. Out of the 123 members of the association of the Vienna Philharmonic, 60 were either members of the NSDAP or candidates for membership, two were members of the SS. After 1945 four musicians were dismissed immediately and six were pensioned off. Of this group, two were later readmitted to the State Opera Orchestra and to the association of the Vienna Philharmonic.

The Politicization Process of the Vienna Philharmonic from World War I until 1945

Fritz Trümpi

Surge in Politicization during World War I

During the First World War, the orchestra saw itself confronted for the first time with diverse politically motivated attempts at exploitation, some of which it tried to resist, others which it supported and promoted.

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The First Republic and Austrofascism: Enhancing References to Vienna as the “City of Music“ and Strengthening Internal Authoritarian Structures

Unlike the time before World War I, when musical events were primarily initiated by private committees, there was a considerable degree of politicization after 1919.

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An Association Based on National Socialist Principles

Having been spared disbandment, the Association was charged with implementing far-reaching changes in its statutes: important personnel decisions now required the consent of the Reich Propaganda Ministry and later that of the Reichsstatthalter in Vienna.

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Increased References to Vienna in the Vienna Philharmonic's Media Presence under the National Socialist Regime

The Vienna Philharmonic has always had a multifaceted media presence. It remained at a steady high under the National Socialist regime.

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The Repertoire of the Vienna Philharmonic in the Nazi Era

The Vienna Philharmonic’s concert performance during National Socialism was marked by a high degree of continuity in terms of its repertoire – but only concerning the subscription concerts.

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Oliver Rathkolb

From the Johann Strauss Concert in 1939 to the New Year's Concert in 1946

[...] the tradition of New Year's concerts given by the Vienna Philharmonic with works by Johann Strauss, broadcast on the radio and later on television, dates back to the National Socialist era.

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Expulsion and Murder of Vienna Philharmonic Musicians after 1938

Bernadette Mayrhofer

Expulsion and Murder of Vienna Philharmonic Musicians after 1938 

Thirteen active musicians were expelled from the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1938. Three additional musicians who were already in retirement also became victims of the holocaust.

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Deportation and Murder

Bernadette Mayrhofer

Persecution and Murder of Members of the Vienna Philharmonic

A total of five members of the Philharmonic were killed in the course of racist cleansings. One member of the Philharmonic died as a result of the eviction from his apartment, and another died in Vienna before his impending deportation.

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Moriz Glattauer (Violin I)

On July 14, 1942, Moriz Glattauer, a retired first violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic, was deported to Theresienstadt along with his wife, Anna Schidlof Glattauer.

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Viktor Robitsek (Violin II)

After 35 years of service in the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic, Viktor Robitsek received notice from the management of the State Opera informing him of his compulsory suspension.

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Max Starkmann (Violin I, Viola)

... on October 5, 1942, Max und Elsa Starkmann were forced under the most demeaning of conditions to board a train as part of a mass transport to Maly Trostinec (about 18 km from Minsk).

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Julius Stwertka (Concertmaster, Solo Violinist)

Julius Stwertka was recruited from Hamburg as concertmaster by Gustav Mahler and was engaged for this position with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic from 1902-1936.

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Armin Tyroler (Oboe II) 

“It has always been my aim to lighten the struggle for existence faced by my less fortunate colleagues and to make their lives more bearable. There is no more to it than that."

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'Died in Vienna'

Bernadette Mayrhofer

Paul Fischer (Violin I, Section Leader)

Paul Fischer had played first violin for 39 years with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic. Additionally he was a long time member of the internationally renowned Rosé Quartet. 

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Anton Weiss (Violin I, Section Leader)

Anton Weiss was a victim of the brutal expulsion policies of the National Socialists; and this even before the systematic mass murder of the Jewish population had begun.

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Vienna Philharmonic Musicians in Exile

Bernadette Mayrhofer

Vienna Philharmonic Musicians in Exile

Nine members of the Vienna Philharmonic managed to flee into exile. 

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Hugo Burghauser (Bassoon I, Chairman)

[...] and of your former students no one apart from Hugo Burghauser, the poor man, who is so utterly lost on the asphalt of Manhattan ...

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Friedrich Siegfried Buxbaum (Principal Cellist) 

Friedrich Buxbaum, who had held the exposed position of principal cellist, was expelled from the orchestral association immediately after Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany..

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Daniel Falk (Violin II)

"Since leaving Vienna I have experienced years of wandering and the tragic fate of losing my entire family - mother, brothers and all other relatives - in the concentration camps and gas chambers, as well as years of becoming acquainted with a highly interesting new country."

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Leopold Othmar Föderl (Violin II)

However, Föderl’s expectations were soon to be shattered: In the summer of 1948, he received a second letter from Salmhofer feigning false kindness that affronted him.

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Josef Geringer (Violin I) 

Josef Geringer was among the most impressive musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic in terms of his artistic qualities.

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Ricardo Odnoposoff (Violin I, Concertmaster) 

„[...] he established himself as one of the outstanding violinists of the day. The Argentine artist, who came here virtually unknown to the general public, took his audience by storm by the virtuosity, power and fire of his performance. [...]"

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Arnold Rosé (Concertmaster, Violin I, Viola soloist)

„As you correctly assume, after 57 years in the opera, 56 years with the quartet and 44 years in the Hofmusikkapelle I have now disappeared into retirement without further ado."

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Berthold Salander (Violin II) 

For Berthold Salander it was like the end of the world when he was, virtually by force, driven from the orchestra. At 51 years of age, he was suddenly excluded from his familiar and very successful professional life.

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Ludwig Wittels (Violin I)

Wittels was able to save himself physically, but he was permanently traumatized by his experience of persecution and the murder of his mother: "He spoke about it over and over again. It ate him up inside all these years. He took it with him to bed at night and got up with it in the morning."

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Bernadette Mayrhofer

Impending Expulsion of Those Declared in Nazi Terminology as "Closely Related" (Versippte), "Half-breeds" (Mischlinge) and Foreigners Lacking a "Certificate of Aryan Descent" (Ariernachweis)

Gottfried Freiberg, Josef Hadraba, Theodor Hess, Rudolf Jettel, Richard Krotschak, Karl Maurer, Ernst Moravec, Otto Rieger, Arthur Schurig, Erich Weis, Otto Fieck

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Oliver Rathkolb

The Vienna Philharmonic’s “Cancelled“ Subscription Audience
(Founders, Supporters and Contributors)

In the course of his research, the author of this article, together with the Vienna Philharmonic’s archivist, found a handwritten register of accounts in a basement storeroom of the Vienna State Opera which is used today as a sheet music archive.

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Observations on Nazification and Denazification

Oliver Rathkolb 

From the Organization Cell Group State Opera to the Managing Comittee

The core group of NSDAP sympathisers in the Vienna Philharmonic had in 1931/32 already organized themselves in the framework of the NSBO – the NS Organization Cell Group State Opera.

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Honours and Awards (Honorary Members, Rings of Honour, the Nicolai Medal and the “Yellow” List)

A compilation of the bearers of rings of honour was produced in preparation for the Vienna Philharmonic's centennial celebrations.  It cannot currently be reconstructed when exactly the first rings were awarded. 

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Denazification and the Long Shadow of the Past in the 1950s and 1960s

The most distinctive example of the insurmountable conflict of priorities in cultural denazification – namely the demand of artistic performance while simultaneously eliminating National Socialist thought by rigorous personnel cleansing – was represented by the political classification of a collective orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic.

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Silvia Kargl 

The Historical Archives of the Vienna Philharmonic

An extensive collection of programmes and a concert database are at the heart of the historical archives.

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