A former head of Vienna’s prestigious Philharmonic Orchestra was a member of Nazi Germany’s elite paramilitary SS and collaborated with the secret police, while half of its musicians were members of the Nazi party, historians have said.
Helmut Wobisch, a member of the Nazi party since 1933 when it was still illegal in Austria, was the orchestra’s managing director between 1954 and 1968 even though he had been dismissed at the end of World War II because of his ties to the Nazi regime.
Wobisch became a member of the SS in 1938 when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.
In 1966, he presented a replica of the orchestra’s Honorary Ring to former Nazi youth leader Baldur von Schirach who was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Von Schirach, Vienna’s local Nazi leader, had received the orchestra’s highest distinction in 1942 but US troops seized it when he was arrested in 1945.
Research by the independent group of historians which was coordinated by Vienna University professor Oliver Rathkolb and others was to shed light on the orchestra’s political involvement during the 1938-45 period when Austria was under Nazi control.
Historians also looked into the biographies of orchestra members who were expelled, persecuted or killed for political or racist reasons.
They found that six Jewish members of the orchestra were murdered and 10 deported to Nazi camps. None of those who emigrated, mainly to Britain and the United States, returned after World War II.
With 60 musicians out of a total of 123 members of the Nazi party, their percentage was well above that of the general population, which was about 10 percent.
As Austria marks the 75th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany on Tuesday, the historians’ findings are available on the orchestra’s web site at http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at.