How the Berlin and Vienna Orchestras Played Hitler’s Tune

In The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics during the Third Reich, Fritz Trümpi tells how these two distinguished musical institutions conducted themselves during—and after—the era of Nazi rule. Norman Lebrecht writes in his review:

Neither emerges with any credit. The Berlin Philharmonic musicians surrendered their hard-won self-governance in 1933 in exchange for fat salaries from Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, taking Nazi orders on what not to play and which countries to tour as standard-bearers of the new Germany.

Wilhelm Furtwängler, their apolitical chief conductor, was long believed to have intervened to save Jewish players from the death camps. In fact, as Trümpi points out, there were none left in the orchestra for Furtwängler to worry about. After [the orchestra’s leader and violinist Szymon] Goldberg’s dismissal [in 1934], there were two solo cellists, Nikolai Graudan and Joseph Schuster, and a first violinist, Gilbert Back. They were the last Jews in the Berlin Philharmonic. . . .

After the Anschluss of 1938, the Vienna Philharmonic struggled with Hitler’s decree to reduce Austria to a province of the Third Reich. Goebbels refused to fund the orchestra, placing it under the authority of the Vienna Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, a lover of sentimental music. Schirach, who described the deportation he oversaw of 65,000 Jews to the death camps as a “contribution to European culture,” authorized the New Year’s concerts that became the orchestra’s trademark. It was not until 2013 that the Vienna Philharmonic revoked the Ring of Honor it had bestowed on three leading figures in the Nazi genocide: Schirach, [the Austrian Nazi leader Arthur] Seyss-Inquart (later Reichskommissar of the occupied Netherlands), and the German railways boss Rudolf Toepfer.

A Vienna Philharmonic trumpet player, Helmut Wobisch, trained mass murderers to play marches. After the war, this SS man became the orchestra’s business manager. . . .

The Vienna Philharmonic [also] welcomed old Gauleiters to its concerts the moment they came out of jail. The Berlin Philharmonic, under Herbert von Karajan, stuck to the Nazis’ anti-modernist [musical] agenda [after the war], though the anti-Semitic program was modified slightly with doses of Mendelssohn and Mahler. Both orchestras were valued as prestigious state assets and neither faced much scrutiny or criticism until the present century.

Read more at Literary Review

More about: Anti-Semitism, Berlin, Germany, History & Ideas, Nazism, Vienna

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7