How the Berlin and Vienna Orchestras Played Hitler’s Tune

March 8 2017

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


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount