Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's Nazi History In The Spotlight Of New Report

03/11/2013 06:16 pm ET

A new report by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra reveals that almost half the orchestra's members belonged to the Nazi Party by 1942. The orchestra's study also says that it expelled over a dozen players because of their Jewish affiliations, and that some of them perished in concentration camps after their expulsion.

The findings, released on the Vienna Philharmonic's website on Sunday, were part of the results of a study commissioned by the orchestra's chairman in January, in response to criticisms that the organization had not been up front about its Nazi past.

Founded in 1842, the Vienna Philharmonic is perhaps best known for its annual New Year's Concert, which is broadcast on Jan. 1 from Vienna to tens of millions of people around the world. The renowned concert was started in 1939 as a way to help spread Nazi propaganda, says one of the historians hired by the orchestra to investigate its past, according to Reuters.

The same day the orchestra's study results were announced, it was also revealed in a new TV documentary that a former director of the orchestra and a member of Hitler's Waffen SS, Helmut Wobisch, had delivered a prestigious award to Nazi war criminal Baldur Von Schirach in 1966, Reuters reports.

In December, an Austrian politician demanded that the Vienna Philharmonic examine its Nazi past and accused the orchestra of a lack of transparency and of destroying important documents from the World War II era, the Los Angeles Times reported. Politician Harald Walser cited the award that was given to Schirach as an example of how the orchestra had a close relationship with the Nazis.

The Vienna Philharmonic has also been criticized recently for being too homogenous. In January, influential classical music writer Norman Lebrecht penned a Bloomberg op-ed, pointing out that the orchestra had only six female members and no Asians, even though a third of students at Vienna's University of Music are Asian. Lebrecht also pointed out that the orchestra has no non-white members at all.

The full report on the Vienna Philharmonic's Nazi musicians will be published Tuesday, March 12, on the 75th anniversary of Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, Al Jazeera reports.

(Hat tip, BBC)

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