Vienna Philharmonic revokes honors to Nazis

Fri Dec 20, 2013 12:26pm EST
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By Georgina Prodhan

VIENNA (Reuters) - The famed Vienna Philharmonic orchestra has revoked awards it made during Hitler's rule to six leading Nazis, as it quietly responds to criticism of the way it has dealt with its past.

The symbolic move, decided in October but not publicly announced, follows the Philharmonic's publication earlier this year of details of its conduct during the Nazi era, which it revealed for the first time.

The orchestra is best known for its New Year's Concert, an annual gala of Strauss waltzes which is broadcast to millions around the world. The private foundation that runs it is careful in managing its image as an icon of musical Vienna.

It has been slowly bowing to pressure to open up about its conduct during the Nazi years, which it recently called a "dark period" in its history - including the fact that the New Year's Concert was invented as a Nazi propaganda instrument.

The orchestra's members voted unanimously to revoke the rings of honor and Nicolai medals it awarded to six high-ranking Nazi leaders, said Vienna historian Oliver Rathkolb, who has worked with the orchestra to document its past.

"That is correct," said Rathkolb, professor of contemporary history at the University of Vienna, confirming what a source with knowledge of the situation had told Reuters.

The orchestra referred a request for comment to Rathkolb, who made a presentation to the orchestra on the subject before its members voted on it at their October 23 annual meeting.

"There were a lot of questions and a very good debate. They are still very interested in these issues," Rathkolb said. "From the point of view of finding a clear-cut approach to the Nazi past, it was an important symbolic act."   Continued...

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra during the traditional New Year's Concert in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein in Vienna January 1, 2013. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer