VIENNA (Reuters) - The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra will return to a French family a valuable painting that was looted by the Nazis and given to the orchestra as a gift in 1940 by a Viennese secret police official.
The heirs of the painting’s late owner, Marcel Koch, will receive “Port-en-Bessin” by neo-Impressionist Paul Signac at a ceremony this year, the orchestra said on Saturday, announcing the latest step to address its past association with Nazism.
About half the Philharmonic’s musicians were Nazi party members by 1942, four years after Hitler’s annexation of Austria. Thirteen musicians with Jewish origins or relations were driven out of the orchestra and five died in concentration camps.
“We have tried for many years to come to grips with the Vienna Philharmonic’s past and face up to our responsibility to make good historical injustices,” orchestra director Clemens Hellsberg said in a statement cited by the Austria Press Agency.
Last year the Philharmonic revoked awards it had made during Hitler’s rule to six leading Nazis.
“Restitution of this painting is a special concern of ours,” Hellsberg said. The orchestra said it was only now returning the painting as it only recently tracked down the rightful owner.
Koch was a French resistance figure who founded the Documentation Francaise, a public publishing service.
The orchestra is known for its New Year’s Concert, an annual gala of Strauss waltzes broadcast to millions around the world.
It published details of its conduct during the Nazi era last year, calling it a “dark period” in its history, when the New Year’s Concert was invented as a Nazi propaganda instrument.
Austrian Greens party member of parliament Harald Walser, who has long campaigned for more openness by the orchestra, said the Philharmonic should allow an international panel of historians to look into its Nazi-era past.
“The deeper one digs into the Vienna Philharmonic’s past, the more ‘corpses’ emerge from the orchestra pit,” he said.
Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Robin Pomeroy