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Did Vienna Orchestra Try To Hide Nazi Past?

An Austrian lawmaker accused the Vienna Philharmonic of attempting to conceal the institution’s sympathy for the country’s Nazi leadership during World War II.

Harald Walser, a historian and Parliament member for the Austrian Greens, made the accusations in a recent interview for the ORF national public service broadcaster.

Walser cited a listing on the Philharmonic’s official website, which describes a concert delivered on New Year’s Day of 1939 as a “sublime homage to Austria” when in fact it was a celebration of its unification with Nazi Germany in 1938.

The New Year’s Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic takes place each year on the morning of Jan. 1 in Vienna and is broadcast around the world to an estimated audience of 50 million in 73 countries.

According to Walser, the orchestra has not released all its documents from the Nazi era or has destroyed some of them. He has called for forming a committee of inquiry into the role of the Vienna Philharmonic during the years 1938-1945.

One of the alleged omissions concerns the “Honor Ring of the Vienna Philharmonic,” which the orchestra’s directors gave in 1942, according to Walser, to the war criminal Baldur von Schirach, who was responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Austrian Jews to death camps.

Orchestra Chairman Clemens Hellsberg has written an in-depth book about the history of the orchestra titled “Democracy of Kings.” It includes a section about the orchestra’s history under the Nazis, but makes no mention of the award given to Schirach.

Walser further claims that after the war, an emissary of the Vienna Philharmonic had a new copy of the ring made and gave it to Schirach in 1966 following his release from Berlin’s Spandau Prison for war criminals.

Hellsberg has denied that there was any record of these events in the orchestra’s extensive archive.

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