Berlin Philharmonic 'was obedient servant of Hitler'

The Berlin Philharmonic played before giant swastika backdrops and performed dutifully for Adolf Hitler during the Nazi era when the orchestra willingly allowed itself to be used as propaganda to enhance the reputation of the Reich.

This portrayal of Germany's best-known orchestra as an obedient servant of National Socialism is provided in a new book, The Reich's Orchestra, by the Berlin-based Canadian historian Misha Aster.

The book explains in detail how Hitler's Nazi party and the cash-strapped orchestra each profited from what Mr Aster shows was a symbiotic relationship which guaranteed the Philharmonic perks and security while providing the Reich with a cultural flagship.

Mr Aster reveals how the Philharmonic started life as an independent company owned by its musicians but was plunged into deepening debt during the depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Even before Hitler came to power, the orchestra was forced to beg for state subsidies.

When the Nazis took over in 1933, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda minister, who like Hitler was an obsessive music fan, found the orchestra more than ready to sign up to the regime. The Nazi party simply bought out the musicians and turned them into salaried civil servants.

"The pact with the Nazi regime resulted from the terrible financial situation the orchestra had found itself in since the mid-1920s, a certain feeling of superiority on the part of the orchestra collective, and from Goebbel's vision of cultural propaganda," Mr Aster said.

The arrangement allowed the Philharmonic to continue employing famous musicians such as its conductor, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and thus sustain its reputation as Germany's most elite orchestra.

"It was symptomatic of what became of Germany and German society as a whole - how easy it was to be seduced," Mr Aster said.

The Philharmonic's obligations to the regime included mandatory three-day performances to mark Hitler's birthday and compulsory concerts for the Hitler Youth, and the Nazi "Strength through Joy" recreation organisation.

The perks were fine old stringed instruments, some of them almost 200 years old, and an across-the-board exemption from military service. This rare privilege kept the Philharmonic's musicians playing until less than a month before the Red Army reached Berlin.

Furtwängler used his position to protect four Jewish members of the Philharmonic. However, all of them, including Szymon Goldberg, the lead violinist, left Germany after two years of Nazi rule as anti-Semitism worsened.

In Germany, Mr Aster's book has been welcomed as an original if not groundbreaking. "It is extraordinary that Misha Aster's book was not written much earlier," wrote Wolf Lepenie in Die Welt.

Mr Aster provides an explanation for the late publication. From 1955 until 1989, the Philharmonic was run by Herbert von Karajan, who joined the Nazi party in 1930s. After the war, he was initially barred from conducting. Mr Aster said questions on the Nazi era were "not welcome" during the tenure of the domineering Von Karajan.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory