Vienna Philharmonic's Nazi past detailed

Governor of Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart (left) standing by German conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler and musicians, in 1938 in Vienna This 1938 picture show Governor of Austria Arthur Seyss-Inquart (left) with German conductor Wilhelm Furtwaengler and musicians in Vienna

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Almost half the musicians in the Vienna Philharmonic during World War II were members of the Nazi party, new research has revealed.

A panel of historians also revealed that 13 musicians were driven out of the orchestra for being Jewish or married to Jews.

The report follows claims of a cover-up by the world famous orchestra.

Austria is due to mark the 75th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany on Tuesday.

The Anschluss (union) was complete when German forces marched into the country unopposed on 12 March 1938.

Ring mystery

For decades the Philharmonic allowed only selective access to its archives.

But political pressure led the orchestra to commission three historians, led by Oliver Rathkolb, to delve deeper into the years 1938-45.

Mr Rathkolb also attempted to solve a mystery surrounding a ring of honour presented to Baldur von Schirach, a Nazi governor of Vienna, who oversaw the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews.

The ring, originally presented in 1942, was lost by Von Schirach but a replacement was given to him, apparently in late 1966, after his release from Spandau prison for crimes against humanity.

For years, historians have tried to uncover the identity of the man who gave Von Schirach the replacement ring.

According to historian Wilhelm Bettelheim, who was interviewed in a documentary film on Sunday, the man in question was Helmut Wobisch, a trumpeter who was a member of the Nazi party and later joined Hitler's notorious Waffen SS.

Wobisch was sacked in 1945 but resumed his career six years later.

Mr Rathkolb describes the interview as "very plausible".

Nazi parade in Vienna after 1938 Anschluss There were Nazi parades on the streets of Vienna following the 1938 Anschluss

The BBC's Kerry Skyring in Vienna says that - like Austria itself - the Vienna Philharmonic has been slow to get to grips with its past during World War II.

But for the first time historians have been given access to records detailing the orchestra's role as a Nazi propaganda tool and the persecution of its Jewish members, our correspondent adds.

Details revealed on Sunday showed that 60 of the orchestra's 123 musicians were members of the Nazi party - a much higher percentage than in the broader Austrian population.

Of the 13 musicians driven out of the orchestra for being Jewish or married to Jews, five died in concentration camps, others were deported, but none returned, the report says.

There are details too on how the orchestra's famous New Year's Day Concert had its origins as a propaganda instrument for the Nazis.

The historians' full report will be published on the orchestra's website on Tuesday - the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss.

The revelation that a replacement ring was given to Von Schirach after his release from prison came to light only recently. Von Schirach's son Richard wrote about it in a book in 2004 but refused to name the man who gave it to his father.

Orchestra Chairman Clemens Hellberg had initially been accused of failing to include details of the Philharmonic's Nazi links in his 1992 book Democracy of Kings, which is widely regarded as the orchestra's official history.

He has since said he did not have access to all the relevant documents when he wrote the book.

On Sunday Mr Hellberg said the historians' report was "long overdue". But, he added, "we know that we are together on the same path".

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