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Feb 2014 Journal

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‘Yes, I remember Vienna’

And I remember that line spoken by Max Adrian, the actor and comedian, in drag, gently mocking the Viennese refugees with their nostalgia for the coffee houses and elegant lifestyle! That must have been during the war, when bitter-sweet revues were still acceptable and before we knew the full story.
I have always remembered Vienna. I was ten years old when we left, just six weeks before the war, my parents and I together - the luckiest day of my life. Very few in our large family were as lucky. My childish memories of Vienna, coloured by my parents’ stories of cultural and intellectual pursuits, by their appreciation of beauty and their love of the city, were somewhat clouded by my experience of exclusion from school and every activity I enjoyed, of bewilderment and fear and humiliation.
Like many of us, I have been invited several times to visit Vienna as a guest of the Jewish Welcome Service (JWS). Twice I made an excuse, the third time - last October - my family persuaded me to go and I did. Other Viennese refugees have written about the kindness and dedication of the largely non-Jewish organisers, the generosity and efficiency of the JWS, the appropriately sensitive programme. And all that is true. There was much talk of reconciliation, restoration, recompense, resilience and restitution. But in a fabled coffee house, I heard an older couple talk about Austria’s need for a ‘strong leader’.
The gracious grandeur of the city moved me but I couldn’t feel comfortable. Then something happened that transformed my visit. The Vienna Philharmonic had issued an invitation to the descendants of exiled and murdered Jewish players to coincide with our stay. We joined together for some events but we were not programmed to attend concerts. It just happened that on a free afternoon a few of us were offered the opportunity to listen to a rehearsal of Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony. That was all we expected: the privilege of hearing music in the gorgeous, gilded Musikverein (all performances were sold out). We were seated in a box next to the stage; the orchestra was already on stage. Enter Dr Hellsberg, the Vorstand of the Vienna Phiharmonic. There is no exact translation of Vorstand - it is a mixture of head, chief, principal, chief executive, director, chairman - but Dr Hellsberg is none of these. He plays the violin as a member of the orchestra; he is not the leader, he is the elected representative and speaks for the musicians.
Dr Hellsberg welcomed the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the musicians who ‘disappeared’. Then came the moment: he asked the players sitting at the desks of the victims to leave the stage and the family members of the victims to take their places. Then he addressed the musicians and the ghosts of musicians and their descendants:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of the Vienna Philharmonic:*
This is a very special day which is unique in the annals of our Orchestra's rich history. It is very significant for us all to have with us today a group of people who are the descendants of members of our Orchestra who were exiled or murdered during the era of National Socialism. On behalf of the Vienna Philharmonic, I extend to them the warmest of welcomes.
Three of these people are Charlotte Slodki, her daughter Linda, and her nephew Roger Salander - the daughter and two grandchildren of our exiled second violinist Berthold Salander. Despite her 93 years, Charlotte has come all the way from New York with her daughter. Roger Salander lives in Breitenfurt and is known to many of us as a clarinetist and teacher at the Conservatory.
We welcome Lilly Drukker, the daughter of our exiled first violinist Josef Geringer, who has come from Philadelphia with her husband. She is 86 years old and a stellar witness to history. We greatly admired her appearance in the documentary Schatten der Vergangenheit (Shadows of the Past).
We are also pleased that Eva Perigo and her son, Peter Lancaster, are here today. They live in England and are the granddaughter and great-grandson of our former oboist, Armin Tyroler, who was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz. At the time of her escape from Austria, Eva Perigo was just two and a half years old.
Two other relatives of persecuted Vienna Philharmonic musicians now residing in Austria whom we also welcome are Mag. Helen Rupertsberger-Kopp, the niece of our second violinist Leopold Föderl, who returned to Vienna after the war and taught here at the Academy. We also welcome Mr Kurt Schmid, the nephew of Rudolf Jettel, our principal clarinetist for many years and a prominent teacher.
I am very happy that all these honoured guests were able to accept our invitation and spend a week in Vienna, where, in addition to today’s rehearsal, they will visit our museum and archives and hear the concert on Sunday. At this time, I would like to thank Mag. Bernadette Mayrhofer, who not only compiled the detailed and well-researched biographies of the exiled and murdered Philharmonic members for our website but also personally established contact with their relatives. It is she who paved the way for the presence of our guests here today and it was she who, together with Simone Iberer, dealt with the logistical aspects of flights and assistance.
We owe additional gratitude to the Jewish Welcome Service as well as to Mag. Susanne Trauneck and Mag. Milli Segal. It is fitting that our guests have been integrated into the Jewish Welcome Service’s programme. This has special meaning for me because it reminds me so vividly of our collaboration with Leon Zelman, who was so closely involved with us, and with me personally, regarding the Memorial Concert in Mauthausen in 2000. I believe he would have been very pleased with today’s events.
Leon Zelman, whose family was eradicated and who himself survived several concentration camps, always endeavoured to present the Vienna of today to exiles and survivors of the National Socialist dictatorship. In his spirit, ladies and gentleman, we introduce to you the Vienna Philharmonic of today. We are well aware that we live not only for the here and now but, as we look towards the future, we have the responsibility of dealing with the Orchestra’s past. With this in mind we see ourselves as an association that has existed for 171 years and of which every musician holds permanent membership. This is especially true of our exiled and murdered colleagues. Twenty-five years ago we paid tribute to them in our concert programmes, the same as we have done this year on our website. This Saturday we will unveil a commemorative plaque in the Vienna Philharmonic Museum.
But the most important fact is that the memory of the victims from among our ranks is of special concern to us - that their memory remains vivid. That is why we wish to welcome you here, on the stage of the world’s most beautiful concert hall, where your fathers and grandfathers performed and where they made their contributions to the Vienna Philharmonic. We do this neither out of a sense of duty nor as Vergangenheitsbewältigung - coming to terms with the past. I regard this expression as problematical as it implies the concept of making amends. But there is no way to make amends for a murder and there is no way to make amends for the damage to a soul caused by persecution and expulsion. There is nothing which can repair one’s own mistakes and omissions: what happened or didn’t happen is now a part of history.
But in the awareness of our own history and our own responsibility we can establish new parameters. We hope that through our invitation and your time spent with the Vienna Philharmonic, you will be assured that the sufferings and sacrifices of your fathers, grandfathers and relatives have sharpened our senses to the ethical and moral responsibilities which our orchestra must exercise. Your ancestors have the unique place which they deserve, in our consciousness and in our hearts.
The conductor rose to his feet and the musicians silently exchanged places again with the descendants. The emotional rehearsal of stirring music composed by a devout Christian seemed fitting. It finally gave us permission to weep.

Hedi Schnabl-Argent

previous article:A tale from the November Pogrom
next article:Art Notes