Central Vienna, Austria
Central Vienna, AustriaReuters

A former head of Vienna's prestigious Philharmonic Orchestra was a member of Nazi Germany's elite paramilitary SS and collaborated with the secret police, while half of its musicians were members of the Nazi party, historians said Sunday, according to an AFP report.

Helmut Wobisch, a member of the Nazi party since 1933 when it was still illegal in Austria, was the orchestra's managing director between 1954 and 1968 even though he had been dismissed at the end of World War II because of his ties to the Nazi regime.

Wobisch became a member of the SS in 1938 when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.

In 1966, he presented a replica of the orchestra's Honorary Ring to former Nazi youth leader Baldur von Schirach who was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Von Schirach, Vienna's local Nazi leader, had received the orchestra's highest distinction in 1942 but U.S. troops seized it when he was arrested in 1945.

Research by the independent group of historians which was coordinated by Vienna University professor Oliver Rathkolb and others was to shed light on the orchestra's political involvement during the 1938-45 period when Austria was under Nazi control.

Historians also looked into the biographies of orchestra members who were expelled, persecuted or killed for political or racist reasons, according to AFP.

They found, the report said, that six Jewish members of the orchestra were murdered and 10 deported to Nazi camps. None of those who emigrated, mainly to Britain and the United States, returned after World War II.

With 60 musicians out of a total of 123 members of the Nazi party, their percentage was well above that of the general population, which was about 10 percent.

Last month, the Austrian Academy of Sciences acknowledged that many of its scientists were members of the Nazi party and that some of its students served in the SS.

21 Jewish scientists were excluded from the Academy during World War II, including three Nobel laureates.

Out of the 21 banished Jewish academics, nine were murdered by Nazis during the war.

Meanwhile, a poll released Friday by the Market Institute for the Der Standard newspaper has found that 40 percent of Austrians believe things were not all bad under Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Researchers sampled 502 subjects throughout the country, of varying ages.

They found a rise in the number of respondents – 61 percent this time around, mostly elderly Austrians – who favored the idea of a “strong leader who does not have to worry about a parliament or elections” as a leader.

Of those surveyed, 42 percent said “not everything was bad under Hitler,” while 57 percent said they saw “no good aspects” to the Nazi era.

The poll was released in time to mark the country’s 75th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany, referred to as a “union,” or “Anschluss” with Germany in 1938. At that time, cheering crowds greeted Adolf Hitler when Austria was conquered in the bloodless coup by Germany.