VIENNA — When armed forces stormed the State Opera here during a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” on March 11, 1938, prominent players from the Vienna Philharmonic, fled through the back door and would never regain their positions.
The solo bassoonist Hugo Burghauser was removed from his post as chairman and replaced with Wilhelm Jerger, a member of the Nazi Party. By the next week, all other orchestra members affected by the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws had been expelled.
More than 80 years later, after the Vienna Philharmonic’s 180th anniversary and before its next New Year’s Concert, the orchestra’s current chairman, Daniel Froschauer, has decided to commemorate the players who were victimized during World War II.
In 2023, Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones” for the 16 lost members will be laid in the sidewalk in front of their former homes in the Austrian capital. An additional stone will be laid for Alma Rosé, daughter of the veteran concert master Arnold Rosé. The tradition of creating these small plaques to memorialize victims of the Holocaust began in Germany in 1992. The Philharmonic stones include the name of each player, their position with the orchestra, and when and where they died.
On March 28, a chamber music concert will take place in front of the onetime building of the Rosés. Also planned is a concert with the orchestra’s academy at the Theresienstadt ghetto in May.
In a recent interview, Mr. Froschauer recalled arriving on New York’s Upper West Side as a student in 1982, violin case in hand, and being greeted enthusiastically by local residents of Austrian Jewish descent. Among the people he contacted at his father’s behest was Burghauser, who died three months after they spoke by phone.
Mr. Froschauer pointed out that while Burghauser was fortunate to find work through the support of the conductor Arturo Toscanini — playing in the Toronto Symphony before joining the NBC Symphony Orchestra and then the ensemble of the Metropolitan Opera — others were left to struggle. Seven members were murdered or died during the war.
“There was something inside me that hadn’t yet been worked out,” Mr. Froschauer said of the effort to pay tribute to the lost musicians. “This project should a create a consciousness for what these people had to endure.”
Postwar Vienna was slow to face wartime atrocities. According to Fritz Trümpi, author of “The Political Orchestra: The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics During the Third Reich,” the remaining Vienna players seemed more interested in symbolic gestures. With former party members as the majority of the executive committee into the 1960s, the orchestra’s attitude was marked by a kind of indifference, he explains in his book, and attempts to ward off responsibility.
“When the question of financial compensation comes up — pensions, extra pay — the orchestra members dismiss them with at times crude arguments,” Mr. Trümpi said in an interview. “It is all the more bitter in a situation when someone is sick but told, ‘You will receive nothing, you are not here anymore.’”
The Philharmonic granted modest financial support mostly because of “image concerns,” he concluded in the book “Orchestrated Expulsion,” written with Bernadette Mayrhofer. Among the beneficiaries was the violinist Berthold Salander, who arrived in New York a ruined man and never resumed his orchestra activities.
The violinist Ludwig Wittels had to leave his position with the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera because he had lung cancer. According to “Orchestrated Expulsion,” requests for financial aid from Vienna led to an exchange in which the orchestra’s chairman and executive director accused him and his wife of “blackmail.” They ultimately granted a sum that was a tiny fraction of the funds allocated for a U.S. tour in 1956. Wittels died in December of that year.
In 1952, seven exiled members of the orchestra were presented with silver medals celebrating its centenary at the Austrian Consulate in New York — an event originally planned for 1948. “Overdue,” read the headline in The New York Times on Dec. 21.
Efforts to reconcile the orchestra with its ousted members met with resistance on both sides. The violinist Dr. Daniel Falk, who lost several close family members to the Holocaust, replied to an invitation to rejoin the Philharmonic in 1946 that a return would “raise questions” that neither he nor his “adored colleagues” were “in the position to solve.”
The Argentine-born Ricardo Odnoposoff became an exception, returning to Vienna as a professor in 1956 and appearing as a soloist with the Philharmonic where he once served as concert master. The violinist Leopold Förderl and his wife, Eva, who was Jewish, also returned to their home city, in 1953.
Michael Haas, senior researcher at the Exilarte Center for Banned Music at Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts, said that postwar Austria in general was reluctant to welcome back former citizens who had the right to reparations because it “would have bankrupted the country.” In turn, he continued, the fact that Austria emerged from the war “relatively unscathed” may have led to resentment among Jewish families.
He said that in the past decade, however, the Philharmonic had undertaken a “much more honest and sober appraisal” of its history: “I would probably say that we’ve seen the orchestra begin to confront its own past and deal with some of its issues.”
Mr. Trümpi noted that there was still “a need for discussion,” and not only with regard to the history of the Philharmonic. Ms. Mayrhofer, his co-author on “Orchestrated Expulsion,” has estimated that about 100 workers at the State Opera — from stagehands to choristers — were ousted, exiled or murdered after the events of 1938.
Ms. Mayrhofer has also found that Jerger, who took over as chairman in 1938, tried to save five members of the Philharmonic from deportation in 1941, but that his efforts were too late: All of them died in the Holocaust. He did manage, however, to facilitate the release of the violinist Josef Geringer from the Dachau concentration camp in December 1938 (he emigrated to New York, passing away in 1979).
The Philharmonic recently acquired the correspondence of the former concert master Franz Mairecker, who remained in touch with the cellist Friedrich Buxbaum after he emigrated to London (they were close friends and chamber music partners). And Clemens Hellsberger, chairman of the Philharmonic from 1997 to 2014, is updating his 1992 book “Democracy of the Kings,” a history of the orchestra that reckons with World War II and its aftermath.
Mr. Haas said reinstating repertoire by Jewish composers that was performed before the war would represent a further step in repairing cultural damage. He noted that Meyerbeer’s “Robert le diable” (performed in German as “Robert der Teufel”) was one of the most popular works at the Vienna State Opera in the second half of the 19th century. He also mentioned Karl Goldmark’s “Könign von Saba” (Queen of Sheba), which premiered there in 1875 and remained in repertoire until December 1937.
The operetta composer Jacques Offenbach, who visited Vienna frequently and inspired Johann Strauss to write “Die Fledermaus,” was also well received before World War II. Operettas in Viennese dialect, such as the works of Edmund Eysler, also thrived.
With the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, local traditions were altered to fit antisemitic propaganda. For example, the National Socialists modified baptismal documents to conceal the fact that Strauss had a Jewish great-grandfather, while Mr. Trümpi’s research has revealed that more than 40 percent of the Vienna Philharmonic’s programming from 1940 to 1945 consisted of works by the Strauss dynasty.
On Dec. 31, 1939, a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic performing Strauss works served to support the War Winter Relief Program. After World War II, the tradition continued as a vehicle of hope and joy on the first day of every year.
This year’s New Year’s Concert includes works by Carl Michael Ziehrer and Franz von Suppé — and Josef Hellmesberger Jr., who in addition to playing and teaching violin served as the Philharmonic chairman and composed ballets.
Among Hellmesberger’s students was Fritz Kreisler, a prodigy who began his conservatory studies at age 7 and emigrated to New York in 1938. He had performed as a soloist with both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, premiering Elgar’s Violin Concerto in 1910 (an exhibit is currently on view at the Exilarte Center for Banned Music).
Mr. Haas said that “it is only slowly beginning to seep in” to what extent Austrian Jewish musicians contributed to Viennese cultural life. Although there were also prominent doctors, scientists and writers, he explained, “music was greater than any other discipline.”
For Mr. Froschauer, laying down the “stumbling stones” for the lost members of his orchestra is a moving opportunity to create awareness about the challenges these individuals faced while the rest of the ensemble was able to carry on with a degree of normalcy.
“One should simply never forget,” he said. “This is a very late apology and a sign of gratitude for their accomplishments.”