Volksoper Vienna Examines the Fates of its Jewish Musicians During the Nazi Era

Der Standard, November 28, 2018

German Original: https://derstandard.at/2000092478402/Volksoper-beleuchtet-die-Schicksale-ihrer-juedischen-Musiker-zur-Nazizeit

Volksoper Vienna faces the dark chapter of its history. The book „Her services are no longer required” illuminates the fates.

It must have been one of the strangest encounters of his life – but in hindsight also a very useful warning: in 1931 a few politically interested friends take Karl Lustig-Prean to a pastry shop next to the Munich Opera. There, one would usually meet a guy lecturing. Rumbling, that person emphasizes his sympathy for musical people. Even in politics, the man with the brush-like black moustache wishes for contemporaries with strong musical sentiment. But while he utters, the hysteric hits the table with his hand. Strangely enough, this has never annoyed anyone, people have gotten used to it. And: „many women loved him as a messiah.“ Such are the memories of Lustig-Prean, who, together with Jean Ernest became the director of the Volksoper Vienna.

In 1937, Karl Lustig-Prean emigrated to Brazil, in time before the Anschluss, before things would have gotten very uncomfortable for him. And maybe the above encounter with Hitler in Munich opened his eyes wide to the dangerous future.

Not all artists of the Volksoper, whose fates Marie- Theres Arnborn describes in her book „Ihre Dienste werden nicht mehr benötigt,“ were this prescient.

Greetings and a Kiss

Just a few examples: the librettist Fritz Löhner-Beda was arrested on March 13, 1938 and deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where he wrote Das Buchenwaldlied with Hermann Leopoldi. In 1942 Löhner-Beda was murdered. The soprano Ada Hecht was banished to Theresienstadt; in 1942, she and her husband were deported to Auschwitz, where both were murdered. The concertmaster Fritz Brunner, on the other hand, avoids deportation to Auschwitz because he gives violin lessons to the child of the camp commander.

Central base of the book is the last production before the Nazis’ assumption of power: Gruß und Kuss aus der Wachau (composition: Jara Benes, texts: Hugo Wiener, Kurt Breuer and Fritz Löhner-Beda) was canceled right after the Anschluss and stands symbolically for the purges that artists of the Volksoper had to endure.

Those expulsions were also encouraged by the media: „Any of those dark figures has to be ripped from their comfortable lives. People who lived off the exploitation of their hosts belong in a holding camp. They should have to work once in their life without making any Rebbach. National Socialists, be on the lookout!“ scribbled the Arbeitersturm-Zeitung. In 1939, scornful stock is taken elsewhere: „Of course the Third Reich had to gradually eliminate the typical Jewish operetta – with the very pleasing result that those operetta theaters, who foster the Aryan operetta composers, have sold-out shows,“ is written in Reclams Operettenführer.

The pen pusher Hans Severus Ziegler was experienced in defamation. Via the exhibition Entartete Musik he already had disparaged Jazz, as well as work of the Second Vienna School.

In the land of Jazz, the United States, those who managed to leave the new “Naziland” in time became cultural ambassadors, who also got new developments going: Kurt Herbert Adler, conductor at the Volksoper, directed the San Francisco Opera for many years. The conductor Walter Herbert founded opera houses in San Diego and Houston and initiated the All Black Company in Jackson to offer Afro-American artists a chance to study.

Schönberg in Sweden

Walter Taussig, on the other hand, develops into a great coach to singers at New York’s Met, while Hans Holewa became an advocate of modernism surrounding the work of Schönberg in Sweden. His political disposition was to the left, leading to him being under observation in Sweden.

His brother Erich was even asked to leave the country and was later murdered in Auschwitz. The book, which the Volksoper commissioned on the occasion of its 120 year – anniversary, wrests unbelievable biographies from being forgotten. At the same time, it hints at the large number of destinies that remain unexplored. The daughter of the concertmaster Fritz Brunner and singer Paula Bäck tells the author that until recently „no one was ever interested in the fate of her parents.“

However, the reader will intensively learn how painful migration was. For example, Karl Lustig-Prean, the man who had met Hitler in time: “One imagines that being an emigrant is a calling or a profession. It was more an existence between worlds, a no more and not yet, a maybe never again or maybe a small glimpse of hope...“ (Ljubiša Tošić, 28.11.2018).