LONDON (EJP)--- A Holocaust-survivor who went on to become one of Britain’s most famous orchestra conductors has been accused of being a Nazi sympathiser, in an explosive academic study which has left his family devastated.
Rudolf Schwarz arrived in Britain as a refugee at the end of World War Two after surviving the notorious Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camps, where hundreds of thousands were killed.
Schwarz, a Jew of Austrian upbringing who spent much of his early professional life in Germany, went on to conduct Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and – eventually – the prestigious BBC Symphony Orchestra, becoming one of Britain’s best-known musicians.
However now, more than a decade after his death in 1994, an academic study by a Birmingham University PhD student has thrown into doubt the legacy of a man previously regarded as a survivor and renowned musician, and has caused fury with his family.
The paper, by Dr Charlotte Exon, accused Schwarz of being “Hitler’s willing victim,” alleging he “sympathised and collaborated with the Nazi regime”.
Dr Exon also claimed Schwarz “like the majority of Germans… undoubtedly welcomed Hitler as the nation’s answer to the political and economic chaos” and chose to live in Germany under Nazi rule instead of trying to leave.
Under the Nazis, Schwarz was persecuted because of his Jewish faith, removed from his role as musical director of Germany’s Jewish Cultural Organisation when it was closed by the Gestapo, and imprisoned in Labour camps, Auschwitz and finally, Bergen-Belsen. After surviving, he fled to the UK.
The analysis that he initially backed the Nazis has drawn fury and outrage from Mr Schwarz’s step-son, Peter Ohlson, who in 2005 submitted a 700-page dossier highlighting what he claimed were omissions, distortions and inaccuracies in the thesis.
In a statement after a lengthy investigation, Birmingham University admitted it had discovered “some inaccuracies in the use of the source material” and a “problematic nature of her treatment of the Nazi period,” yet it refused to dismiss the thesis as a whole and claimed it was “satisfied” that “Charlotte Exon’s doctoral thesis was entirely in accordance with the standards required for a PhD”.
It also claimed the PhD showed Dr Exon’s clear admiration of Mr Schwarz and “honoured” him.
Speaking to the European Jewish Press, however, Ohlson said he was determined to battle on to clear his late step-father’s name, claiming he had won the support of two famous Holocaust-surviving musicians, Anita Lasker Wallfisch, an eminent British cellist who survived Auschwitz and Belsen, and Henry Meyer, an American violinist and teacher who survived Auschwitz and recently died.
“I intend to continue my protest by the best means available to me,” he said.
“Birmingham University effectively covers up the number and seriousness of the flaws in this thesis.
“What is particularly distressing is the university’s Orwellian insistence that the author of the thesis clearly admired Rudolf Schwarz and has honoured him – while allowing her the obscene and unsubstantiated claims that he supported Nazism, was a collaborator and was ‘Hitler’s willing victim.’”
Claiming he had been “strongly supported” by Wallfisch and Meyer, Ohlson added: “Henry Meyer wrote to me shortly before his death last December: ‘Do not let this pass.’
“Anita Lasker Wallfisch has written a strong letter of protest to the Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University.”
Yet, in a lengthy statement, a University of Birmingham spokeswoman said the thesis was balanced. "The university is satisfied that the supervision and subsequent examination of Charlotte Exon’s doctoral thesis was entirely in accordance with the standards required for a PhD,” she said.
“It therefore has absolute confidence that the award of the doctorate, after rigorous and scrupulous external examination, was fully merited.”
Yet, the spokeswoman added that after receiving Ohlson’s letter in March 2005, it took the decision to “appoint an appropriately qualified independent reviewer, external to the university”.
She said that the investigation showed that “overall, Dr Exon’s PhD conveys strong admiration for Schwarz”.
The spokeswoman added: “In the reviewer’s opinion, it was regrettable that there were some inaccuracies in the use of the source material, however the reviewer concluded that this did not ’invalidate the thesis as a whole’.
“In fact, the reviewer’s conclusion states that: ’Despite the problematic nature of her treatment of the Nazi period, I think Dr Exon presents a measured and balanced interpretation of the subject matter, and can find no evidence that she was engaged in a mendacious campaign to smear a figure she clearly admires.’”