Vienna - The Vienna Philharmonic said Tuesday it has tasked three historians with delving into the prestigious orchestra's Nazi past following revelations about its honouring of war criminals, including one in 1966.

Fritz Truempi, Oliver Rathkolb and Bernadette Mayrhofer will look into the “politicisation” of the Austrian orchestra from 1938-1945, the fate of Jewish musicians and “denazification” afterwards, a statement said.

The announcement comes after Green party lawmaker and historian Harald Walser sparked a debate on the eve of the orchestra's famous New Year's Concert this year by attacking the “deathly silence” over its past.

According to Walser, the former “Gauleiter” or governor of Vienna Baldur von Schirach was awarded the orchestra's prestigious Honorary Ring after being released from Spandau prison - in 1966.

Von Schirach, convicted of crimes against humanity and imprisoned at the Nuremberg trials, had “called the deportation of 185,000 Austrian Jews a 'contribution to European culture'“, Walser said.

Another recipient, in 1942, of the award was Arthur Seyss-Inquart, “Reichskommissar” of the occupied Netherlands where he organised the deportation to their deaths of 100 000 Jews. He was executed in 1946.

Mayrhofer and the orchestra's spokesman, violinist Clemens Hellsberg, published a 1988 brochure saying that six Jewish musicians from the Philharmonic were murdered by the Nazis in Austria, and 11 deported to death camps.

Truempi has written a book on the subject and Rathkolb recently unearthed new information about famed conductor Herbert von Karajan under Hitler. The three historians will publish their report in March. - Sapa-AFP