Germany’s Hitparade 1930-37
Listening to this mix, previously posted in 2010, the other day, I thought it might be useful to recycle it, especially since with the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 the era is of heightened interest again. Obviously, if you want this mix, and the second one I’ll repost next week, because you are nostalgic for the Third Reich, you are not welcome to it. As Indiana Jones so memorably put it: “Nazis. I hate these guys.”
This is the first of two compilations of German hits covering the era from the rise of Nazism to its demise. The first compilation leads us through the latter years of the Weimar Republic to 1937, just before war became an inevitable prospect. The second mix will start in 1938 — the year of the Anschluß, or annexation of Austria — through the war to 1944 (there were no hits in 1945, it seems).
None of the pre-war Schlager featured here are of the Nazi propaganda sort, and even the propaganda of the war-period songs is subtle, framing national optimism and encouragement in romantic song (with sentiments such as “I know one day there’ll be a miracle” and “Everything must pass”), which was very much in line with Goebbels’ propaganda strategy which used film and song to distract the Volk’s mind from matters of war.
The careers of some of the artists featured in the first mix ended with the advent of Nazism. Marlene Dietrich (1901-92), whose Ich bin die fesche Lola comes from Der Blaue Engel (filmed simultaneously as The Blue Angel in 1929), launched her Hollywood career before Hitler assumed power on 31 January 1933. While Dietrich agitated against the Nazis from the safety of Hollywood, her sister ran a cinema near the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, frequented mainly by SS guards. Marlene renounced her sister as a result, yet after the war helped her financially. In post-war West Germany, Dietrich was long regarded by many as a traitor on account of her support for the Allies in WW2. At a 1960 concert in Düsseldorf, an audience member threw an egg at her (in fairness, other audience members gave the offender a good beating for his troubles).
The sextett Comedian Harmonists created many pre-Nazi classics which became German standards (such as Veronika, der Lenz ist da; Wochenend und Sonnenschein; Ein Freund, ein guter Freund; Mein kleiner Kaktus). Half of the group comprised Jewish members, and the group struggled soon after the Nazis took power. In 1934 the group was prohibited from performing in Germany; after a year of foreign tours it split in 1936. The three Jewish members emigrated, and formed a band which toured under the original name; the three Aryans formed a new group called the Meistersextett. Likewise, the Hungarian Jewish singer Gitta Alpár (1903-91) left Germany after 1933, and was divorced by her Aryan actor husband Gustav Fröhlich on top of that.
Richard Tauber (1891-1948), the Austrian tenor who was the subject of Tom Waits’ blues, was the son of a Jew who had converted to Catholicism, and had even hoped Richard would become a priest. Instead, Richard joined the stage, appearing in operas and operettas. Already a big star in Germany, Tauber was badly beaten up by Nazi thugs, presumably because of his Jewish ancestry, and left Germany for Austria. He fled his homeland after its annexation. He subsequently became a British citizen, and died in London at the age of 57.
Then there was the tragic Joseph Schmidt (1904-42), a Jewish tenor who was among the first artists to be banned from German radio by the Nazis. A few months after the release of his film Ein Lied geht um die Welt (the title track features on this set; see the video clip from the film) in May 1933, Schmidt fled Germany for Vienna, then after the Anschluß to Belgium, then after its invasion by Germany to France, and following France’s occupation to neutral Switzerland, where he arrived in September 1942. Several escape attempts had weakened Schmidt, leading to his collapse on a Zürich street. He was identified as a Jewish refugee, a category that in Swiss law was not regarded as political emigrés, and taken to the internment camp Girenbad while his residence application was being processed. While interned he fell ill and was treated in a hospital for an inflammation of the throat. The doctors refused to follow up his complaint about chest pains, and Schmidt was returned to Girenbad. Two days later, on November 16, he died of a heart attack. The following day, his approved residence permit arrived.
Just as dramatic is the story of Renate Müller (1906-37). Müller was a movie star (appearing in 1933’s Viktor und Viktoria, a movie banned by the Nazis and remade in English in 1980 as Victor/Victoria, from which the featured song comes. See video clip). After the departure of Marlene Dietrich, Adolf Hitler himself asked the beautiful, thoroughly Aryan Müller to make Nazi propaganda movies. She refused to do so, and also resisted pressure to split from her Jewish lover. Her sudden death at 31 in 1937 was attributed to epilepsy, but in reality she died after falling from a window. It might have been suicide, but Gestapo officers were seen entering the building shortly before. She might have jumped in a panic at the approach of the feared secret police, or she might have been pushed the agents. There are rumours that Müller had some incriminating information on Hitler.
The Polish-born actress Pola Negri (1897-1987), the famous femme fatale of Hollywood’s silent movies era and former lover of Rudolfo Valentino and Charlie Chaplin, had returned to Europe after her career floundered with the advent of the talkies and after losing a fortune in the Wall Street Crash. She acted in a few Goebbels-commissioned films, then fled Germany in 1938 as rumours of her part-Jewish ancestry appeared. Other rumours concerned an alleged affair with Hitler, who counted the Negri movie Mazurka among his favourites. Negri won a libel suit against a French magazine that had made the claim.
Like the unfortunate Joseph Schmidt, many artists left Germany as the horror of life under the Nazis began to reveal itself. The movie folks and writers among them, Jewish and gentile, tended to move to the US. These included the comic actor Siegfried Arno (1895-1975), who in his day was known as “the German Chaplin”. But the USA had no great demand for singers. So many of them continued their careers in Germany. Some of them surely had Nazi sympathies, or at least exhibited exceedingly high levels of pragmatism and wilful ignorance. Some, like Dutch-born singing hoofer Johannes Heesters, Swedish diva Zarah Leander or Führer-favourite Lale Andersen, would claim that they had no idea about politics, as though one needed the insights of a Chomsky to realise that very bad things indeed were happening under the swastika, even while cocooned in the protective shell of celebrity.
But it would be an error to believe that all artists were supportive of the Nazis. Hans Albers (1891-1960), one of the biggest stars in Nazi Germany, despised the Nazis. The regime forced him to officially split from his half-Jewish girlfriend, Hansi Burg, but he continued to live with her. In 1939, he arranged for her escape to Switzerland. When she returned to post-war Germany, Albers dropped his girlfriend at the time to reunite with Burg, with whom he lived until his death in 1960. His Flieger, grüss mir die Sonne is sometimes considered a Nazi propaganda anthem. It was nothing of the sort, at least not in intent. Released the year before the Nazis took power, Albers sung it in the sci-fi film F.P. 1 Antwortet Nicht.
Paul Hörbiger (1894-1981), an Hungarian-Austrian actor, became a resistance fighter against the Nazis. Arrested by the Nazis in 1945, he was sentenced to death for treason, with the BBC even reporting his death. Hörbiger lived, and enjoyed a long career on film, TV and stage which ended just a year before his death in 1981 at 86. Long revered in Germany and Austria as a grand old gentleman of stage and screen, Hörbiger’s film credits include the classic The Third Man, in which he played Harry Lime’s nameless porter.
Hans Söhnker (1903-1981) was discovered just as the Nazis took power. With some fellow actors of much courage he helped hide Jews on the run from the Nazis. Reportedly Söhnker was blacklisted by the Gestapo on several occasions because of these activities, with his celebrity presumably protecting him from the serious consequences non-famous Germans risked doing the same noble thing. He went on to have a long, fruitful career in Germany, where there was much affection for him.
Lilian Harvey (1906-1968) was born in London to English and German parents. During WW1, her father worked in Magdeburg, preventing the family from returning to England. Lilian might have become a big British star; instead her career hit the big time in Germany. After a failed attempt at breaking through in Hollywood, she drew the attention of the Gestapo in the ’30s for her refusal to disassociate from her Jewish friends. Based in France after war, she resumed her career in West Germany.
Others were apolitical. Heinz Rühmann (1902-94) was one of Germany’s biggest stars for close to six decades (he appeared in the excellent 1930 comedy Die drei von der Tankstelle, and in a 1941propaganda comedy with the entirely unfortunate title Der Gasmann, which, unusually for comedies, liberally used the “Heil Hitler” salute). Rühmann, reportedly Anne Frank’s favourite actor, presented himself in public as entirely apolitical, but after the war he was accused of having divorced his Jewish wife in 1938 so as to protect his career in the Third Reich. However, his next wife, Hertha Feiler, (with whom he remained until her death in 1975) had a Jewish grandfather, which caused Rühmann some trouble with the Nazi hierarchy. A Rühmann & Feiler duet appears on the second mix.
Willi Forst (1903-80), an Austrian actor, director and singer, was highly regarded by the Nazis, and made movies commissioned by them (including that Hitler favourite starring Pola Negri). After the war he defended himself from accusations of having been a sell-out, referring to his country’s “occupation” (for which his compatriots had voted, of course) and pointing to subtle subversion in his films. The fine actor Curd Jürgens later recalled Forst’s advice during the Nazi era to never make any political statement in case it might come back later to bite him.
Actor Willy Fritsch (1901-73) was a member of the NSDAP, though he made no political statements in his films other than the 1944 propaganda flick Junge Adler (which featured post-war movie star Hardy Krüger and 1970s TV host Dietmar Schönherr). Fritsch’s Nazi party membership was not held against him after the war, when he was one of Germany’s most popular actors. Singing with him on Ich wollt’ ich wär’ ein Huhn, recycled from the film Glückskinder, is Lilian Harvey (video clip). Their lyric is different from the more comedic version of Die Goldene Sieben (more about whom in part 2), who draw some verses from the movie version of the song, including the notion that Mickey Mouse lives in a mousehole. In the hit version Fritsch is more interested in being a chicken so that he need not have to go to the office. And it is that everyday-man persona with which he cemented his acting career.
In some of these post-war roles he played the father to young Romy Schneider’s characters. The ill-fated Romy was the daughter of the committed Austrian Nazi actor Wolf Albach-Retty and Magda Schneider (1909-96), of whom it is said that she had been close to Adolf Hitler. Like Heesters and Fritsch, her post-war career was not inhibited by the taint of Nazi associations. Another performer with a dodgy Third Reich record could never be taken to task: the Viennese crooner Luigi Bernauer (1899-1945) died in Oslo while on a tour entertaining German troops in occupied territories.
1. Marlene Dietrich – Ich Bin Die Fesche Lola (1930)
2. Comedian Harmonists – Ein Freund, Ein Guter Freund (1930)
3. Siegfried Arno – Wenn Die Elisabeth Nicht So Schöne Beine Hätt (1930)
4. Richard Tauber – Adieu, Mein Kleiner Gardeoffizier (1930)
5. Paul Hörbiger – Das Muß Ein Stück Vom Himmel Sein (1931)
6. Lilian Harvey – Das Gibt’s Nur Einmal (1931)
7. Gitta Alpar – Was Kann So Schön Sein Wie Deine Liebe (1932)
8. Hans Albers – Flieger, Grüß’ Mir Die Sonne (1932)
9. Die Weintraubs – Wenn Wieder Frühling Ist (1933)
10. Joseph Schmidt – Ein Lied Geht Um Die Welt (1933)
11. Renate Müller – An einem Tag im Frühling (1934)
12. Comedian Harmonists – Gitarren spielt auf (1934)
13. Herbert Ernst Groh – Ein Walzer für dich (1934)
14. Hilde Hildebrandt – Liebe ist ein Geheimnis (1934)
15. Eric Helgar – Wir wollen Freunde sein für’s ganze Leben (1934)
16. Erwin Hartung – Kannst du pfeifen, Johanna (1934)
17. Luigi Bernauer – Nachts Ging Das Telefon (1935)
18. Jan Kiepura – Ob Blond, Ob Braun, Ich Liebe Alle Frau’n (1935)
19. Pola Negri – Wenn Die Sonne Hinter Den Dächern versinkt (1936)
20. Hans Albers – Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins (1936)
21. Willy Fritsch & Lilian Harvey – Ich wollt’ ich wär ein Huhn (1936)
22. Die Goldene Sieben – Ich wollt’ ich wär ein Huh (1936)
23. Die Metropol Vokalisten – Buh-Buh (1937)
24. Hans Söhnker & Magda Schneider – Wem gehört Ihr Herz am nächsten Sonntag, Fräulein? (1937)
25. Heinz Rühmann & Hans Albers – Jawohl, Meine Herren (1937)
26. Johannes Heesters – Ich werde jede Nacht von Ihnen träumen (1937)
27. Willy Forst – Kapriolen (1937)
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