Germany’s Hitparade 1938-45
This is the second part of the recycled German hitparade of the era just before and during the war. Again, if you dig genocidal fascism and want this mix to have a Nazi party, please go somewhere else.
In 1944, the Third Reich’s propaganda and culture minister Joseph Goebbels issued a list of artists who were exempted from military duty. The list included individuals deemed too valuable for sacrifice on the battlefield — and friends of the regime. The Gottbegnadeten-Liste (God-gifted list) included authors, architects, painters, sculptors, composers (including 80-year-old Richard Strauss), conductors as well as singers and actors. Those included on that list have featured on these two compilations included Willy Fritsch, Paul Hörbiger (soon to be arrested for resistance activities), Hans Albers, Wilhelm Strienz, and Heinz Rühmann.
These artists enjoyed protection because of their sometimes unwitting collaboration in Goebbels’ endeavours of feeding a positive mood among an increasingly demoralised German population that had lost its youth on battlefields, its homes in bombed cities and its comforts with shortages in food, heat and clothing. It had long been Goebbels’ strategy to distract the German population from the less savoury sides of life under Nazism. Throughout the Nazi-era, he actively promoted light and apolitical feel-good films and songs (much as Hollywood did during the Depression). This meant that artists who were critical of the regime could work in the German film industry without troubling their conscience. Most probably did not realise that they were being used.
In the notes to the German Hitparade 1930-37 we encountered the affable Heinz Rühmann, who demonstrably differed with the Nazis on notions of racial purity. Yet it was he who prepared Germans for the war and the encouragement to see it through stoically when his signature hit Das kann doch einen Seemann nicht erschüttern (That can’t rattle a seaman) was released just a month before the invasion of Poland. The song came from the film Paradies der Junggesellen (with Josef Sieber and Hans Brausewetter, who also appear on the song; watch the clip and note the swastika on the walls of the hall). It seems more of a coincidence, however, that Lale Andersen recorded her famous Lili Marlen, the original, almost exactly a month before the start of World War 2.
During the war, many songs that ostensibly dealt with matters of romance had a rather unsubtle subtext that exhorted Germans to endure the war until the inevitable final victory. As the news from the fronts became increasingly troubling, so these songs became more frequent. While Bomber Arthur Harris destroyed German cities, Zarah Leander sang Davon geht die Welt nicht unter (Cheer up, Volk, it’s not the end of the world) and the optimistic Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n (I know that one day there’ll be a miracle). Lale Andersen suggested that everything will pass eventually. By then, a sense of cynicism began to prevail. Wags would complement her hit’s title Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei with the rhyme “erst geht der Adolf, dann die Partei” (Everything must pass, everything will go away; first goes Adolf, then the party). People were executed for less. But as the end neared, a sense of fatalism started to creep in. The final song on this compilation, from 1944, will have resonated with soldiers on the front: Seagull, you’re flying home; send it my regards. Many of the soldiers did not go the way of the title’s feathered friend.
Some of the singers certainly were glad of their relationship with the Nazi regime, but it does not follow that all of those who appeared in German film were sympathisers. Some actors were jailed in concentration camps; some were executed or died of illness in camps. These unfortunates included the actor Robert Dorsay, a dancing comic who for a few months between 1932 and ’33 was even a party member. In 1941 he was drafted into the army, where he drove trucks. While on home leave, he was overheard making political jokes, which was reported to the Gestapo. The secret police then intercepted Dorsay’s mail. In one letter, dated 31 March 1943, he asked (rhetorically) about the war: “When will this idiocy end?”. That was enough for a court to sentence Dorsay to death. The 39-year-old actor, who had appeared in more than 30 movies between 1936 and ’39, was executed within hours of being sentenced in October that year (see a clip of Dorsay singing and dancing in the 1936 film Es geht um mein Leben, which – irony spotters, take note – could be translated as It’s a matter of my survival).
Another singer featured here was arrested: Evelyn Künnecke (1921-2001), daughter of two big opera stars, had not impressed the Nazi hierarchy by singing the racially impure and altogether degenerate American swing music (see this article on Germany’s Swing Kids scene) . Despite going on tours entertaining German troops on both eastern and western fronts, Künnecke was arrested for “defeatism” in January 1945. She was released shortly before the war with a view to recording English-language “propaganda jazz” songs for the disinformation station Germany Calling. It is not clear that Künnecke ever recorded with the station’s houseband, Charlie and his Orchestra.
In short, it would be rather too easy to damn all German artists of the era for lacking the courage to openly oppose the Nazis. By the same token, it is difficult to understand how some of the enthusiastic collaborators with Nazism were able to make such an easy transition to lucrative post-war careers.
The case of Lale Andersen (1905-72) is an interesting example of the thin ice German artists skated on at the time. Andersen reputedly was Hitler’s favourite singer, and her recording of Lili Marlen (originally titled Lied eines jungen Wachtposten and based on a WW1 poem) had made her well-known beyond Germany. Andersen had been reluctant to record the song because she didn’t like its martial tone; for Goebbels, who hated it, Lili Marlen was not martial enough. By 1942, the Nazi leadership decided that Andersen’s signature song was too morbid, and banned it (it had been subject to limited bans soon after its release). It seems Andersen disregarded the proscription, for she was strongly admonished never to sing it in public again, least of all in front of soldiers.
She then aggravated matters by declining to appear in concert in Warsaw and further by writing allegedly critical letters to refugees in Switzerland, which the Gestapo had intercepted. It is said that only a premature report of her arrest on the BBC saved Andersen from an already ordered arrest and deportation to a concentration camp. Like Evelyn Künnecke, Andersen was made to cut a deal in exchange for freedom: she had to perform weekly with Germany Calling’s Charlie and his Orchestra. Unlike other, more willing, participants in Nazi propaganda, this action brought the singer a brief post-war performance ban.
Foreign stars seemed to be better behaved than some of their local counterparts, such as the magnificent diva Zarah Leander (1907-81), who with her extravagant gestures and alto soprano was an obvious favourite drag queen character in the West Germany of the ’70s and ’80s. Born in Sweden, Leander’s life would make a great biopic. She enjoyed her first success in Vienna in 1936 with the operetta Axel an der Himmelstür, the libretto of which was written by one Paul Morgan, a German émigré. Within two years, Morgan had died of pneumonia in the Buchenwald concentration camp, while the singer who had sung his words on the Vienna stage had become one of Nazi Germany’s biggest stars, appearing in many propaganda films. Leander always claimed to have been apolitical; not everybody was convinced of it. She left Germany in 1942.
Another Scandinavian, the Norwegian Kirsten Heiberg (1907-76) had a glittering career as an actress of the femme fatale type. But she did not endear herself to the Nazi brass by refusing to join the NSDAP, and when she spoke out – albeit without forthright trenchancy – against the German occupation of her home country, she was banned from performing in public for two years. Norwegians did not forgive Heiberg’s association with the Nazi regime, and she retired from show business in 1954. [Edit: See comments for a further discussion on Heiberg and her politics.]
Heiberg was married to Franz Grothe (1908-82), who was a party member, having joined the NSDAP in May 1933. Before that, the composer had written many songs for Richard Tauber (who left Germany after being beaten up by Grothe’s new pals). After the war, Grothe resisted the denazification process, but that act of noncompliance did little to obstruct his post-war career. Until his death, he was chief conductor on the very popular, long-running and conservative Volksmusik TV show Zum blauen Block.
Another non-German who had a glittering career in the Third Reich was Johannes Heesters (1903 – ), who appeared on the first compilation and here duetting with Marika Rökk (1913-2004, an admirer of Hitler in her day and, guess what, another post-war star whose Nazi-sympathising past was not a problem). The singing and dancing actor, who came to Germany in 1936, is still despised in his native Netherlands as a Nazi collaborator. Heesters, who performed for Hitler and in 1941 visited the Dachau concentration camp (apparently to entertain SS guards, which Heesters denies), did not distance himself from the Third Reich. But at the same time, in 1938 Heesters did appear on a Dutch stage with a Jewish group of actors. His unapologetic collaboration with the Nazi regime notwithstanding, the allies allowed him to continue his career after the war. Heesters is the world’s oldest active entertainer. His career started in 1921, he last appeared in a TV film in 2003.
Perhaps the most active Nazi featured here was the tenor Wilhelm Strienz (1900-87), who in 1933 joined the Sturmabteilung (Ernst Röhm’s brownshirts) and produced a series of propaganda hits on themes such as “Being German means being faithful” and “Fly, German flag, fly”. He regularly contributed to cultural Nazi propaganda, which did not deter London’s Covent Garden opera house from engaging him. After the war, German radio blacklisted Strienz – not a very common step – but the singer continued a successful touring and recording until his retirement in 1963.
Die Goldene Sieben, featured in part 1 with Ich wollt’ ich wär ein Huhn and here with Oh Aha!, were a musical experiment by the Nazis. The group was founded in Berlin to record “German jazz”, a type that would conform to the moral requirements of the Third Reich, as opposed to the “decadent” US jazz. However, the ever rotating members of the band failed to invent German jazz, doing so much of US-style swinging that Goebbels’ ministry disbanded the group in 1939, after five years of activity.
Likewise, the Austrian singer and composer Peter Igelhoff (1904-78) was considered too jazzy, and was prohibited from performing in public and banned from radio in 1942. Instead, the entertainer was drafted into the army and sent to the front. He survived and enjoyed a rewarding career in post-war Germany.
Among the most successful songwriting teams of the era was that of Michael Jary and Bruno Balz, who wrote those escapist anthems Das kann doch einen Seemann nicht erschüttern, Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n and Davon geht die Welt nicht unter. These songs were useful propaganda, and in the end might have saved Balz’s life.
Bruno Balz (1902-88) was jailed in 1936 under the notorious anti-gay law of 1872 (which the Federal Republic of Germany retained until 1973) for having homosexual relations. He was released early under the condition that he keep his name out of the public domain and that he enter into a marriage with a party loyalist. Moreover, his name was not to appear in song or film credits (a situation that was not rectified until many years after the war). Bruno “re-offended”: in 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured. It took the intervention of Jary who said that he could not produce the songs which Goebbels demanded without Balz. The lyricist was quickly released. The story goes that within a day of that traumatic event, Jary and Balz wrote the two Zarah Leander classics mentioned above.
Michael Jary (1906-88), who died just four months after his old songwriting partner, was not only a Schlager writer and an accomplished composer and arranger of classical film scores, but also a bandleader in the style of US swing orchestra leaders. Born in Poland as Maximilan Jarczyk, the Catholic Jary — who at point studied for the priesthood — was often mistaken for being Jewish, and so changed his name (also calling himself Max Jantzen and Jackie Leeds). Running an orchestra came in useful for Jary: just 19 days after the fall of the Third Reich, he was recording programmes for Berlin radio commissioned by the Soviet forces.
Jary’s preferred lead singer was Rudi Schuricke (1913-73), who in 1931 was invited to join the Comedian Harmonists but instead went on to found his own trio, the Schuricke–Terzett. He recorded with his group, guested on orchestras such as Jary’s and released solo records, often expressing sentimental longings for exotic locations (and in the 1930s and ’40s, when foreign holidays were unattainable fantasies, ideas of Napoli and Capri were very glamorous indeed). Schuricke’s post-war career was brief, a short-lived comeback in the 1970s notwithstanding, and he ended up running a hotel and laundry.
The best rumour concerning anyone featured here involves Ilse Werner (1921-2005), who was famous for whistling interludes in her songs. It is said that it is her whistling on the Scorpions’ hit Winds Of Change. Werner was also something of a pioneer of TV, presenting a programme on German television – the world’s first – before the regime stopped broadcasts in 1944. Like Andersen, Werner was given a performance ban after the war before she re-established herself.
1. Zarah Leander – Kann Denn Liebe Sünde Sein (1938)
2. Rudi Schuricke – O Mia Bella Napoli (1938)
3. Peter Igelhoff – Der Onkel Doktor Hat Gesagt (1938)
4. Die Goldene Sieben – Oh Aha! (1939)
5. Michael Jary Tanzorchester mit Rudi Schuricke – J’attendrai (Komm zurück) (1939)
6. Lilian Harvey – Guten Tag, Liebes Glück (1939)
7. Heinz Rühmann – Das kann doch einen Seemann nicht erschüttern (1939)
8. Lale Andersen – Lied eines jungen Wachtposten (Lili Marlen) (1939)
9. Hans Albers – Goodbye, Johnny (1939)
10. Marika Rökk & Johannes Heester – Musik, Musik, Musik (1939)
11. Wilhelm Strienz – Abends In Der Taverne (1940)
12. Heinz Rühmann u. Herta Feiler – Mir Geht’s Gut (1940)
13. Heinz Müller Orchester – So schön wie heut’ (1941)
14. Hans Moser – Die Reblaus (1941)
15. Ilse Werner – So Wird’s Nie Wieder Sein (1941)
16. Franz Grothe – Wenn Ein Junger Mann Kommt (1941)
17. Peter Igelhoff – Ich bin ganz verschossen in Deine Sommersprossen (1942)
18. Zarah Leander – Davon geht die Welt nicht unter (1942)
19. Zarah Leander – Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen (1942)
20. Lale Andersen – Es geht alles vorüber, es geht alles vorbei (1942)
21. Kirsten Heiberg – Liebespremiere (1943)
22. Gerda Schönfelder – Ganz leis’ erklingt Musik (1943)
23. Evelyn Künnecke – Das Karussell (1943)
24. Marika Rökk – In Der Nacht Ist Der Mensch Nicht Alleine (1944)
25. Herbert Ernst Groh – Frauenaugen (1944)
26. Magda Hain – Möwe, Du Fliegst In Die Heimat (1944)
RUNTERLADEN (PW in comments)
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