December 18, 1998
Music Throughout Germany 1933-1945
On January 30, 19933, Adolf Hitler assumed both the chancellorship and presidency of Germany, declaring himself Fuhrer. His assumption of power signified the end of a democratic, republican era and the beginning of a totalitarian, fascist era. With Hitlerís power came sweeping change. One area specifically touched by Hitlerís wand was the world of music, especially in Nazi Germany.
Adolf Hitler, while being raised in Austria was greatly influenced by music, especially that of Richard Wagner. Wagner was a pioneer of the late nineteenth century anti-Semite movement in Germany. A long-time supporter of the pure German race, Wagner impressed Hitler with his music, staging, and the implied philosophy of his works. As a result, Wagner set the stage for Hitlerís artistic thought and standards as a human being. For instance, during World War II, Hitler kept the piano score of ìTristan and Isolde,î a moving work by Wagner, in his backpack where others kept their Nietzsche (Kater, 36). Hitler even named Mein Kampf not accidentally after Wagnerís own Mein Leben (36).
Adolf Hitler considered himself the commander of every aspect of Germany-including the musical aspect. He did, however, delegate large amounts of his authority concerning music to men under his command. For example, Joseph Goebbles the propaganda minister was appointed head of all organized musicians under the Nazi regime (9). Goebbles in turn appointed Wilhelm Furtwangler, a leading musician, conductor and composer, to play a large part in regulating and censoring the German music scene (Levi, 29).
During the early part of the Third Reich, after the fall of the Weimar Republic, music in Germany was in a state of disarray. When the economy is down, cultural matters become a distant second to everything, and this was especially true in the 1930ís in Germany. As a result, most musicians in Germany were unemployed, and those that were not barely made enough money to survive. In 1935, unemployed Munich musicians were volunteering to play recitals in nursing home just to maintain their skills (Kater, 9). By late 1936, four out of five of Germanyís employed musicians were bringing home less than two hundred marks a month-less than what most blue-collar workers earned in Germany at the time (9).
With Hitlerís growing popularity and the sweeping changes occurring in Germany, music in the Reich started to expand. In 1935, after Hitler started reforming his Wehrmacht, musicians of all kinds were needed. Band members were in high demand for the Wehrmacht, because their motivational music was used to rouse the troops (9).
Band musicians were also needed after the expansion of government and Nazi party organizations (notably the SS and compulsory Reich Labor Service) (9). Organizations such as these were also eager to have their own bands, not unlike the Wehrmacht. Erich Lauer was one of these much sought-after musicians, as he was an expert at compiling songbooks for the SA and Nazi Party (139).
In addition to the employment of musicians by Nazi organizations, the Reich also put many other music reforms into action. For instance, laws were passed regulating musiciansí salaries and pension payments (9). The Reich also made grants of thousands of marks to help unemployed musicians. These grants were also meant to facilitate dignity in retirement for older musicians (10).
In 1936, Goebbles instituted Kunstlerdank, a social assistance program financed with millions of marks that benefited involuntarily retired musicians and other artists (10). Special symphony and chamber orchestras were established and financially supported by Nazi Party and government agencies, with only jobless Nazi musicians allowed to fill the positions (10). Musicians such as Jack Hylton, a jazz band leader from Britain, were allowed to tour Germany during the mid-1930ís only on the condition they contribute one-fourth of their earnings to unemployed German colleagues (10).
Adolf Hitler considered the youth of his country his biggest method of influence. Music was one of the most prominent means by which the youth was controlled and educated. Even though music was seen as the main molder of National Socialist youth, however, it did not find the proper platform to achieve its goals within the public school system (134). Compared to the Hitler Youth, schools lagged behind as shapers of Nazi men and women, especially in the musical arena (134). In his book The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich, Michael H. Kater said:
In the early years of the regime, Hitler Youth training was already the chosen alternative to public school education. In addition to the classical disciplines of conventional instruction such as mathematics and languages, this training included dynamic character-molding subjects such as physical education and the arts; in particular, music (135).
In 1937, it had been declared officially by the Reich that music lessons were an integral part of Hitler Youth service (136). The two main musical goals of the Hitler Youth movement were to use music, with its ideological and character-building potential, within its ranks to raise better leaders, and to infiltrate the existing music establishment in order to place its representatives within and alter existing standards to fit its own revolutionary needs (135). As a result, music schools and conservatories were specifically founded for the Hitler Youth (136). Music in the Hitler Youth was geared to produce heroes to fight for Nazi Germany and their mates: healthy women ready to breed more heroes while knowing their place was in the home providing comfort for their men.
SS leader Karl Cerff said:
The soldier and the artist are not opposites, but are blended in a harmonious union to produce the leader. Spiritual depth and physical power: these two qualities render Germany invincible (135).
These ideals reflected directly in the Hitler Youth. Their songs were rousing and patriotic, with the Hitler Youth often sent to the front line to entertain the troops with works by Vivaldi, Haydn and Mozart (142). This was meant to familiarize future soldiers with the front lines of war while glorifying it through musical expression.
Songs of the Hitler Youth were often soldierís songs, some of them hundreds of years old and revived by the Youth movement. Others were newly composed and designed to inspire marching. Leaders believed the uniform rhythmic march increased the inner unity of the troops (143).
Hans Baumann, a nineteen year old composer of Hitler Youth songs was one famous musician of the Hitler Youth. He wrote more songs and gained more fame through his music than any other composer of Hitler Youth songs. Baumann composed the words and music of one of the most famous Hitler Youth Songs: "Today Germany Belongs to Us, and Tomorrow the Whole World" (139). In addition to Hans Baumann, another famous composer of Hitler Youth songs was Karl Marx (138). He quite often contributed inspiring, patriotic words and music to Hitler Youth songbooks.
The Germans ardently applied their hatreds of other races to the German music scene. Germans believed Jewish musicians, composers in particular, could not produce original works because they did not have an indigenous culture. Three Jewish composers gave Nazi music experts so-called cultural problems: Mendelssohn, Mahler and Schoenberg (77). These ìproblemsî occurred because their work was known all over the world as being embedded in German musical tradition. This bothered Nazi leaders because no amount of negative propaganda could possibly squelch these steadfast beliefs of the world population. In addition, Germans claimed the Jews plagiarized music from German composers (77). Mendelssohn supposedly copied Schubert, and Schoenberg was reported to have copied Brahms (77).
In addition, Jews were weeded out of the great German symphonies and orchestras. By 1935, the anti-Semitic Law for the Reconstruction of the Civil Service had almost completely eliminated all Jewish citizens from the public work force (75). This elimination of Jews included the area of music. Since most musical jobs were supported in one way or another by government agencies, almost every Jew in a public musical position lost their job, most being thrown into the streets without warning or pay (75).
Classical music was not the form of music most affected by German racism. Jazz was by far the most persecuted musical form in Germany. Jazz was the culmination of Nazi racism and the Nazi Partyís hatred of modernism (Levi 8). One of the biggest problems with jazz, as seen by the German leaders, was that itís growing popularity proved that the public was very receptive to music considered alien to the national spirit (120). This was against every ideal the Germans tried to instill in their citizens.
Jazz music was officially banned by the broadcasting authorities in 1935 (84). Goebbles, however, knew that if the public was prohibited from hearing popular entertainment music, it would be impossible to win them over to National Socialism. As a result, after 1939, the Propaganda Minister Goebbles decided jazzís popularity with the masses made complete suppression of it impractical. So, in spite of the huge amount of negative propaganda depicting jazz, it was allowed to survive for a short time, legally (84).
In 1941, when the United States joined the allies in World War II, the Nazis imposed a strict ban on American Jazz distribution (145). In June of 1943, another formal ban was issued, this time by the Gauleiter of Saxony, completely stopping all playing, performing, and composing of jazz music in Saxony (122).
Despite the efforts of the Nazis, Jazz managed to survive in Germany. It continued through the sheer will of the performers. The musicianís need to fight for their survival in the jazz world convinced some musicians to rebel against the Nazis. The jazz performers and composers did this in secret in order to keep up with the ever-increasing competition from American jazz bands and musicians.
In addition, some German critics tried to rationalize jazz, passing what they would call ìGermanî jazz off as syncopated rhythmic music. In reality, this was music by artists such as Duke Ellington, renamed and performed by Germans. These works were usually accepted by members of the Nazi party under these false names and pretenses.
Another reason for the survival of jazz was foreign currency. Despite the ban on American jazz by the Nazis, foreign currency was in such demand, that some Germans were allowed to trade in American jazz commodities by exporting their recordings to countries occupied by the Wehrmacht (145). Even though the sale of jazz within Germanyís borders was forbidden, it was Nazi Germany that supplied the rest of occupied Germany with American jazz records.
Swing, much like jazz, was hated because of itís lack of structure and steady rhythm. Swing, though persecuted, maintained an underground following throughout Germany. ìSwing Kids,î also called ìSwingersî and ìSwing Boys,î protested the Reich. They refused to join the Hitler Youth and usually grew their hair long in defiance of the close-cropped young men of the Hitler Youth organization (ìSwing Kidsî, 1994). Their salute, and one of their calling signs, ìswing heil,î was a mockery of the German ìsig heil. Swing Kids had secret terms they used in reference to swing dance and music, both out of popularity and necessity. These codes were trendy within the swing arena, but also necessary because outward mentions of swing music and dance would incriminate a Swing Kid and his friends. Words such as icky meant stupid or not hip, and lively was described as ìthe joint is jumping.î In addition to their secret language, most swing kids had a whistled calling sign, usually a line to a swing song (Swing Kids, 1994).
The Swing Kids had inside information on the illegal importation of swing music to Germany. Usually music was brought in on ships from America. The Swing Kids would go to the loading docks to buy and inquire about contraband records before the records could be seized by the Nazi authorities (Swing Kids, 1994).
Many records were allowed to be sold within Germany even though they were performed and composed by African-American and Jewish artists, who were outlawed. Importers would simply change the name and information of the musicians before selling the music in Germany. For instance, musicians like Benny Goodman became Germans such as Gene Krouppa (ìSwing Kidsî 1994). The Swing Kids usually knew the true artistís identity, purchasing the records. Through their efforts, they managed to keep American swing alive in Germany.
The Swing Kids were a part of the resistance. They risked personal safety to fight against the Nazi regime. Underground swing clubs would often be raided by the Nazis, and Swing Kids for their punishment would be forced into the army, forced into the Hitler Youth, or sent to work camps, from which they were not likely to return (ìSwing Kidsî, 1994).
Musicians all over Germany were actively involved in the resistance. Many were involved with the Rote Kapelle, a resistance movement (Kater, 225). Musicians would often transport pamphlets and anti-Nazi literature between each other, passing it off as music scores (224-225). Often times, musicians would be executed for listening to the British Broadcasting Company, or for repeating small amounts of information they had heard on the BBC.
When Adolf Hitler assumed power in Germany in 1933, he affected the entire world tremendously. He wanted to achieve change and reform. These changes and reforms were responsible for salvation, advancement, destruction and death. There is no greater evidence of this than in the musical arena.
Hitler worked for the advancement of poor musicians early in his regime, and oversaw the destruction of others later in his career. He took his beliefs to the extreme: doing everything in his power to help promote the careers of some musicians while ending the lives of others.
Kater, Michael H. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.
Levi, Erik. Music in the Third Reich. New York: St. Martinís, 1994.
Swing Kids. Dir. Thomas Carter. Perf. Robert Sean Leonard. Hollywood, 1994.