Swing Time for Hitler

By Morton, Brian | The Nation, September 15, 2003 | Go to article overview

Swing Time for Hitler


Morton, Brian, The Nation


SWING TANZEN VERBOTEN

It is of some small comfort that totalitarian regimes are never quite as total as either their leaders or subsequent historians might imagine. As much as the Bolsheviks may have wished to "abolish" religion, faith and observance persisted all through the Soviet sphere and contributed to the disintegration of the Communist system. Similarly and more recently, the Taliban exercised less than certain--and certainly less than the publicized--influence over the people of Afghanistan.

By the same token, we have long been used to the idea that the Nazis proscribed jazz and sought to ban it from every corner of the Reich. To the ideologists of National Socialism, it was a music of racial impurity, lumped in with other examples of entartete Kunst or "degenerate art," damned as "Judaeo-Negroid" and not fit for the ears of good Germans. In recent years, this rather one-dimensional picture has begun to shift significantly.

One tiny example suggests the complexity of the real situation: the strange tale of guitarist Django Reinhardt, who managed not only to survive but to thrive in Nazi-occupied France, despite the fact that he was a gypsy, and a handicapped gypsy at that, thanks to the patronage and the protection of a jazz-loving Luftwaffe officer. Those last four words represent such an oxymoron that most recent encyclopedia entries on Django, who died half a century ago in 1953, make no mention whatever of Oberleutnant Dietrich Schulz-Koehn. One of the strangest photographs of the war was taken by Schulz-Koehn outside La Cigale, a jazz club in Paris. It shows a gypsy (Django), four Africans and a Jew posed smiling beside a fellow officer. The Germans were there not to arrest these men but to listen to them play. With its whisper of collaboration, this remains an awkward detail for jazz fans to deal with, but it is even more unsettling, given the prevailing notion of the Nazis' attitude toward jazz.

There have been a number of attempts to rewrite this odd corner of popular music history. Michael Zwerin's La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing Under the Nazis took its title from the habit of disguising jazz tunes--in this case "St. Louis Blues"--from the authorities under safely translated titles. The story of wartime swing is also told in a chapter in Hitler's Airwaves, a study of propaganda broadcasting under the Third Reich written by business executive Horst J.P. Bergmeier and economist Rainer E. Lotz. Now, though, their exploration of the period has been taken a step further and given additional flesh in an ambitious box set of music with the arresting title Swing Tanzen Verboten: Swing Music and Nazi Propaganda During World War II, just released by the English firm Proper Records with text by Dutch jazz expert Joop Visser. Its four CDs are an eye-opening experience, not so much musically, though there are fine cuts by Reinhardt, but because they raise the possibility that far from banning jazz, the Nazi authorities were aware of and tried to harness some of its appeal.

Imagine for a moment that you are a British or American jazz fan in wartime scanning the airwaves in hopes of finding some familiar music. Out of the ether a male voice begins to sing a familiar melody. "I'm the Sheik of Araby,/Your love belongs to me./At night, when you're asleep/into your tent I'll creep./The stars that shine above/will light a way to love./You'll rule this land with me/the Sheik of Araby." Before the war you heard umpteen versions of this song, which was inspired by Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik. Even if a band didn't have a singer, most fans could mouth the words. But this time, something strange happens. After that first verse, a voice cuts across the music: "Here is Mr. Churchill's latest song." The melody stays the same, but the words are unfamiliar. "I'm afraid of Germany/her planes are beating me./At night, when I should sleep,/into the Anderson I must creep./Although I'm England's leading man/I'm led to the cellar by ten. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Swing Time for Hitler
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.