There is the 1936 hit version of “Lili Marleen” by Adolf Hitler’s favourite singer, Lale Andersen (1905-72). “Lili Marleen”, originally composed in 1915 and a hit for Andersen under the title “Lied eines jungen Wachtposten (Lili Marlen)”, was a popular song in World War II across the fronts. At one point, however, the German leadership banned it because it was too morbid. Andersen was used by the Nazi leadership to record English-language “propaganda-jazz”, which would proscribe her post-war activities as an artist for a while. Once her career resumed, she remained a star until shortly before her death.
There is the original version of Marlene Dietrich‘s (1901-92) “Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt” from Der Blaue Engel (filmed simultaneously as The Blue Angel, 1929), which launched her career internationally. Dietrich’s 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 beating for his troubles). Dietrich’s last movie appearance was in 1979, in Just A Gigolo, with David Bowie. Maximilian Schell’s 1984 documentary Marlene is worth seeing, if not for the subject matter, then for Schell’s ingenuity in illustrating the recorded interviews with Dietrich after she withdrew permission to be filmed.
There is Pola Negri (1997-1987), the famous femme fatale of the silent movies era and former lover of Rudolfo Valentino and Charlie Chaplin. The Polish-born actress had returned to Europe after her career floundered with the advent of the talkies and after losing a fortune in the Wall Street Crash, acted in a few Joseph Goebbels-commissioned films, then fled Germany as rumours of her part-Jewish ancestry appeared.
There is the magnificent diva Zarah Leander (1907-81), who, with her extravagant gestures and deep voice, 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. After breaking through in pre-Anschluss Vienna, she became an instant star in Germany when she moved there in 1936 (becoming a particular favourite of Hitler’s). Leander always claimed to have been apolitical; not everybody was convinced of it.
There is Hans Albers (1891-1960), one of the biggest stars in Nazi Germany but who despised the Nazis. The Nazis forced him to officially split from his half-Jewish girlfriend, Hansi Burg, but he continued to unofficially 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. A veteran actor of the silent era, Albers is rightly considered a legend. His hit “Auf Der Reeperbahn Nachts Um Halb Eins” continues to be sung by drunk Germans anywhere.
There is 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 is featured on this set) in May 1933, Schmidt fled Germany for Vienna, then after the 1938 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, who in Swiss law were not regarded as political emigrés, and taken to the internment camp Girenbad while his residence application was being processed. There he fell ill, and was treated in a hospital for an inflammation of the throat. 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.
There is the sextett Comedian Harmonists, which had three Jewish members and sank soon after the Nazis took power. In 1934 the group was prohibited from performing in Germany; after a year of foreign tours the group split in 1936. The three Jewish members emigrated, and formed a band which toured under the same name; the three Aryans formed a sextet called the Meistersextett.
There is actor Heinz Rühmann (1902-94), who remained one of Germany’s biggest stars for close to six decades (and who appeared in the excellent 1930 comedy Die drei von der Tankstelle). Rühmann, reportedly Anne Frank’s favourite actor, was publicly entirely apolitical, but was accused after the war of having divorced his Jewish wife in 1938 so as to protect his career in the Third Reich. However, his next wife (with whom he remained until her death in 1975) had a Jewish grandfather, which caused Rühmann some trouble with the Nazi hierarchy.
There is Paul Hörbiger (1894-1981), an Hungarian-Austrian actor who 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.
There is Johannes Heesters (1903 – ), duetting with Marika Rökk (1913-2004, who was a admirer of Hitler in her day), who is 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 hierarchy (as Albers did). Yet, the allies allowed him to continue his career after the war, and — like many of his colleagues tainted by association with the Third Reich — enjoyed great popularity in post-war Germany. Heesters is the world’s oldest active entertainer. His career started in 1921, he last appeared in a TV film in 2003.
There is Lilian Harvey (1906-1968), 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.
There are Die Goldene Sieben, who were founded in Berlin by the Nazi party to record “German jazz that would conform to the moral requirements of the Third Reich, as opposed to the “decadent” US jazz. However, the rotating members of the band failed to invent German jazz, doing so much of US-style swinging that Goebbels’ ministry disbanded the group after five years in 1939. Likewise, Peter Igelhoff (1904-78) was considered too jazzy, and was prohibited from public performances and banned from radio in 1942. Instead, the entertainer was drafted into the army and sent to the front. He survived.
And there is Richard Tauber (1891-1948), the Austrian tenor who was the subject of Tom Waits’ blues. Tauber’s Jewish father converted to Catholicism, and even hoped Richard would become a priest. Instead, Richard joined the stage, appearing in operas and operettas. Already a big star in Germany, Täuber was badly beaten up by Nazi thugs, presumably because of his Jewish ancestry, and left Germany for Austria. He fled his homeland when Germany annexed it in 1938. He subsequently became a British citizen, and died in London at the age of 57.
Comedian Harmonist – Ein Freund, Ein Guter Freund
Comedian Harmonist – Veronika, der Lenz ist da
Marlene Dietrich – Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt
Richard Tauber – Adieu, Mein Kleiner Gardeoffizier
Siegfried Arno – Wenn Die Elisabeth Nicht So Schöne Beine Hätt
Lilian Harvey – Das Gibt’s Nur Einmal
Paul Hörbiger – Das Muß Ein Stück Vom Himmel Sein
Hans Albers – Flieger, Grüß’ Mir Die Sonne
Lilian Harvey – Wir Zahlen Keine Miete Mehr
Comedian Harmonists – Kleiner Mann Was Nun
Joseph Schmidt – Ein Lied Geht Um Die Welt
Die Goldene Sieben – Ich Wollt’ Ich Wär Ein Huhn
Hans Albers – Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei
Pola Negri – Wenn Die Sonne Hinter Den Dächern Versinkt
Heinz Wehner & His Orchestra – Das Fräulein Gerda
Peter Igelhoff – Der Onkel Doktor Hat Gesagt
Rudi Schuricke – O Mia Bella Napoli
Zarah Leander – Kann Denn Liebe Sünde Sein
Hans Albers – Goodbye, Johnny
Heinz Rühmann – Das Kann Doch Einen Seemann Nicht Erschüttern
Lale Andersen – Lili Marleen
Marika Rökk & Johannes Heester – Musik, Musik, Musik
Ilse Werner – So Wird’s Nie Wieder Sein
Sven Olof Sandberg – Unter Der Roten Laterne Von St Pauli
Zarah Leander – Ich Weiß, Es Wird Einmal Ein Wunder Geschehn
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