Saturday, 12 June 2010

Nazi Swing; truth or dare?

A posting of alleged rules covering the playing of swing in Nazi Germany has been making the rounds for over a year now. But it may not be real. There are problems with the translations and spellings, which do not in and of themselves mean it's a fake of course, but there is a bigger problem with the name and title of the person issuing the rules in that he doesn't appear to have ever existed. In fact there never was any such title as Riechsmuikfuerer at all. There was a Baldur Von Shirach, who would stand trial at Nuremberg (and get acquitted) but he was in charge of the Hitler Youth and not in charge of culture or music.


This list actually comes from a well known book called "Red Music" by Joseph Skvorecky, a Czech writer who fled to Canada after the 1968 Soviet invasion, which covers jazz in Nazi occupied Europe as well as behind the Iron Curtain. Skvoreckyis a much admired and award winning author but he admits that he is only remembering the list second hand years later so he may have made some mistakes.

But here is the list as it has been posted around the web;


1. In the repertoire of light orchestras and dance bands, pieces in fox-trot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20%.

2. In the repertoire of this so-called jazz type, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics.

3. As to the tempo, too, preference is to be given to brisk compositions as opposed to slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro commensurate with the Aryan sense for discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo(so-called hot jazz) be permitted, or in solo performances(so-called breaks).

4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at the most 10% syncopation; the remainder must form a natural legato movement devoid of hysterical rhythmic references characteristic of the music of the barbarian races and conducive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called 'riffs').

5. Strictly forbidden is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (e.g. so-called cowbells, flex-a-tone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of brass-wind instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yell /(so-called Wa-Wa in hat, etc.).

6. Prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four quarter beat (except in stylized military marches).

7. The double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions; plucking of strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality. If a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, let strict care be taken lest the string is allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

8. Provocative rising to one's feet during solo performance is forbidden;

9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);

10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them violin-cello, violas, or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

Baldur von Blodheim Reichsmusicfuhrer und Oberscharfuhrer SS


Now needless to say there is no doubt that those who played or listened to Swing or Hot Jazz, to say nothing of Blues, would have faced serious problems in Nazi controlled territory but like much that happens in a dictatorship the actual enforcing of any such rules would be inconsistent, with the sons and daughters of the rich getting away with way more than penniless bohemian types or other "undesirables". In fact most of the so called "swing kids" were the scions of well off members of the establishment who were also able to avoid joining the Hitler Youth or the draft, at least until the war started to go really badly. It was exactly the somewhat privileged status that allowed swing kids to flaunt their distaste for Nazi rules with relative impunity for years, by having their own (significantly, mostly private) jazz clubs and listening to BBC short wave radio, which was clearly banned, and radio from Sweden and Switzerland which was not.

EGON KAISER TANZ ORCH ~ "Du bist mir so sympathisch";

The official attitude of the Nazi's towards jazz was clear; they hated it, along with virtually every other development in modern art, literature and theater from Impressionism onwards. Jazz was particularly hated both due to the large number of black and Jewish artists as well as for it's unregulated nature which celebrated improvisation as well as wild dancing and volume. Along with it's association with a wild lifestyle of drinking and womanizing. Beyond agreeing on this however there were divisions among the Reich's elite on how to deal with this threat.

The hardcore cretins like Heinrich Himmler (SS boss), Reinhard Heydrich Gespato, Julius Streicher(editor of Der Sturmer and Alfred Rosenberg favoured banning it outright and rounding up jazzbos and swing kids and sending them to be "re-educated", or worse. But Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, favoured a more subtle approach. One of the things people tend to forget about many dictatorships is the degree to which many have to keep in mind their public image both foreign and even domestic. It just doesn't look good to be oppressing everybody in sight, you have to also persuade, con and bribe to keep people in line.

Goebbels understood this better than most Nazi's who were basically thugs. Goebbels (like Hitler) was actually a frustrated artist with a novel to his credit as well as a classically trained pianist who was an avid student of film advertising and mass media and how they could be used for propaganda, one of the first actually. This doesn't make him any less evil of course, but he was better educated and cultured than the likes of Himmler, and Hitler mostly allowed him to take care of such issues. Both Hitler and Goebbels also agreed that the obvious popularity of jazz could be used for foreign propaganda and thus German propaganda radio broadcasts that were beamed into England and later liberated territory in the west were full of big band jazz done for the occasion with special lyrics attacking Churchill and the Jews and bragging of German power. Some of this material has been included by in a box set called "Swing Tanzen Verbotten" put out by an English record label, Proper Records. This set also includes three cd's of jazz from Germany and occupied Europe which shows that jazz not never actually dead even under the Swastika.

James Kok & sein Orchester;

In fact the Nazi's attitudes towards Jazz and swing was both harsher and more lackadaisical than the list shows. From the start it was banned from the airwaves and there were restrictions on dance and night clubs including curfews and outright bans on anyone under 21 (mind you that would have been the case here as well) from entering at all. This just meant that jazz was forced behind the closed doors of largely private clubs and record collectors. Popular belief states that the jazz records available in Germany had to be brought in from foreign shores either bought on shopping sprees and smuggled in on some sort of underground railway of jazz, or bought from foreign sailors. Some no doubt were. But in fact most large American and British record labels subsidiary labels and pressing plants though out Europe just as they had similar arrangements for everything from soda pop to phonographs. This included Germany, where the catalog for the German subsidiary of Brunswick Records records for 1937 lists titles by black artists like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Mildred Bailey, Earl Hines and Billie Holliday and white artists such as Harry James and The Casa Loma Orch. Other Labels would have sold records by Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, The Dorsey Bros. and Paul Whiteman, who's trumpeter, Henry Busse was actually a German speaking immigrant who also recorded as a solo artist and became one of the first million sellers in the 1920's. Another early million seller was Bessie Smith and it is a safe bet that her records were available as well. Artists such as Sidney Bechet and the ODJB toured Europe in the twenties and were known in Germany. Clearly jazz was not an obscure taste in Europe between the wars. Even after the Nazis came to power they did not fully ban jazz, tempted though they were. There would be restrictions of course, Jewish artists such as Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lester Lannin and Al Jolson were clearly banned as were songs by Jewish composers like Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin which were covered by many white jazz bands like Paul Whiteman and The Casa Loma Orch. However there was clearly enough jazz around to justify pressing and selling it and to support a scene of swing kids in several German cities that was large enough to get the notice of Himmler and Heydrich who wrote memos back and forth on how to deal with them. They were stopped from doing much more than banning Jewish artists and engaging in low level harassment until after the 1936 Olympics (summer and winter), in order to avoid bad world press and even afterwords to keep a good face to England and the U.S.A. After 1939 music from England, France and Poland was banned outright (except for the music of Chopin, which Goebbels, the pianist, could not bear to ban apparently) and after 1941 music from the U.S.A was added to the list and a more explicitly racist propaganda campaign was launched against jazz. It was not actually banned though, due to Goebbels concern over civilian morale. He still hoped that Germans could be weaned off of jazz by propaganda and low level harassment. As the war dragged this petty harassment got more severe with arrests and beatings and a few show trials for "hooliganism". As might be expected, it didn't work and swing kids just went further underground for the rest of the war.

Hans Rehmstedt Tanzorch ~ "The Lambeth Walk";

Occupied Europe is an even more complicated matter due to the patchwork way these territories were ruled. As historian Hanna Arnedt has pointed out in her works, Nazi rule could be oddly inconsistent, brutally harsh in the Balkans, genocidal in the east and sometimes lackadaisical in the west. France for example was only partially occupied with the Germans having to maintain the fiction that the Vichy government had actually power to rule. In Belgium and Holland the Nazi's had to rely on collaborators with little legitimacy and less desire to provoke their own sullen peoples. They might be willing to hand over some Jews but drew the line at rounding up their own teenagers. In Denmark, Norway and Luxembourg the Nazis even had to maintain the fiction that they were not invaders at all but were nearly acting to prevent an Anglo-French invasion, here most German rules were openly flouted much to the fury of Himmler, Heydrich and Eichman who were even more incensed at their inability to do much about it. Then there were countries like Italy, Hungary, Finland and Bulgaria who were considered allies (however unwillingly in some cases) and could not be ordered about at all, at least until late in the war when all of them except Finland were occupied as well, even then the Nazi's often found that the locals were unwilling to do as they were told. One exception to this was Romania which was not only an ally but also had it's own domestic Nazi-like movement which was quite happy to oppress it's own people. As for the rest of the east and the Balkans however the Nazi's had little to stand in their way. Poland and Czechoslovakia had been simply erased, there was no need to curry favour with the locals or rely on shifty Quislings. The S.S. and Gestapo had in effect carved out their own mini-states.

Karkoff-Orchester ~"Mein Bruder macht im Tonfilm die Geräusche";

This brings us back to our list of rules. Czechoslovakia was governed personally by Reinhard Heydrich until his assassination in 1942 and he had the power to rule it as his own personally fiefdom as Hans Frank did in Poland, with little interference from Goebbels even if he had any desire to involve himself, which he probably did not. In his book "Red Music" Joseph Skvorecky claimed he read the list in a Czech arts magazine sometime while Heydrich would have been in charge. Skvorecky is a respected writer and there is no reason to believe he made anything up, in fact the list looks exactly like the sort of thing Heydrich and the S.S. "experts" would come up with; it is not only vile and racist, it is also laughably bureaucratic with ludicrous quotas and no clue as to how such quotas would be enforced. Were they going to send the Gestapo to spy on every dance and concert? Were they going to scan every piece of sheet music to look for jazz tunes disguised with different titles which was a common practice? And even if they did, how would the S.S. find spies who were savvy about jazz in the first place?

Marek Weber & Orchester ~"Mein Papagei frisst keine harten Eier";

So I believe that the list in itself is mostly accurate enough. However in what clearly happened as has so often happened on the web, is that sometime in the last two years some unknown person found it in Skvorecky's book and "improved" by adding a fictitious name and title, and then claimed that the list covered all of Nazi territory, something that Skvorecky never did himself. It then filtered out across the web from there.

So the question you may be asking is; So what? Who really cares if it's been taken out context anyway? The Nazi's were evil racists who clearly did far worse things than this and they did hate jazz so if this illustrates the point about fascist dictatorships in general than why nitpick? Who gets hurt here?

Well here's the thing; this list has already been spotted by some of the usual sleazy neo-nazis and holocaust deniers who can now point to this obvious "forgery" as another example of how poor, misunderstood Adolph has been mistreated by the "liberal, Jewish Media". Beating up straw dogs is a well worn tactic used by political conmen every where. We shouldn't play into their hands. The truth is far more interesting anyway. History is important. Facts matter. Or to quote form the Weimar German historian (and anti Nazi) Walter Goetz;
"The task of the historian is not the cultivation of piety for a misunderstood past but the pitiless explanation of the truth"

Every writer should jot that down somewhere. It's still true.


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