As many of our customers will know, all of the pre -1945 German schellack 78rpm records that we acquire, renovate & re-master here at Tomahawk Films & Dubmaster Studios, all come from Germany… however the one rare schellack 78 that we found here in the UK, (at a local Antiques Fair of all things), turned out to be rather prescient: a superb recording by the Musikkorps der Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’.. however the amazing thing is that a senior member of this elite bodyguard divisional band who performed on that record was the very man that I had just returned from interviewing at some length in Germany the previous week for my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45…
As signs go this was a corker..! Not least because I could not consider my book complete had I not interviewed a military musician of Hitler’s Armed Forces; so not only had I just met one of these elusive men, but he was the musical second-in-command to the legendary Hermann Mueller-John of the famous Musikkorps Leibstandarte-SS ’Adolf Hitler’, and so could be called the Reich’s second military band-leader and his name: SS-Hauptscharführer Gustav Weissenborn.
But this would not have happened had it not been for the terrific help & encouragement of Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer, who generously made all of the necessary introductions and presentation of bona fides to his important former comrade from the SS musical arm… and it was this vital introduction that allowed me to travel to Bad Kreuznach in Western Germany accompanied by superb military tour guide, historian and friend, Patrick Hinchy, to act as both my personal guide & interpreter.
So following a flight to Munchen Gladbach and then a personal and superb ‘diverted tour’ to take in the Ardennes and the well-appointed Waffen-SS graveyard at Bastogne, relics of the Third Reich’s West Wall and thence a wonderful drive along the rivers Rhine and the Nahe, I arrived at Bad Kreuznach ahead of my meeting with this famous but oh, so modest former SS-Leibstandarte Musikmeister…
Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1913 and the son of a Musikmeister in the Kaiser’s Army, Gustav passed his state musical examinations and left school to join his father’s civilian orchestra and it wasn’t long before he formed his own band, playing daily at tea-dances & weddings up until June 1933, when the new German voluntary labour service (Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst), advertised for a bandmaster to take over their organisation’s national band. Applying, and being duly selected, Gustav was posted to Hüls to take command of Nielsgruppe 211 but in the following year, the volunteer labour service having become the Reichsarbeitsdienst, Gustav found the re-titled RAD band did not perform to his expectations and so he began looking around for a new musical challenge.
In the summer of 1933, former Sturm-Abteilung musician Hermann Müller-John, was tasked by Sepp Dietrich of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ to set up a Musikkorps with strength of 36 musicians.. .and the following year an order was issued for its expansion to 72 and a series of recruitment advertisements placed in the German magazine ‘Variety’: Gustav Weissenborn applied, successfully auditioned in Berlin and thenwsent for four weeks basic military training after which all recruits were issued with their uniforms & instruments and ordered to the SS barracks at Lichterfelde in Berlin. Then on November 8th 1934, he travelled down to Munich to swear the SS Oath of Allegiance at the Feldherrenhalle and returned to Berlin as a fully inducted clarinettist in the Musikkorps of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’.
Between 1934 & 1938, he served as an SS-Musiker with a life full of band rehearsals & performances at worker’s concerts in factories and for the public at Berlin’s Zoo; then from 1935 the band performed at the Nuremburg party conventions, Hitler’s official birthday celebrations and as part of the SS honour guard welcoming foreign dignitaries to Berlin… and heard through their orchestral performances on German radio and on schellack 78rpm record.
Up until 1936, SS-LAH concert tours were overseen by civilian managers but now Gustav Weissenborn took charge and during this hectic period, climbed the ladder of promotion: in March 1935 he was promoted SS-Sturmmann, then SS-Rottenführer in January 1937 and SS-Scharführer in March 1938… that year also saw Gustav Weissenborn leave the SS-LAH to pursue a career as a civilian orchestra leader, joining the Kraft durch Freude organisation, who had just commissioned a 25,000 ton cruise liner to provide holidays for the German ‘Volk’. Named M.S. ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’ Gustav led a 24 strong ship-board orchestra and it was on the ship’s maiden voyage that he met his future wife Elizabeth, a passenger on the cruise.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, the Kriegsmarine commandeered the ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’ as a hospital ship and Gustav’s orchestra transferred to shore-based duties and began performing ‘Front Shows’ to audiences across German-occupied Europe and by August 1942, with some 700 concerts under his belt and preparing for a tour of the Russian Front, (he didn’t relish!), bumped by chance into Hermann Müller-John, who suggested that he rejoin the Leibstandarte instead of heading east. Gustav accepted the offer and was inducted back into the SS-LAH, and promoted SS-Oberscharführer on December 1st 1942.
He soon confirmed his position as Hermann Müller-John’s deputy and with the musicians in the band having an average age of just 23, Gustav again became closely involved with organisating & conducting SS-LAH concerts and was promoted SS-Hauptscharführer. In October 1943 he was tasked with forming a new Musikkorps for the 12.SS-Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ and by December this new band had completed its training and so in February 1944, Gustav was appointed its Musikmeister, a band with an average age of just 18. In the summer of 1944, it found itself quartered in France following the Allied invasion on June 6th and its young musicians were withdrawn back to Germany.
Despite the end of the war staring the Third Reich in the face, Gustav received orders from Berlin to form another new Musikkorps and so 45 to 50 musicians from the Musikkorps SS-LAH and the 12.SS-Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ were despatched back to their Lichterfelde, Berlin barracks but found themselves drawn into the final battle for the city as infantrymen against the advancing Russians, many falling in battle… Meanwhile April 1945 saw the remaining 12.SS-Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ musicians sent to combat units in Hungary and were soon involved in vicious fighting around St Polten whilst Gustav was ordered to Worgl in Austria to ensure the band’s instruments & orderly-room contents were put into storage.
The beginning of April 1945 also saw the end of the Musikkorps SS-LAH with its musical instruments, black uniforms & orderly-room documents stashed in a farmer’s hay barn and the remaining musicians picking up rifles to face the advancing US forces. Having hidden the band’s instruments, the rearguard 15 SS-LAH musicians under Hermann Müller-John were ordered to Soll in Austria, where they met up with Gustav and the remainder of his SS-Hitlerjugend musicians, and were attached to a Wehrmacht combat unit. Orders were received for one final move to St Johann on May 7th 1945, but before receiving confirmation of promotion to SS-Untersturmführer, Gustav heard the capitulation of all German military forces would take place the following day, with all weapons to be handed in by 10pm that night!
The war in Europe ended the following day, May 8th 1945 with many surviving musicians taken prisoner and subsequently serving varying terms in POW camps; however, there was a tragic post-script, for SS-LAH Musikmeister Hermann Müller-John who, just ahead of the advancing American forces, shot dead his wife & child who’d joined him, then turned his gun on himself & committed suicide. Happily, however, SS-Hauptscharführer Gustav Weissenborn was able to make his way back to Wiesbaden, where, reunited with his wife, he was able to hang up his uniform and quietly return to an anonymous civilian life… until he kindly agreed to speak with me all these years later and so generously allow me to chronicle and put down on record his military musical life for my book, a much longer version of which appears in The Military Music and Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45!
One other final postscript that resulted from the eventual publication of my book is that, several years later, having searched high & low for such a fascinating German military musician as Herr Weissenborn during my pre-production research, and then travelling to Germany to meet and interview him, I got a call from a lovely lady who lived not 5 miles from Tomahawk’s office:
In a sad telephone call, she told me that had she had wanted to make contact as she’d read my book and wanted to let me know that she had just lost her much-loved German husband… a former Luftwaffe military musician whom she had met as a young girl when he was a Prisoner of War working on day release from the nearby Hursley Stockade here in Hampshire..
She also told me that he would have loved my book and so too would his old school pal, who was a musician in the Leibstandarte-SS, and who actually used to come over from Germany to spend each summer with his old musical comrade…
So there it was, completely unknown to me during my studies: two veteran professional Third Reich military musicians, one of them from a Luftwaffe Musikkorps and the other from the Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’, both of whom would also have loved to have talked with me about my work.. and both of them not a stone’s throw from where I was quietly beavering away…
….and I simply had no idea..!
Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013