The Songs of Ufa’s Zarah Leander…

I was pleased to see another Tomahawk Films’ credit on television last night through the re-showing of New Animal Productions’ terrific two-parter on The Third Reich: The Rise and The Fall, (having caught Part Two last month on the History Channel), as I was ‘channel hopping’ and caught Part One on the Military Channel and the chance to hear our evocative track ‘Yes Sir’ by World War Two German favourite, the Swedish singer & actress Zarah Leander…

Back in the 1930s the Berlin suburb of Babelsburg was home to Germany’s pre-war ‘Hollywood’ and its leading production company Universum Film AG (Ufa) which, at its height was producing an incredible 500 films a year and with the advent of the Third Reich in 1933 Ufa came under increasing Nazi state control and by 1942 was wholly Reich-owned.

At this time the leading international female star on its books was the ever-popular Zarah Leander who, born, Zarah Stina Heberg in Karlstad in 1907, had originally been a star of Sweden’s silver screen’ at the beginning of the 30s. Early on in her career, a US Hollywood film had beckoned but newly divorced, with two small children, she had decided to stay in Europe and being fluent in German, looked towards the Third Reich and the advancement of her career in Germany and in 1936 she was successful in that aim and was rewarded with a Ufa movie contract.

Known as a very tough negotiator Zarah demanded, (and received), huge salaries, to be paid in Swedish Kroner rather than Reichsmarks, much to the great annoyance of Propagandaminister Goebbels’ who actually dubbed her an ‘Enemy of Germany’..!

However, as a musical movie star much-loved by the German people, (and Adolf Hitler in particular), and a leading performer in ten of Ufa’s most successful films, her career in Nazi Germany flourished as she played the role of a Femme Fataleindependently minded, beautiful, passionate and self-confident, all of which she actually was in her personal life!

Her wonderful singing voice had a smoky, deep intensity more in-keeping with that of her early rival Marlene Dietrich, however in 1943 Zarah’s villa in the fashionable Berlin suburb of Grünwald was hit during an Allied air-raid and, combined with un-ceasing Nazi pressure on her to apply for German citizenship, she chose instead to return to Sweden after her final 1943 Ufa movie, ‘Damals’ …

But following Germany’s heavy defeat at Stalingrad, neutral-Swedish opinion began to turn into sympathy for the Allies and Zarah, so directly linked with  Nazi Propaganda, was shunned in her home country, though in the post-war years she returned to Germany, but was unable to regain her previous mass popularity, eventually passing away in June 1981.

However Tomahawk have acquired a number of original schellack 78s in Germany and our CD ‘Schiff Ahoi’ offers of some of her most famous moody & atmospheric Third Reich recordings, including last night’s television airing of Yes Sir..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013


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