Waffen-SS Musiker Training…

From the earliest days of the Third Reich, the Allgemeine-SS & SS-Verfügungstruppe had begun forming their own elite Musikkorps, so establishing the tradition for the SS leading the way in all things artistic & political and Hitler’s elite Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte-SS had successfully recruited fully-trained first-rate civilian professional musicians to join its ranks to establish itself in the pre-war years as Germany’s premier military band. As such it performed at all the most important military & ceremonial occasions in Berlin, including the Sportspalast Concert on January 30th 1934 to celebrate the first anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s spectacular ascent to power.

However, with the creation of the Waffen-SS and the sudden increase in the number of new Waffen-SS Musikkorps as a result, the SS-Musikinspektion  was determined to ensure a constant supply of highly trained  young musicians from within its own ranks by laying down very strong foundations for their formal musical education, having appointed a new generation of Waffen-SS Musikführer.

So a purpose-built Musikschule der Waffen-SS was set up within the grounds of the SS-Junkerschule at Braunschweig under SS-Hauptsturmführer Edgar Siedentopf and admitted its first intake of  60 pupils on July 1st 1940. Maintained & funded by the Reichsführung-SS and the City of Braunschweig, the school recruited its music teachers from the town’s civilian State Music Academy, whilst school discipline and tuition was provided & overseen by SS-NCOs on secondment from the Musikkorps of the Waffen-SS Division ‘Germania’.

The school boasted an impressive array of brass and percussion instruments, including some 40 upright & grand pianos and consisted of one large staff headquarters building which contained a big rehearsal room, several practice rooms, an administrative office and both a tailor’s & shoemaker’s workshop to service the school’s domestic requirements. In addition, there was a boarding house containing students’ dormitories, a dining hall & kitchen, and scattered around the school were 3 teaching huts, a further smaller rehearsal room, a gym and several sound-proofed practice rooms for individual student practice.

Young pupils who possessed previous musical training and passed the strict medical could enter the school on or after their 14th birthday for a period of four years and then sign up for a 12 year contract as a musician within the Musikkorps of the Waffen-SS, provided their parents had given clear, prior consent and were then able to contribute 25 Reichsmarks (approx. £2.00), a month towards their board & lodging, clothing and education.

The level of the student’s musical aptitude was ascertained through the sitting of an entrance exam and all successful students were then advised on the selection of a main instrument, (brass), and a secondary instrument, (strings). On-going student progress was tested throughout the year and, whilst at the school, pupils wore uniforms similar in style to the standard field-grey combat uniforms of the Waffen-SS (right). But on their black collar patch was an embroidered lyre, the epaulettes contained the monogram M.S. and the cuff-title worn on the lower right tunic arm bore the legend Musikschule Braunschweig in silver on black. To help further distinguish the young students from the general Waffen-SS rank and file, the young trainee musician’s wore the standard Hitler Jugend armband and silver belt buckle.

In 1942 the SS-Musikschule separated from the SS-Junkerschule to become a separate and totally independent unit, and by 1944 the number of students had risen from that initial 60 to 220, with SS-Haupsturmführer Eberhardt taking over command and head-ship of the school from SS-Sturmbannführer Siedentopf and in keeping with the SS-Musikinspektion’s aim of providing the Waffen-SS with only the finest musician’s available, the Musikschule Braunschweig also ensured that high achieving students could be selected for further training as future conductors & musical directors with SS-Officer rank.

Along with suitable musician’s already serving with existing Musikkorps within the Waffen-SS, selected Braunschweig students were recommended by their instructors for further training and ordered to Berlin to sit aptitude & entrance examinations for the Musikführer’s course, and successful candidates were then attached to the Staff Band, where training took place across a range of musical subjects.

The emphasis in music-leader training was obviously placed on conducting, and the SS-Staff Band was used both in this regard and for the performances of compositions actually written by the probationary musical leaders; as such these future Waffen-SS Musikführer were given a far more realistic and dynamic music leadership training than any other military music school within the Reich.The SS-Musikführer course finished with a final examination and following a pass the successful students were promoted to the rank of SS-Standarten-Oberjunker (trainee officers), with the expectation that they would eventually become musical directors of their own Musikkorps and an accompanying rank of SS-Untersturmbannführer.

It is worth noting that the only two SS-Musikmeister who were not formally trained were Musikmeister Hermann Müller-John and his number two Gustav Weissenborn, (right in civvies), both of the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, neatly illustrating the elite and exclusive image that the SS Bodyguard Division enjoyed in the eyes of Adolf Hitler and its Commanding Officer Sepp Dietrich.

Upon completion of their basic military training, Waffen-SS musicians were immediately assigned to the SS-Musikkorps that had suitable vacancies on offer, whereas some newly qualified Wehrmacht musicians, fresh out of basic training, had to wait and scan the notice-boards or the situations vacant pages of the musical magazine Deutsche Militärmusikerzeitung seeking out bands that were advertising for specific musicians.

Military musicians quite often found themselves having to suffer the ‘indignity’ of being assigned to other military duties whilst awaiting their full-time move to a regimental or corps band, for despite the regular flow of Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musicians through basic military training, the German High Command issued strict regulations on the size of a unit’s military band, and new musicians would only be transferred to a band when there was a genuine vacancy.

An exception to this rule was the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’, whose elite band was much favoured by commanding officer Sepp Dietrich who firmly believed that a good Musikkorps reflected well on the whole regiment. Therefore whenever SS-LAH Musikmeister Hermann Müller-John slapped in a request for two more clarinettists or an additional oboist, Dietrich would say with a rueful grin, ‘haven’t you got enough already….?’, before turning a blind eye to the already over-subscribed Musikkorps line-up and approving the latest transfer. It was in this fashion that the SS-LAH Musikkorps grew from an original 48 musicians to 75 thence up to 120 musicians!

Once the new musical recruits had passed through basic military training and joined a Musikkorps, all Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS musicians were put onto the Wehrmacht Heeresdienstvorschrift (or Army Service Regulation) pay scale HDV 32 and were then very much considered to be full-time professionals. Now, in a complete reversal of their previous status during basic training, they were not expected to undertake any other military duties outside of their creative sphere during peace time and could concentrate fully on advancing their professional Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht military-musical careers.

The only exception to this order was their annual four weeks posting, as serving soldiers, back to a training company to ‘recapture’ their military skills acquired during basic training and to freshen up on what would become their secondary wartime roles as medics, communications personnel, drivers and motorcycle couriers. But once assigned to a Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS musikkorps, a musician’s instruments were then provided by the unit or regimental band, (the only exception being the 12.SS-Hitlerjugend who, due to their late formation in 1944, actually provided their own instruments), and then the business of performing professionally in public could really begin in earnest…

A typical military musician’s day in barracks usually consisted of full rehearsals of the Musikkorps each morning followed by individual practice and performance in the afternoon, with many evenings being taken up with small public concerts being staged to entertain the good folk of the garrison town and its outlying regions. Mornings normally began with marching practice for the full band, either practising new movements or brushing up on old ones and rehearsing the military marching repertoire, either on the parade ground or in fields behind the barracks; then it was time to sit down and work on specific concert pieces and performances including overtures and waltzes that would be performed at important public concerts…

Afternoons provided the opportunity for the individual musicians to lock themselves away in whichever quiet spot they could find (the attic, boiler or store room), and work undisturbed on their own specific instrument, before rejoining the band and travelling to the evening concert. This evening entertainment could take place in the local town hall or in the large hall of the local brewery or as an outdoor concert in the bandstand in the town park or perhaps as a more elaborate performance in the local theatre or concert hall. Particularly well received wherever they played were the dance band of the SS-Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ in the distinctive Waffen-SS white mess-jackets they always performed in!

For the German military career-musician, Sunday was always the most important day of the working week, with them often being required to perform full-scale concerts organised for the German civilian population most weeks. These were often in aid of the Deutsche Rotes Kreuz, or to entertain the workers at local factories during peace time. During the war years they were more likely to perform in support of the Winterhilfswerk (Winter Relief Fund), or visit military hospitals to entertain sick & wounded soldiers shipped back from the front…thus proving Goebbel’s maxim that military music was a vital tool in Third Reich’s Propaganda War..!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2014

Extracted from the book:  The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945                     Published by The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive.    ISBN 0-9542812-0-9

Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS Hubert Meyer…

It was with great sadness that Tomahawk Films recently learned of the passing of Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer at his home in Germany on November 16th of last year…

Born in Berlin in 1913 and a highly decorated & twice wounded combat officer who, after training at the SS Officer School at Bad Tölz in Bavaria, served with great distinction in Poland, France, Holland, the Balkans & Russia, (where he won the Cross in Gold to his previously awarded EK.1), the then SS-Hauptsturmführer Meyer held senior rank with both the elite Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ and 12.SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend’.

After continued exemplary leadership in the field, a newly promoted SS-Sturmbannführer Meyer attended the General Staff Officer course at the Wehrmacht’s War Academy and after graduating, was appointed Senior Staff Officer of the newly formed 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’, taking temporary command in 1944 following the capture of Kurt Meyer.

After relinquishing command to Fritz Kraemer later in ’44, Meyer resumed his role as Ia of 12.SS-Panzerdivision‘Hitlerjugend’ and was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer, (Lt Col), remaining on the Divisional staff throughout the remainder of the war, finally surrendering to the Americans with the rest of his Division on May 8th 1945.

Post-war, Herr Meyer lived quietly & studiously near Cologne, West Germany where, in addition to becoming a much respected senior representative and official spokesman of the Association of Veterans of the Waffen-SS, (HIAG), he also became a concise & passionate ‘keeper of historical knowledge, ultimately writing the definitive 2-Volume history of the 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” that was published in English only as recently as 1994.

In the later part of his life, Herr Meyer, was a most wonderful friend to, and great supporter of, Tomahawk Films and our archival work devoted to the traditional German soldier song and through his ever enthusiastic help & encouraging word, we were granted the exclusive rights to re-master & re-produce both of our SS-Veteran Soldatenchor Minden’s post-war recording sessions, (through his kind introductions to choir-master Willy Casselmann, also formerly of the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’), and so allow Tomahawk the proud opportunity of raising some modest sums by way of royalties from these two CDs to donate to HIAG for the support of needy Waffen-SS veterans and their families.

In a further much appreciated gesture that was so in keeping with the generous spirit of the former officer we knew, Herr Meyer later kindly suggested that Tomahawk Films should be allowed to keep all future royalties from these two Soldatenchor Minden recordings, the better to help with our ongoing study and promotion of much loved German military music…and this we will gladly and most sincerely continue to do in his memory!

Very importantly to Tomahawk’s work, it was also former Leibstandarte-SS and 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend officer Hubert Meyer that very kindly sought out and so generously made all of the necessary introductions and presentation of bona fides to a former important comrade of his from the musical arms of both the Leibstandarte-SS ’Adolf Hitler’ & 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’ that subsequently allowed me to travel to Bad Kreuznach  in Western Germany during the writing of my book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45.

With a planned chapter hoping to document the life & times of a German Military Musikmeister I was able to meet the retired musician & band leader, former SS-Hauptscharführer Gustav Weissenborn… and not just any Musikmeister, but in Herr Weissenborn I was meeting & interviewing the musical second-in-command to the legendary Hermann Mueller-John of the world famous Musikkorps Leibstandarte-SS ’Adolf Hitler’, before taking musical command, in his own right, of the military band of 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’.

In interviewing Herr Weissenborn in his beautiful home town on the banks of the Name river, I was also meeting a senior Waffen-SS musician who had both served in, and led, two of the greatest military bands in the world.. and the only two out of three elite Third Reich Musikkorps that still performed their musical duties right up until April 1945, just a month before war’s final end in May 1945.

Herr Meyer’s wonderful help & involvement in our work was something quite out of the ordinary and in fact every military researcher’s dream and I simply could not have imagined my book being the complete or finished work it eventually was, (nor indeed where Tomahawk might be today), were it not for his terrific stamp of approval upon what my little company & I were trying to achieve.

I am therefore personally moved when I say that, in Herr Meyer, Tomahawk Films could not have had a more supportive former serving senior Third Reich-era German officer when it came to the study, production and hopefully the on-going preservation of WW-II German military music and its ever attendant & evocative ‘Soldier Song’ and we shall miss his hugely encouraging letters and Christmas cards greatly.

So with great sadness at the news of the passing of this highly respected & most honourable of military men we would very much like to extend our sincerest & deepest condolences to his immediate family who have, just as generously, offered Tomahawk Films their unstinting and most generous help & support in relation to our labours in the field of this evocative and exciting of military music. 

Hubert Meyer was a most dignified and very proud former combat soldier who was revered & respected by his men in equal measure, even more so when, post-war, he headed up that highly regarded German welfare organisation, HIAG, in order to look after the well-being of so many former soldiers of the Waffen-SS and their families…

These were wonderful ex-combat veterans who proudly served their country but which, in turn, cruelly and unjustly denigrated them and the incredible service & sacrifice they freely gave for that country they loved so unconditionally, and I know his sad passing will be mourned by many in Germany and here in the United Kingdom…

                     Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013