The Horst Wessel Song…

The most important and instantly recognisable song in the history of Nazi Germany, and a call-to-arms second only to that of the German National Anthem, ‘Die Fahne Hoch!’ (later more commonly known as the Horst Wessel Song), was to become synonymous with the Third Reich… though the somewhat seedy and tawdry history that lay behind it was hardly the stuff of heroic Wagnerian legend!

However it is one of the most commonly sought-after songs from The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive, either by III Reich music collectors or television documentary producers needing original and authentic sound-tracks for their Nazi-era documentaries, and which we are happy to supply either from our CD: The Military Music of Hitler’s Leibstandarte-SSor from our album  Lieder der Sturmabteilung und Hitlerjugend which each contain a superb and differing vocal version of this stirring track..

But the story actually began way back in Berlin of the late 1920s, a city that was swiftly turning into an arena for running street battles between the fledgling Nazi Sturm Abteilung and the Communists of the Red Front (Rotfrontkämpferbund). This played into the hands of Josef Goebbels, the newly appointed Gauleiter of the Nazi Party, who was successful in attracting new converts to the cause by portraying his SA bully-boys as the victims of unprovoked and vicious attacks by Communist supporters in his written articles for the Berlin newspaper ‘Der Angriff’ (The Attack).

One of those recruits was Horst Wessel, the 19 year-old law student, son of an eminent Berlin preacher, who, following his father’s death in 1926, turned his back on a comfortable, middle-class background, joined the SA and set about living out his life amongst the poor & working classes of the strongly Communist Friedrichshain district of Berlin. As talented an orator as his mentor, Goebbels, Horst Wessel’s political career took off, and he was soon promoted Sturmführer of SA-Sturm 5; then one night in 1929, whilst returning home from leading his men in yet another clash on the streets of Berlin with the Red Front, he saw a young girl, 18 year old Erna Jaenicke, being assaulted and rushed to her aid.

Despite it transpiring that Erna was actually a Berlin prostitute, it was love at first sight for them both, and she soon gave up her profession for Horst, left her pimp, and the pair of them moved in together, lodging with a 30 year-old widow of a former member of the Rotfrontkämpferbund, Elisabeth Saln. However the couple clashed with widow Saln over late rent payments, and to such an extent that she eventually decided to evict them, with the help of her late husband’s Red Front comrades; so it was that on the evening of January 14th, 1930, twelve men turned up at their lodgings at Grosse Frankfurter Strasse 62.

An unsuspecting Horst Wessel opened the door to be confronted by the group which included, by sheer chance, the figure of Erna’s former pimp, 32 year-old Albrecht Hohler who, on seeing his lost source of income sitting in the flat, flew into a rage, pulled out a pistol and shot Horst in the mouth. Refusing the summoned medical help, because the doctor was a Jew, Horst was transferred to hospital in a critical state. This was the chance to create the Nazi martyr Goebbels had sought and Der Angriff’ printed daily bulletins of the failing health of the young Nazi, elevating him to the status of saint by referring to him as a ‘Socialist Christ’!

Joseph Goebbels was helped in his ‘canonisation’ of the ailing SA Sturmführer by the fact that Horst Wessel, in addition to being a powerful orator, was also a poet having written ‘Raise high the Flag’ (Die Fahne Hoch), which Goebbels now had set to the melody of an old traditional German marching song:

Raise high the flag, close the ranks,

the SA marches with a calm, determined step.

Comrades shot by the Red Front

and reactionaries are marching in spirit with us in our ranks.

The streets clear for the brown battalions.

The streets clear for the storm-troopers.

The Swastikas sparkle with hope for millions.

The day of freedom and bread is breaking.

The attack signal will sound for the last time.

We are ready for the fight.

Soon Hitler’s flags will wave over every street.

The misery will soon be over.

Just the rallying cry that Goebbels needed to promote the cause, and he ordered that it now be sung as a part of the regular programme of Nazi rituals; meanwhile Horst himself had contracted blood-poisoning as a result of his terrible wounds, deteriorated rapidly and died on February 23rd 1930, whereupon Goebbels commented:

‘his spirit has risen in order to live on in all of us. He is marching in our ranks…’

At his funeral the cortege, (stoned by Communist on-lookers), was escorted by S.A. storm-troopers and as the S.A. roll call was read out by the graveside, at the mention of Horst Wessel’s name, the entire escort came together to loudly reply ‘here’!

A Nazi martyr had been born and Horst Wessel’s place in the pantheon of Third Reich folk-lore was assured, with some 250 biographies & and plays eventually being written about him.

In addition town squares all over Germany were re-named in his honour so ensuring that his song: Die Fahne Hoch’ would eventually become the internationally famous Nazi anthem, inextricably linked forever with The Thousand Year Reich…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

The Third Reich’s Record Industry…

As I explain in greater depth in my book, The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945, German military music and its production really came of age in the mid 1920s, with the introduction of electric recording and the advent of the microphone; as a result, subsequent record production took off in 1930 and continued into the years of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1941.

However, with the ready availability of military marching music in public life, be it an open-air concert in the town square or a military parade through the town headed by the garrison’s Musikkorps, the actual demand for 78rpm schellack records was initially limited. This combined with the fact that the ‘new’ records were still considered as a bit of a luxury, meant that the majority of military recordings were initially transferred onto schellack for radio play, although all this would soon change.

The actual quality of these recordings took a gigantic leap in 1938 when German industrial giant AEG first developed a plastic tape with a ferrous coating which was then followed in 1941 by a pre-magnetised, high-frequency tape.

When used in conjunction with the newly developed Magnetophone recorder, this allowed for both the recording and play-back of music and, (particularly fortuitous for the Third Reich’s propagandists), the speeches of Adolf Hitler & Joseph Goebbels which were to become virtually indistinguishable from their live concerts!

With these major technological steps forward it was now possible to record up to twenty minutes duration and, for the first time, also allowed the editing of pieces from different sources, another key feature in the propaganda war that was now being waged on the Nazi airwaves.

Whilst the number of record companies in Germany increased almost overnight, the financial crash of 1929 and subsequent depression saw a large number of these fledgling companies sink without trace. Those that survived did so because they had international connections; these included two companies owned by British interests, Electrola, the German off-shoot of the Gramophone Company, and Carl Lindstrom Gesellschaft, which belonged to Columbia and released its recordings on the Odeon label. Both companies had very extensive catalogues of music recorded in Berlin.

Deutsche Grammophon & Telefunken were the two most important wholly German-owned companies, (with recordings of military music primarily aimed at the domestic market), and their reaction to the incoming National Socialist regime in 1933 was cautious, to say the least! However from a purely business point of view they simply could not ignore the public’s clamour & demand for commercial recordings of the new Nazi-inspired political and military music.

So they went about fulfilling this insatiable demand and from May 1933 onwards, Electrola alone released seven records a month devoted purely to patriotic songs and marching music, with the other companies eagerly following suit. By war’s outbreak in September 1939, the annual German gramophone catalogue of music releases was offering over 580 different marches, including eight alternative versions of Die Fahne Hoch!(Horst Wessel Song) and a tantalising six different versions of the ‘The Badenweiler Marsch’.

Nazi regulation of the German recording industry was somewhat laxer than its hold over the radio industry, which is probably why Carl Lindstrom was able to continue recording and distributing American jazz music on its Odeon swing series throughout all the countries occupied by the forces of the Wehrmacht.

However, Goebbels soon included the German record industry in his implementation of the anti-Jewish policies and thus ordered all recording companies to purge their catalogues of all Jewish-penned & performed works, and an order issued on December 18th 1937 by the Reichsmusikkammer banned all records containing both Jewish & Negro musicians. As a direct result, other recordings deemed ‘acceptable’ to the Nazi regime were now very much elevated to an almost ‘religous level’ such as the aforementioned and very stirring tune that Adolf Hitler had adopted as his very own and highly distinctive entry march: Der Badenweiler….

The major labels initially resisted, but by 1939 they had all but given in, and the so the likes of Electrola and Carl Lindstrom (now both taken over by the Nazis), together with Deutsche Grammophon and Telefunken, had all completely cleared out their musical inventories of Jewish and Negro- influenced work.

However, keen jazz, swing & blues aficionados amongst members of Luftwaffe aircrew, flying on bombing raids against the British Isles during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and onwards, were still able to indulge their passion for this ‘sinful’ music by simply re-tuning their aircraft’s on-board short-wave radio sets to pick up BBC broadcasts emanating from London, for the duration of their mission!

By August 1941 Jospeh Goebbels had banned all music arranged by British, Poles, Russians & French citizens, the only works that survived his purge were by Chopin & Bizet and domestic orchestras were forced to turn their attentions to many obscure German composers.

However despite Goebbels’ diktats’ the German recording industry managed to function unfettered by Nazi interference, though as the Second World War progressed, fewer 78 rpm schellack records were produced between 1941 & 1942 and from 1943 onwards production virtually ceased altogether as raw materials began to reach critical levels across the Reich.

This, together with the call-up into the Third Reich’s armed forces of  workers from the hitherto ‘Reserved Occupations’ meant that, by the end of 1944, just 35,000 men & women remained in Nazi Germany’s recording industry!

But war’s end in May 1945, it had died altogether in the ashes of a defeated Germany, though several famous names, like Polydor, have risen again ‘phoenix-like’ to successfully rebuild and recover their previous international position since the end of World War Two…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013