Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht…

As I depict in a dedicated chapter in my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945, the outbreak of the Second World War saw the introduction of probably the most important and popular light entertainment programme broadcast nationally on Grossdeutsche Rundfunk: ‘Das Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht’ (Request Show for the Armed Forces). First transmitted on October 1st 1939, it became a regular and eagerly awaited feature of Sunday afternoon listening and, with an audience of some 80 million listeners at its height, could rightly stake its claim to be the first mass appeal light entertainment show in the history of popular radio.

Opening with Master of Ceremonies Heinz Goedecke’s words of welcome: ” This is Greater German Radio: dear soldiers, dear listeners in the home country, dear friends beyond the borders, the fanfare is summoning the Request Concert for the Armed Forces…” the Wunschkonzert offered a fascinating and entertaining collection of variety songs, popular hits, stirring instrumental marches, unit & korps marching songs, comic sketches and light classical music, all requested by the fighting men themselves and mailed in from the different German theatres of World War Two.

A German ‘Forces Family Favourites’, the Wunschkonzert was the soldiers’ very own show and forged a powerful link between the German armed forces fighting at the front and their families back in Germany, manning the home front. As such it became a show-case for some of the best German music and light entertainment of the day, in addition to being the launching pad for a number of famous songs, not least ‘Bomben auf Engeland’, which had its first public performance on the Wunschkonzert.

In the first weeks following the outbreak of the Second World War, German domestic radio programming was totally dominated by the advance of the Wehrmacht in the East; however once the invasion of Poland was complete and the situation stabilised, it soon became evident that there was a need for some form of communication between the soldiers and their families. So it was that Deutschlandsender’s director of broadcasting Albert-Ingemar Berndt broadcast an appeal for requests from the troops at the front and on the very first day after that appeal the mail office at Broadcasting House was swamped with 23,117 letters earmarked for the Wehrmachts-Wunschkonzert!!

Heinz Goedecke and Wilhelm Krug were given the joint responsibility for putting the show together and, after admitting that they were actually totally unprepared and unsure of a proper running order or artiste roll-call for this first programme, both were, however, sure that the essence of the concert should be to make those at home feel close to the soldiers at the front and give those manning the front lines the real feeling that the ‘home front’ was listening.

So with precious little real preparation time, the show’s production team plunged in and virtually ‘ad libbed’ the very first programme from start to finish with runners managing the bank of telephones and relaying messages to the sound engineers who were to play the 78rpm shellac records and the band & orchestra leaders who were to conduct the musicians and singers performing live in the studio!

Judged a great success, this first broadcast was also to include a heart-rending request that was to establish a song which would become the very heart and soul of the armed forces request show…Gute Nacht Mutter! about which I have written about here in another Tomahawk Blog, so no need for me to repeat that story, save to say that this hauntingly beautiful and achingly sad song became a staple of the new Wunschkonzert..

The essence of the Wunschkonzert was that it should be a ‘one way traffic’ from the front to the homeland, and at the height of World War Two it offered to the 14 million Germans, who had registered to receive radio broadcasts, a diversion from the harsh realities of the conflict whilst forging a strong link with soldiers’ loved ones. Its proud motto boasted: “the front line reaches out to the home front..the home front reaches out to the front line”.

Letters and cards from the various fronts also varied in their requests: rather than songs or selected pieces of music, one group of soldiers who, in civilian life, had all worked for the same building firm, requested that the sound of a pneumatic drill be played over the air because “this meant as much as the butter on their bread”. Meanwhile the kitchen staff of an army pioneer battalion in France wanted to hear the Potato Soup (call to eat) Fanfare.

This was taken up with so much enthusiasm by the studio’s fanfare trumpeters that soldiers asleep in their barracks emerged from their bunks, somewhat drowsy and confused on hearing this well-known call at an odd hour!

As the war progressed into 1941 and 1942, and other campaign theatres opened up, German troops soon found themselves fighting in Norway and Africa and the Wunschkonzert had to take these listeners into account as well. After the victory at Narvik, a special postal connection spanning some 2,000 miles was opened up, and at the studio special baskets for Feldpost from the north were established.

Everybody who was anybody in Germany was keen to be associated with the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht and  so not surprisingly many famous German films stars and much loved singers of the day, such as the German Forces very own Lale Andersen together with Mimi Thoma & Zarah Leander and of course, the wonderful bass voice behind the show’s ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’ Wilhelm Strienz, gave their time freely in support of the broadcast. Perhaps therefore it was only a matter of time, before Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels, (never one to miss a passing bandwagon and jump upon it), decreed that this programme was henceforth regarded as a Nazi ‘national broadcasting treasure’.

As the Second World War progressed and events slowly began to turn against Germany, the general output of the Reich’s Broadcasting Network began to change, subtly at first, then with more and more blatant propaganda broadcasts beginning to take over from the earlier musical entertainment; not surprisingly a more sombre mood began to replace the previous gaiety of the earlier years. However, despite German forces facing severe reverses on all fronts, the Wunschkonzert was the one programme that escaped the long shadow being cast over other programmes, and the weekly show very soon became the main focus for a nation desperate to escape the harsh realities of a war suddenly turning against them.

So important, and indeed vital, a programme did the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht become in maintaining the morale of a German nation now facing the complete unknown, that Reichspropagandaminister Goebbels was even moved to rescind his earlier ban in 1935 on the playing of jazz music in an effort to keep the nation’s spirits up!

But from 1943 onwards, as the Allied bombing offensive against the Reich began to increase in intensity, the radio audiences tuning in on medium wave found their listening increasingly interrupted by something called the ‘Kuckucksruf’ (cuckoo call), a melodious two-tone signal that would suddenly break into the music to tell the nation that the first Allied bombers had been spotted over the Reich.

The music would then resume, only to be interrupted again by the call a few minutes later, then at the third call, an announcer would confirm that Allied bombers had entered German airspace, giving exact location and map co-ordinates so allowing the audience to keep track of the air-raids as they unfolded in the skies above their homeland..! As the war finally turned irreversibly against the Reich, German radio broadcasts were to become interrupted on an almost daily basis, with many listeners coming to dread the sound of the ominous Kuckucksruf!!

Finally Deutschlansender fell silent in April 1945 as Russian forces converged on Berlin and the most popular radio show in German history died alongside the fatally wounded capital but the Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmacht left behind a wonderful radio legacy that would never be repeated…

Heard by millions of listeners from East Africa to North America, across Europe to the Far East, the Request Show for the German Armed Forces was not only instrumental in holding a nation at war together… but eventually raised a staggering 17 million Reichsmarks for charities on the German Home Front during its wonderful, broadcasting lifetime…

Now the essence of this most famous and evocative of all Third Reich war-time radio programmes has been brilliantly captued by Tomahawk Films in our evocative and exciting 2-CD radio series simply entitled: Wunschkonzert für die Wehrmachtenjoy!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Collecting Nazi Song-lyric Postcards…

When I started out on the long road of producing & digitally re-mastering Third Reich/Nazi-era military music over 25 years ago, I never for one minute imagined that, through Tomahawk Films, we would have the pleasure of not only selling hundreds of thousands of such historical important albums to collectors & enthusiasts around the world, but that I would also embark on a personal 7 year journey of study that would result in my reference book entitled: Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45 or indeed a new hobby: The German Soldier Song…!

Basing my reference book around the soldier-musicians of the Nazi era, in the course of my research I happened upon a couple of picture postcards sent back from German soldiers fighting in the icy wastes on the Russian Front in 1941 to their loved ones manning the ‘Home Front’ back in Germany and though I was interested in the military Feldpost stampings on the back, it was the front covers that really captivated me, featuring as they did two popular songs of the day, Rosemarie and the famous Wir fahren gegen Engeland..!

Despite having been a collector of Third Reich militaria since that days of my small museum back in my early teens, I had never come across such cards before and immediately set about trying to find a source and so visited my very first postcard collector’s fair in late 1996, armed with my two Third Reich period song cards, which I proceeded to show to any dealer who could spare the time to talk to me.

Unfortunately the general reaction was one of complete mystery, but undaunted I continued to then trudge around as many postcard fairs as I could; even so I only managed to elicit the odd one or two of these rather lovely Third Reich period lyric cards, (which sadly were usually dog-eared or damaged), and the odd, rather attractive First World War card, but I could still obtain no further thoughts from UK dealers as to just how many types of these specific music-related cards there may have been…

Then a year or so later, with just 20-odd cards to my name, two of my new Third Reich music-collector friends, John in the States and Stuart here in the UK,, found that they too were beginning to pick up similar song-cards and suddenly I didn’t feel quite so alone in my pursuit of knowledge!

Exchanges of the limited information available and sometimes swaps of our precious stock began to take place between my two collector pals, whilst two new American dealers I had located, Tom & Greg, very kindly began seeking out such cards, though with the pencilled Deutsche-Mark prices still left on the back of many, it was becoming obvious that they were mostly coming in directly from Germany!

Several years into my study, I was beginning to see a pattern emerge and even at this early stage, (which was still primarily as a part of my research into German military music), and get a feel for what cards had been  printed during the Third Reich: ornate cards, plain cards, coloured cards, those that were overtly political & propaganda-based, some that were purely military, whilst others of a more civilian nature offered the words to the most famous songs, and others not so well known; indeed some were gentle in their picture content whilst others represented a German people fully committed to the defence of the Third Reich…

In addition the same names of card producers, such as Horns-Verlag of Gotha, Robert Franke of Hamburg, Greishaber und Säuberlich of Stuttgart and Verlag. J. Bottger of Bad Godesberg were beginning to turn up with some regularity amongst the production details on the backs of the cards.

Despite my on-going research, there was still a strange ignorance on this subject and even a well-known publisher of superb works on WW-II who has produced three volumes of Third Reich Propaganda Postcards was perplexed. Apart from a handful of cards devoted to the Horst Wessel Lied he entirely ignored the German Soldier Song postcard as a genre and on questioning him why this should be, received the answer that his work only revolved around propaganda cards, deeming my cards to be purely German military only which I found odd..!

So though no further forward, at least somebody well versed in German postcards had actually categorised my song card collection and knowing that he deemed them to be German military was fine, but where were all the listings (and dealers), for such cards and where were all the wonderful illustrations in other collectors’ written works for me to compare my growing collection?

The other imponderable was the apparent random pricing structure, as  apart from the interest and value attached to the overtly political Horst Wessel Lied song cards with their obvious Nazi link, it often appeared that dealers placed a card value based more on what is/was on the back of the card, i.e. the franking and/or the actual postage stamp, rather than the song & picture details contained on the front; for  example I once paid slightly over the odds for two cards bearing songs that weren’t particularly unusual because both cards, when turned over, bore the imprint of the ‘SS Standort Hospital’ at the Dachau Concentration Camp..!

This as a former school-boy stamp collector myself, I quite understand and this has since played to my advantage when I have been fortunate enough to pick up other cards with Nazi songs and imagery that I considered to be scarce, but because they were unissued and blank on the back I was offered them for merely a couple of pounds each, precisely because the dealer in question had seen nothing on the back, such as a stamp or Feldpost imprint, though which he could value the card higher!.

As with my general Third Reich militaria collecting days, I have built up and then sold several Nazi-era song card collections, and am back on the hunt again but as before  I try only collect mint-to unissued condition postcards where possible, ( a number of which are featured in my III Reich Military Music & Bandsmen Book), whereas dog-eared, damaged or defaced cards do not normally find a permanent in my Archive after they have served their research purposes, though after many years of searching, the number of new cards turning up is much more limited,

However I know of at least one new collector, (Ian up in Scotland), that started acquiring these wonderful soldier song cards as a direct result of seeing those featured in my book, so that is at least 4 of us I now know for sure are collecting such cards… Happy Days!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Tomahawk’s CD Covers – Pt 1

Our production office received an odd e-mail several weeks ago from a chap saying he wanted to buy some of our beautiful Third Reich period civilian music, and was particularly taken with our very popular 2-CD set: Musik in der Heimat 1934-44, (incidentally one of my favourite collections and the series I probably enjoyed most producing & re-mastering in the studio with our archival engineer Simon Woody’ Wood), but “he didn’t like the ‘1950s  cartoon’ artwork and had we any plans to opt for another design very soon?”..!

I’m not sure if the gentleman in question was seriously expecting us to suddenly re-design two complete new covers, just for him, (though to be honest nothing actually comes as  much of a surprise to me these days, especially after 30 years in this business, so he probably did..but good luck with that one, fellah!!).

However his remarks did raise an interesting question about the two images we incorporated on those Musik in der Heimat Part covers, as they’re taken directly & from 2 original Nazi-era/Third Reich propaganda post-cards from the 1930s & 40s in our archival German Song-lyric postcard collection, (Liederkarten), not as he was suggesting, from a post-war, 1950s ‘comic’..!

During the 1930s & 40s, Nazi propaganda postcards featuring famous and evocative lyrics to Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS marching & korps songs, along with much-loved sentimental songs from the Home Front, were all the rage with many following on from an earlier custom from Imperial Germany &The Great War). Tomahawk Films, as a professional Archive, collects these beautiful cards, some of which can be seen in full colour on a number of pages of my Tomahawk-published book: The Military Music and Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45.

As confirmed lovers of the old German Soldier-Song, The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive has been actively collecting these delightful cards for well over 20 years now, ( around the time I started researching my book in fact), yet after all this time we still have no idea of just how many variations on a theme that there are, or indeed were originally produced back then, as new examples keep popping up when we least expect them..! (In fact have long been thinking of penning a Collector’s book on the subject, but I think I may wait until I get an answer to this particular question!!)

Nevertheless, several German Musik enthusiasts who kindly read my book have contacted us to let us know that they also got into collecting these wonderful historical cards as a direct result of having seen them illustrated across a number its chapters, which was a most heart-warming thing to hear. So there is now quite a healthy little collecting field out there for just these exquisite and often quite heart-rending postcards: some also bearing very interesting unit Feldpost frankings on the rear of those actually postally-used during the war years,  thus underscoring their direct military connection with Hitler’s Armed Forces in the same manner as went before in the time of the Kaiser’s armies!

For a while Tomahawk Films did actually re-print a series of 12 of our favourite Liederkarten, again taken from originals in our German archive, and these sold well for a number of years, so keep your eyes open for them as I dare say a number of sets are still about; they were clearly marked on the back as being a ‘Tomahawk Films product’ so collectors would know to buy them only as a modern re-print.

Very often they were acquired to frame or use as a German language guide to aid their understanding a little better when listening to Tomahawk’s various Soldier Song CDs, such as Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen!, and not buy them thinking they were original pre-1945 collector’s items, like the three beauties from our collection featured on this page..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012