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

 

The Music of Third Reich Favourite Mimi Thoma…

When it comes to evocative female singers from those dark days of World War Two that were tasked with keeping up the spirits of war-weary nations, there will always be those that are instantly remembered and recalled: for the Allies it will always be Vera Lynn & Ann Shelton, for the Americans, The Andrews Sisters and for the Germans it will forever be Lale Andersen and Zarah Leander… but what about those other ‘literally un-sung heroines’ that were deemed their equals at the time, but since 1945 have almost fallen into total obscurity?

For Germany one such singer, popular throughout the years of the Third Reich, but barely a musical footnote after, is Mimi Thoma: born in Munich in 1909 the young Mimi originally set out on a medical career, successfully working in the nursing profession in pre-war Germany and at the time she had set out for herself a long-term game-plan to specialise in Paediatrics, (or the care of children). However fate had different plans in store for her and, as a very talented amateur singer in her spare time and blessed of a superb & quite distinctive voice, she was very soon noticed and then signed-up by music agents in the 1930s when as she was performing part-time in some of the many small nightclubs that were dotted around her home city.

With a wonderfully wistful & quite moody delivery that was so en vogue in the pre-war German cabaret scene in both Munich and the capital, Berlin, Mimi very soon built up a massive and loyal following right across Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich so much, in fact, that it put her up on a then par with, and ranked equally alongside, the likes of the similar voiced, but the more famous aforementioned cabaret singers, Lale Andersen & Zarah Leander.

Proclaimed on each & every concert-hall bill-board across Germany as: ‘A voice that everyone knows’ Mimi also became a great favourite with Joseph Goebbels and the Reich’s Nazi propagandists and as such throughout her burgeoning career she was variously signed to the German Grammophon, Telefunken & Polydor recording labels. Additionally, as with Zarah Leander, she also found herself acting in several important Berlin-produced movie-musicals that were shot at the famous Ufa-Babelsburg studios later on in the Second World War.

Surviving war’s eventual end in May 1945 Mimi, like her compatriot Lale Andersen, was also asked to perform for an Allied Red Cross concert in late 1945, before then embarking, again like Lale, on several years of touring across post-war Germany. However, very sadly, she was never able to recapture her terrific war-time success or indeed build upon her amazing pre-1945 popularity in Germany and tragically died in Cologne in 1968 at the tender age of just 59; even worse, she died alone and totally forgotten by her once adoring country..!

And that is how matters would have remained, had it not been for American movie mogul & director, Steven Spielberg, who would come to use Mimi’s very evocative children’s song, ‘Mamatschi’ on the sound-track of his Hollywood blockbuster movie Schindler’s List

It is a real tragedy that Mimi would have died believing her singing career had passed into obscurity and that she had been completely forgotten and thus unaware that, through Mr Spielberg years later, a welcome spotlight would once again be shone on her former war-time singing career as a Third Reich favourite and indeed that a new younger generation would come to hear her distinctive voice, whilst her past fans would be happily reminded just why they originally adored her voice the first time around…

Not surprisingly, we were delighted here at Tomahawk Films when our further searches in Germany uncovered, by chance, a small but perfectly preserved haul of pre-Second War schellack 78rpm records containing some of Mimi’s best known former songs…

Included was her own theme tune, Mamatschi, so allowing us to shine a small light on this once famous, but long-forgotten female voice of the Third Reich recording & radio industries through the release of our CD: Mamatschi..! The Songs of The Third Reich’s Favourite Cabaret Singer Mimi Thoma 1935-1941 …

 Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013