Nazi Bomb Plot’s 70th Anniversary…

The German Government has honoured a group of Third Reich-era Wehrmacht officers who tried to kill Adolf Hitler on this day, 70 years ago… In a sombre ceremony in Berlin, German president Joachim Gluck called the bombing of Hitler’s ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Eastern Prussia on July 20th 1944 a: “significant day in German history for showing the world that there were Germans who opposed the Nazi regime, as it was from this legacy that the newly founded Federal Republic, (once it belatedly recognized the significance of the military resistance), was able to draw legitimacy…”

The ‘July Bomb Plot’ as recently depicted in the Hollywood movie ‘Valkyrie’ (with Tom Cruise in the leading role), was actually not the first attempt to kill Hitler, but it was the one that came the closest to success: after the German disaster at the hands of Russian Forces at Stalingrad in 1942, many senior military figures believed that a greater German defeat was only a matter of time and by the summer of 1944 this feeling had grown to such an extent that these self-same senior Wehrmacht officers felt that only by opening secret peace negotiations with the Allies could Germany be saved from total & utter disaster… but they realised that the Allies would only take them seriously, once Adolf Hitler had been successfully assassinated..!

Following the previous assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich in Prague in 1942, then a failed attempted on Goebbels life, Hitler had often warned his immediate inner circle that all of them were open to such attacks and he himself took great personal steps to avoid being liquidated by his enemies. So it was that he frequently changed his itineraries and kept all but his closet aides in the dark when it came to his movements around Germany and increasingly spent a great deal of time either secure within in the Reichschancellery in Berlin or up at his favourite mountain-top retreat, the ‘Eagles Lair’ at Berchtesgarten in Bavaria in Southern Germany.

However from 1944, he took further steps with his security by increasingly basing himself within the heavily fortified bunkers of the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ at Rastenburg in East Prussia from where he ran the war with his military high command, safe behind the thickest of concrete walls and with an elite SS guard permanently on duty…as such, any assassin would have found it the most difficult of tasks getting anywhere close to the Führer to launch an assassination attempt.

However plans were indeed being laid down with a view to effecting exactly this, led by the Wehrmacht career-officer Claus von Stauffenberg, a veteran of the 1940 campaigns in Poland & France, before suffering serious wounds in the North African campaign as the result of a low-level Allied fighter attack, resulting in the loss of his right arm, three fingers on his left hand and his right eye. Upon his eventual recovery he was promoted Chief of Staff on the Army Reserve in Berlin whereupon, as a noted patriot, he was approached by a growing band of senior Wehrmacht plotters against Hitler and he agreed to join with them to plan the assassination of the Fuhrer and then open up negotiations with the Allies.

Previous attempts onAdolf Hitler’s life had failed, but in June of 1944 the conspiracy took a major step forward when Stauffenberg was promoted to full colonel and made the Chief-of-Staff to General Fromm, whereupon it was now necessary for him to actually attend meetings that were headed by Hitler, whom he first met on June 7th, 1944, just one day after the Allied Invasion of Europe on the Normandy coast-line on ‘D-Day’.

Now  the German Army was facing defeat on both the Eastern & Western Fronts, speed was of the essence if the conspirators were to put their deadly plan into effect and open peace negotiations with the Allies while Germany was still putting up a fierce & stiff rear-guard action.

However in early July the Gestapo got wind of things and starting rounding up those they believed were involved with a potential assassination plot, allied to which a number of senior army officers involved in the plot were being posted away from the capital to both Fronts in France & Russia, whilst former Afrikakorps Commander Erwin Rommel, a senior figure in the plot, was badly injured when his staff car was bounced by a low flying Allied fighter… so with matters going badly astray, Stauffenberg decided to act..!

Knowing that a major military staff conference was being organised at the ‘Wolf’s Lair’ in Rastenburg, as a severely disabled war hero above suspicion, Stauffenberg would be the perfect officer to carry a bomb… So carrying an attaché case in which a timed capsule full of acid would eat through a wire detonator when broken, thus activating a firing pin on a bomb, Stauffenberg went into a map room with Field Marshall Keitel and placed the bag against a leg of the table top upon which Hitler was looking at various campaign maps; after which Stauffenberg made an excuse that he had to take a telephone report from Berlin and left the map-room.

Instead he went straight to his staff car and as he reached it the bomb went off but Stauffenberg was able to bluff his way through the Lair’s main gates, past the SS guards who thought an air-raid was in progress, and a short while later reached the nearby air-strip and was on a Luftwaffe transport Ju-52 flying back to Berlin.

Unknown to Stauffenberg, just before the bomb exploded, another officer attending the briefing had moved the briefcase to the other side of the table leg he had chosen and the blast was directed away from Hitler who survived with his just clothes burned, a cut hand and damaged ear drums.

The planned coup d’état in Berlin that was due to follow the assassination was now thrown into complete disarray with nobody sure whether Hitler had been killed or not, with the only senior Nazi in Berlin at the time being Joseph Goebbels. A Major in the ‘Grossdeutschland’ Wachbataillon, Otto Remer, was sent to arrest Goebbels by the conspirators directing the doomed uprising in the capital, but Remer, a dedicated Nazi was put him in direct telephone contact with Hitler by Goebbels to prove that the Führer was still alive.

Promoted on the spot by Hitler to a full Colonel, Remer was ordered to round up the conspirators and, following a radio broadcast that there had been a failed attempt on Hitler’s life and the Fuhrer was still alive, all of the conspirators, including Stauffenberg, were identified and arrested.

The assassination attempt had failed in a clumsy & spectacular fashion and after a number of speedy courts-martial, the leaders of the coup were immediately executed on the spot by firing squad… but these men got off lightly in comparison as Adolf Hitler’s revenge was then most terrible to behold!

A nation-wide hunt across the Reich then ensued for anybody even faintly conected to the July 20th Bomb Plot and many individuals faced arrest and an immediate sentence of death, but not before enduring a most degrading public show-trial in front of the notorious Nazi Judge, Roland Freisler.

In the most terrifying & unjudicial of court-like like proceedings, this publicity-seeking judge and fervent Nazi publicly harangued & crucified many honourable & long serving senior Wehrmacht officers before also finding them guilty and pronouncing the death sentence on them.

Whilst a firing squad bullet was the ultimate fate for many of the convicted officers, a number of them were summarily hanged by piano-wire hastily thrown over beam in a nearby shed in brutal retaliation for this attempt on the Fuhrer’s life! (Though fate ultimately caught up with Freisler and he was killed in an Allied bombing raid on Berlin not long after!)

Today’s official recognition of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, (alongside 200 other plotters either executed or who committed suicide), as a symbol of the war-time resistance, some 70 years after the July 20th Bomb Plot, finally honours all the brave German patriots who stood up to the tyrannies of the Third Reich and gave their lives in an attempt to prevent Germany’s destruction in the ashes of the Second World War…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Images Courtesy of Tomahawk Films & Reuters

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

‘Got it wrong again, Dad..!’

Well here I am still struggling valiantly on behalf of the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive with the necessary evils of Social Media… and that’s without even having wrestled yet with the thorny issue of mastering You Tube and posting up bite-sized snippets from our Archive..(seems many others have already loaded up some of our German music clips & CD covers without our permission, so I feel it only polite that we, as the original copyright-holders, actually get a look–in and have a go ourselves!)

But oh boy! is my learning curve still steep.. with so much coming at me since the sad loss of dear old Stan, Tomahawk Film’s web-master, all this technical fannying around has fallen to me to get my head around and as I opined in one of my former Blogs, I am having to assimilate so much in recent months that my head is in danger of exploding.! It must have been great to be born at a time when all of this new media technology just came naturally to you: in fact my much loved & dearly missed mum always used to ask if it was something she should get involved with?… and I always told her in no uncertain terms to avoid it all costs.!

I would have done the same if today’s modern world didn’t view it as such an essential business tool; in fact only yesterday I heard the superb actor Martin Shaw being interviewed on Radio Two about his new series of ‘Inspector George Gently’ (starting tomorrow night on the Beeb) and when the subject came around to Facebook it was more than obvious that he is implacably imposed to it all and also avoids it like the plague.. and I silently thought: ‘lucky blighter that you can..!’

However the next generation growing up with all of this as ‘natural’ merely take it in their stride, but those young shavers have to remember that my colleagues & I come from the generation that glorified in ITV’s The Sweeney when Regan & Carter would have to break off from a high-speed car chase, tailing a ‘motor full of villains with shooters’ in the East End, to find a ‘phone box to make an urgent call back to HQ..! No good the young sniggering about that, as that was just the way it was and so it is that my generation of 50-somethings are now the apparent dinosaurs… great! But when all the satellites ‘go on the fritz’ after being hit by a meteor shower we at least will know how to write & talk to each other… some of us even know how to do long-division (well not me, I was a somewhat ‘theatrical’ History & English wallah with my head in the clouds… and not much change there either!)

However thanks to my great TV director & cameraman mate Ian ‘Nobby’ Fraser and his wonderful Girl-Friday, Harriet, both have continued to expend further valuable time in trying to help me find my way through the trials & tribulations of Facebook though sadly, ‘Dear Listener’ I have to shamefacedly admit I have transgressed yet again..dang!.. and much to everybody’s exasperation, I find myself on the FB Naughty Step… again, for Pete’s sake.. and it’s for 14 bloomin’ days this time!

Apparently I was again spotted by members of the the FB Polizei Feld-Division contacting another couple of fellow WWII German enthusiasts and that is verboten!.. As was noted before, you may contact friends only on FB to which I counter: that is what the pub, the ‘phone and e-mail is for..!

However Nobby very kindly took me to one side and quietly said “Look Bruno you are imbuing Facebook with far too much importance and a business ethic it doesn’t actually possess..it is just a place for mates to swap gossip and send each other cute little pictures of kittens or donkeys standing on their head…it’s not like the public library or theTomahawk Films website where you post up serious archival & historical information and promote yourself in a business sense.. Facebook is like buying a tabloid newspaper, looking at a couple of  lurid stories & interesting pics inside…then throwing it out..it is literally here today & gone tomorrow..!”

And that was my big mistake..I actually thought Facebook was like a company website where you put up your work & allied information for folk to use like a reference source, (and also exchange links with like-minded folk). But once I finally realised that FB is just a bit of lightweight fun & frolics and nothing more and that this ‘Daily Star’ approach to life is actually their raison d’être in place of a business plan, it has made all the difference to my thinking. So rather than post up written articles I am now limiting myself to sticking up interesting Tomahawk archival pictures with perhaps a few lines of explanation, (or stuff I’ve worked on in my career), writing funny captions on other peoples often hilarious images and just enjoying seeing what other people on FB find funny or thought-provoking.

More worrying however is that I too am now going awwww!! at pictures of kittens & Boxers and laughing uproariously at aforesaid mentioned donkeys standing on their head…but the fact that many other like-minded military-historical enthusiasts are now enjoying our Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive Page and following us is a real a bonus..!

My original plan was just to go on FB to help Tomahawk Films get noticed by Google  and so hopefully rise above the rankings of those pirating our original Tomahawk Films archive, but it is actually turning out to be quite a fun place to be and I can now clearly see the attraction… it is also having an unexpected but happy consequence to my own personal & professional life as well!

As kind readers of my Blogs may know, before Tomahawk Films I had a very interesting period as a freelancer in television production plus a parallel 8 years or so as a local radio presenter and as I wrote in a recent Blog, my very first professional job in telly was as Unit Production Manager on Jack Hargreaves’ ‘Out of Town/The Old Country’ working alongside my old pal Phil Wade who was the superb sound recordist on the series. One of the unintended consequences of  now being on Facebook is I then found a Jack Hargreaves Page and as a result of that I  posted a small bit about my former role in the Out of Town story and since then have been welcomed in by Jack’s growing legion of followers which in turn is hopefully leading Phil & I to meet up with the man behind those Facebook pages, Simon Baddeley, Jack’s step-son…

So all of this social media is slowly & gradually staring to weave small links throughout my professional & personal life (which I can see is also one of its many attractions), because this new Out of Town link comes at a time when Phil and I also met up after almost 20 years or so of not being in touch, courtesy of Nobby’s 60th birthday bash just before Christmas..(pictured in the photo are my Dad, Dennis left, Nobby middle, Phil right). At what was a ‘superb do’ that I had not realised Phil was attending, we linked up again and through gales of laughter the years rolled away..!

It seems like only yesterday that Phil & I were working together on the Jack Hargreaves’ shows, (and also enjoying a riotous skiing holiday in Westerndorf, Austria in the first mid-shoot break!) and as we left Nobby’s bash we all made a pact to meet up again on the basis that none of us is getting any older and the only time we have spied each other of late was from opposite aisles at funerals… not a good state of affairs by any stretch of the imagination!

Happy to say we’ve now had our first ‘geriatric lad’s night’ out at the local watering hole: The Phoenix Inn, in my village of Twyford (at which the photo albums came out) and apart from the laughter resulting from comparing lack-of-hair and me being accused of actually dying my hair.. bloody cheek!.. plus a measuring of ever-expanding waist-lines (on some!), we also recalled some of the shoots we did… a couple I don’t recall even being on..that’s age for you!

Since then we have started to slowly catch up on our disparate lives via text ahead of our next monthly meet-up, (at which we are hoping to have 3 more mates from the past join us to also exchange wig-length & ‘beer belly’ statistics), and a surprising thing for me in meeting up again was to learn that Phil’s son Ollie Wade has become a very talented singer… his dad Phil was always a dab hand as a singer-songwriter and he’s obviously passed this skill on to his lad..!

Some of our old group back in our pre-television days had varying rock careers in the music biz: the second band I drummed for, ‘Adam West and The Gotham City Rockers’, lasted for a few very successful years on the local circuit here on the South Coast (during which time Nobby, unbeknownst to me at the time as an aspiring TV cameraman, actually looked after our lighting & gig poster design)… there’s a very spooky early crossing of later lives for you..!

I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was totally unaware of him in those heady times, yet years later he has happily become one of my closet buddies.. In fact we all had great fun in our early, if short-lived, disparate musical careers and though some came closer to a recording contract than others, reality dawned and we realised we had to get proper jobs, (if you can call television & radio a ‘proper job’!)

However it is obviously a case of what is in the genes is almost always passed on and in Ollie Wade I am thrilled to have seen on You Tube, (so yes all this Social media is working & interlocking our lives), what an absolutely superb singer he is, possessed of a very haunting delivery and indeed look.. and those of us who know Phil well can see his dad in him.. very ‘mini-me’. Though I don’t get involved in any promotion of up & coming musicians or media-types these days, (as I feel it is just too much like today’s short-cut reality TV to those of us who spent years practising, gigging, learning our craft and driving to & from myriad venues late at night in battered transit vans, dreaming of an album deal.. or even, gasp, a rare appearance on TV), however with Ollie, this is a very different kettle of fish..!

I linked into his superb You Tube pages yesterday to see B/W footage of his latest cover ‘Say Something’ (which I’d never heard until yesterday, but most spookily yet again, has just come on the radio as I write..how weird and how prescient is that ?) and I am genuinely blown away by his obvious talent.. and I urge you, if you have a moment, to make the link yourself and listen in to this brilliant young man sing..what a voice..his parents Phil & Nicky must be so proud of him...and rightly so!

I pray he doesn’t go down the television wannabe route and be used & abused by the music industry as with so many previous ‘one-hit wonders’ (or X-Factor winners as they are now known!), but gets picked up by trusted music-career professionals and bags a ‘proper’ recording deal for, with his obvious talents, I know Ollie Wade is a star of the future..and remember… you heard it here on the Tomahawk Films’ Blog… go for it Ollie!

….now, where’s that hilarious Facebook photograph of a Boxer puppy driving a German armoured car..?

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Adolf Hitler’s Last Bodyguard…

For those of us regularly glued to The Discovery or History Channels (the latter when it happily showed historical documentaries from World War Two rather than their strange current scheduling of anything but historical programmes), his face was a regular on our screens as an important interviewee when documenting the life of Adolf Hitler being, as he was, one of the last surviving members of the Führerbunker and possibly the last to actually witness the Führer’s body in May 1945… But last week, on September 5th  at the ripe old age of 96 and sadly following a long illness, Hitler’s last remaining bodyguard, Rochus Misch, died in Berlin.

Born in Silesia, Misch joined the SS Verfüngstruppe in 1937 and thence Hitler’s Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte-SS having won the Iron Cross 2nd Class in action in the Polish campaign in 1939. At various points during his years of military service throughout WW-II, his duties included accompanying the Führer as part of a 6-man bodyguard and could be seen in one of the accompanying cars following Hitler that you often see on the German Newsreels.

When serving at the Reich’s Chancellery in the German capital, two of the close bodyguard team would man the permanently busy ‘phones and Misch would revert to his secondary career as radio-operator to share the rota and his military life was permanently spent on Hitler’s closet staff roster in Berlin. So it was that on January 16th 1945, following Germany’s heavy defeat during the Battle of The Bulge in the Belgian Ardennes, Hitler moved his entire entourage, including all SS-Leibstandarte personnel, underground into the Führerbunker, Misch included, where he continued to work as a radio operator on the Fuhrer’s personal staff deep from within his subterranean radio-room…

Thus he now stayed almost permanently underground until war’s end in May 1945 and was therefore witness to the unravelling of the Third Reich and then Hitler’s last-minute marriage to his mistress Eva Braun, as well as the deterioration in the Fuhrer’s mental & physical health as the Russian Forces steadily pressed forward from the East and the capital withered under constant Soviet bombardment, whilst in the West Allied Forces continued their inexorable push across Germany..

In these turbulent last days, Misch was regularly on duty handling all personal radio traffic in and out of the Bunker complex and in the direct environs when, on April 20th, Adolf Hitler & Eva Braun jointly committed suicide and thence again on May 1st when Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels and his wife Magda horrifyingly poisoned all 6 of their children before both taking their own lives shortly after.

At the Third Reich’s dramatic end, only two Leibstandarte-SS personnel were believed to remain on duty in the Bunker: Rochus Misch and Johannes Hentschel, but Misch managed to escape from underground on May 2nd only hours before the Red Army finally broke through and surrounded the Bunker. Captured and sent transported back East to the notorious Lubyanka Prison in Moscow he was tortured by Russian Forces desperate for details of Hitler’s personal life.

Surviving such appalling treatment, he was to spend the next 9 years incarcerated in Soviet Labour Camps before his eventual release in the early 1950s, along with a number of others, (many thousands of former Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS prisoners having died in Russian captivity), to return to Germany and his wife & family in the leafy Berlin suburb of Rudow.

After several years of doing odd jobs, financial backing from a supporter allowed him to set up a successful painting & wallpaper business which he continued to run very successfully up until his retirement. However with the uncovering of the Führerbunker in 1990 during building work just after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Misch became an ‘in-demand’ witness by the media to those last days in the Führerbunker, and his appearances increased even more so after the deaths of Siegfried Knappe, Bernd von Freytag-Loringhoven, (a respected figure many will recognise from TV interviews), and Hitler Youth Courier Armin Lehmann. Togther with these three, Rochus Misch made up the last 4 surviving military staff members who had served down in the Bunker.

In recent years, before illness overtook him, Misch had become something of a ‘celebrity’ in his own right and was regularly consulted by film & documentary makers for insights on his service with Adolf Hitler and the final catastrophic days of the Third Reich down in the Bunker. When asked for his views, he freely ventured that the German leader was ‘no brute and no monster…very normal and certainly not as was written about him… in fact he was a wonderful boss!’

Rochus Misch’s memoirs were published under the title, Der letzte Zeuge (The Last Witness), in 2008 and after the diagnosis of his terminal illness, gave his last interview to an English national newspaper in May 2011, almost 68 years to the day that he last saw Hitler’s charred remains as he exited the Führerbunker for the last time..

Talking of Hitler, I just caught the last half hour of a new French, 2-part documentary production here on UK television on Sunday evening entitled Adolf Hitler – The Colour Years, which I eagerly looked forward to… that was until I realised that, yet again, the producers had decided it would be a real hoot to colourise original war-time 16mm black & white footage! Just why on earth do they feel compelled to do this..apart from the fact it is also inherently dishonest..?  Along with the earlier First World War and thence the later Korean War, these 3 wars were ostensibly ‘fought in black & white’… and to my way of thinking should remain so for later historians and students of the subject..

It is always a cause for celebration on the very rare occasion that original colour Agfa 16mm film footage turns up, (and is therefore an exciting & stunning colour window onto a war), but I find that messing about with the original B & W footage is one of the most annoying things as a viewer looking in and of late has absolutely ruined my enjoyment of what should be good documentaries supported by well researched film footage. Instead of being impressed I find my mind wandering as I gaze at the horrendous greens & blue hues that the colourisers have managed to wash the film footage with… it may all be technically very clever but, for me, it does absolutely nothing for the documentary storyline… quite the opposite in fact!

That said, some of the footage in this new two-parter does look like original colour material and the actual telling of Hitler’s early days is rather well done and has offered some  additional facts to the standard telling, which I had not come across before in all of my years of study. If the researchers are right, the early uniforms of the Sturm Abteilung (Hitler’s first bodyguard) were bankrupt stock bought up by the fledgling Nazi Party from the Hungarian Customs Service, (which would make sense, if you take a close look at the uniforms, particularly the kepis). Plus a certain Henry Ford used to donate all the profits from his German-based car manufacturing plants to the early Nazi Rallies..!

Both facts of which I had not stumbled across before..just goes to show, ‘you learn something every day’!!      

                     Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Dance Music of the Third Reich…

Aha, somebody has been featuring ‘Charlie and His Orchestra’ on television or radio I thought, judging by the sudden increase in sales for Tomahawk Film’s album of the same name…but whom I wondered..? I had recently sent a review copy up to a BBC contact of mine who I know is thinking about producing something on the phenomenon that is Third Reich military music… but this was too early in his creative process to have actually been aired!

Then I got a confirming e-mail from a customer ordering one of our Charlie CDs in which he exclaimed that he was somewhat surprised to see BBC 4 including the subject of Nazi music in a Swing documentary at the week-end!! Happily, I was able to respond that this is not something new, for ’Auntie’ has recently included some of the Reich’s finest music in its programming output, not least on BBC Radio Two a short while ago, when some of our archival material got a very welcome & rather popular airing:

The late Malcolm Laycock, (who presented a really superb late night swing & jazz show on Sunday evenings, of which I was a great fan), contacted us here at Tomahawk a few years ago after we had released 4 further albums of Third Reich civilian music to say he was interested in acquiring those titles for his own collection: Lale Andersen, Wilhelm Strienz and Zarah Leander.. but particularly our Dance Music of the Third Reich which featured the music of Barnabas von Géczy, who was incidentally, Adolf Hitler’s favourite civilian band-leader.

He also asked if it would be possibly to air a track or two from this latter album on his Sunday show, if we were agreeable? Agreeable!…with an audience measured in the many millions, what a wonderful shop-window for Tomahawk’s Archival CDs… and to play to such a knowledgeable & learned audience as those that regularly listened in to his wonderful late night Radio Two Show…

But what of this particular album of German Dance Music that Malcolm was so keen to acquire? Well there were a total of 93,857 professional musicians under contract across Germany when the Third Reich came into existence in 1933 and by war’s outbreak in 1939 this number had grown to a staggering 172,443, thanks to Propagandaminister Joseph Goebbels realising the power that music and radio had on a population; and  within a year of the Nazis coming to power, he had personally taken charge of this vital propaganda tool for the German government, which eventually led to some 5 million German homes receiving state radio broadcasts across the Reich..!

Goebbels skilfully & successfully balanced the world of entertainment with the field of politics and by 1938 light entertainment music, (Unterhaltungsmusik), accounted for nearly two thirds of all music output across the Third Reich and German radio was very popular for its willingness to play the latest dance records… and by war’s outbreak in 1939, the number of listeners had risen to 10 million!

In fact the demand for Unterhaltungsmusik grew so much that Goebbels actually ordered more of it to be played and broadcast to the ever growing radio audience… and so it was that this very talented Hungarian musician, Barnabas von Géczy (1897-1971), already an accomplished band-leader & violinist in 1930s’ Berlin, took a starring role in this wonderful musical renaissance that was taking place across the Third Reich.

As the personal favourite of Adolf Hitler, Barnabas soon became a Nazi favourite across the Reich, leading his own talented orchestra & dance-band and by 1941, over 50 million listeners were tuning in to his highly popular broadcasts. So Tomahawk Films were delighted when, after many months of searching, we located a 78rpm schellack record collection of Barnabas von Géczy’s most popular music in Dachau… and even more delighted when, one dark winters’ night some months later, we heard the lively & joyous ‘Kautschuk’ happily bursting forth from our radio, courtesy of Malcolm’s fabulous show on BBC Radio Two…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013