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

Third Reich Music in ‘Schindler’s List’

Another welcome showing for this incredible movie on terrestrial television this week, however I must admit that, a little embarrassingly, it was a long time until I finally saw Schindler’s List (especially given the historical field in which Tomahawk Films & I both work); but I hasten to say that it wasn’t for any reasons of ignorance that I just could not bring myself to watch it, but the fact that I did not want to put myself through ‘another concentration camp film drama’…

It was not many years ago that I was asked to narrate a series of documentaries on the Nazi Concentration Camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Dachau, Mauthausen, Treblinka, Ravensbrück, Majdanek, Bergen-Belsen, Oranienburg, Buchenwald, Theresienstadt, Sachsenhausen… the infamous names just kept coming…. and the producer asked that I ‘narrate to picture’, something I don’t do that often, preferring to read a script ‘dry’ so I can fully take in and concentrate on the words that have been so carefully written.

In fact the last time I narrated to picture was for a superb 36-part holiday series on The Travel Channel many moons ago where, sadly not having been on location with the crew, I was reduced to sitting, mid-January, in a cold & draughty voice-over booth in a snowy Hampshire, narrating over some utterly enticing pictures of tropical destinations: the Bahamas, Grenada, St Kitts, the Cayman Islands, Turks & Caicos, Trinidad & Tobago, Martinique, Guadaloupe… all tantalising long, lingering shots of bikini-clad beauties, warm azure seas, golden sandy beaches all laid our beneath a legion of tall palm-trees…enough to make you weep as hour after hour of stunning locations unfolded before me and my frozen feet, as I beavered away adding ‘mellifluous tones’ to these oh-so seductive pictures….

However, with the concentration camp documentaries it was another matter entirely as I tried to remain professionally focussed on narrating some very well written scripts but continuously having to look up at the monitor for timings only to keep seeing some pretty grim images…and then some..!

I love doing voice-overs, but this was certainly not one of my easiest nor the most enjoyable of narrating jobs and upon its completion I made a mental note not to watch any more ‘detailed’ concentration camp footage again, if I could help it… thus that previous resistance to sitting through ‘Schindler’s List’ and have to re-live, (or so I imagined), all that harrowing footage once more..!

But how wrong I was for working here in the office late one evening with the television on purely for company in the background, this incredible movie suddenly appeared on screen without prior warning but, too engrossed in the script I was editing at the time, I did not bother to get up from my computer to switch the monitor off. But, oh boy, am I glad I was too absorbed, (or simply too lazy!), to do so for after a very short period I became aware of this incredible black & white movie unfolding before me; then I looked up and became engrossed and then my script-editing stopped.. very shortly after that I was totally hooked… what a superb example of the historical movie-makers‘ art this film is…beautifully shot, beautifully told & beautifully acted…

A 1993 Universal Pictures movie directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg and shot in glorious, evocative monochrome and starring Liam Neeson, Sir Ben Kingsley and Ralph Fiennes, this was a superb take on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a greedy & utterly vain German businessman who became an unlikely saviour during the Third Reich when he turned his munitions factory into a safe-haven for Jews… and over the course of the Second World War he managed, somehow, to save the lives of over 1,000 Jews from a terrible death in the gas-chambers at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

With commissioned music composed by John Williams, the evocative German period music soundtracks come, most fittingly, first in the shape of Mimi Thoma’s emotional Mamatschi’ as written by Oskar Schima.

This is then followed by a very clever and most welcome appearance of Werner Bachmann’s moving ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’ delivered most powerfully by the incredible bass-voice from the legend that was Wilhelm Strienz… the fascinating story of which is explained a little more in depth in one of my previous Tomahawk Films Blogs

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013