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

Military Music of the Bundeswehr…

Continuing the theme of widening out Tomahawk‘s WW-II German Archive to just before the First World War, then coming forwards to the German Democratic Republic up until the Fall of the Berlin to complete our story of that county’s military music, along with our post-war East German  CD ‘Behind the Iron Curtain’, we also released an exciting a CD containing military music from the West German Bundeswehr’s first Musikkorps and its maiden studio recording from 1957 to keep the balance:

The new German Federal Republic was created 8 years earlier on September 7th 1949 with the formation of the Bundestag under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer but it wasn’t until 6 years later that this new West German state was permitted by its former enemies to raise its own independent Armed Forces. However the first West German military in-take did not take place until November 12th 1955 and that primarily comprised volunteers from the Federal Border Guard, with all candidates pre-screened to prevent former Third Reich-era Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS members from re-enlisting in the new post-war military.

Nevertheless, I know from my various discussions with senior Bundeswehr military musicians that despite this tight screening, at least four former musicians from Hitler’s bodyguard division, the Musikkorps SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and a number of younger Wehrmacht musicians were known to have ‘slipped though the net’ and it was these experienced WW-II veterans that would help continue Germany’s famous military musical traditions into the early days of the fledgling Bundeswehr in the late 1950s and so keep the ‘Janissary’ feel of their pre-1945 counterparts, at least for a few more years.

However it would, sadly, eventually be the Germany’s Greens and their allies who would, in later years, almost single handily destroy the whole historic might & pomp of West Germany’s Prussian military music by watering everything down to an almost unrecognisable image of its former self.. and indeed it was those self-same politicians that were behind the decision to remove the most obvious German Military musical uniform accoutrement, the Schwallbennesten (bandsmen’s swallowsnests), as well as also initially banning the other great totem of the German Musikkorps: the Schellenbaum (’Jingling Johnny’) and of course the ‘goose-step’ with all its Third Reich connotations

So it was odd that their East German counterparts, (who had a pathological hatred of the Nazi era), retained not only the Schwallbennesten & Schellenbaum but also the ‘goose-step’.. in fact  NVA Musikkorps even retained the distinct-sounding musical instrument, the Schalmei that was a favourite of early Sturm-Abteilung & Hitler Youth bands of the 1930s… but whenever this was raised, the brusque answer was always: “these are Prussian Traditions, not National Socialist!” )

However back to 1957 and that early, brief window when the newly formed West German musical arm could still perform in its proud, pre-1945 janissary style and the creation of the Stabsmusikkorps der Bundeswehr (Staff Band of the Army) on February 16th 1957 under a training designation, or Lehrmusikkorps, at Rheinbach near Bonn, initially with 16 musicians.

Some 4 months later, on June 16th 1957, Hauptmann Friedrich Deisenroth took over musical command and just a month after that increased this new musical strength to 50 bandsmen, with their first duties being to play alongside the Bundeswehr’s Wachbataillon Honour Guard in the new capital city of Bonn. In September the Stabsmusikkorps gave its first  performance in public and then in November 1957 it undertook its maiden studio recording session…

Tomahawk’s stirring CD Mit Trommeln und Pfeifen..! is that very recording, played in the true, pre-war Janissary style that harked back to the musical glory days of the Third Reich and includes the wonderful Der Badenweiler and a differing rendtion of the newly de-nazified German National Anthem or Nationalhymn as it was known then.. and as I say a rare and very short-lived window in time before the Germany’s Green Party got their hands on the Bundeswehr’s re-built musical arm and, (according to those former West German musicians I have spoken with), totally neutered and effectively wrecked what was always a very proud tradition within the German’s military psyche…

Indeed when the ‘dust had finally settled’ after the massive upheaval surrounding the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a number of former East German NVA musicians enlisted in the Bundeswehr, but were absolutely horrified at how far their janissary style of music had slipped and were appalled at the ‘lightweight’ music they were now expected to perform in the musikkorps of the newly reunified Germany… and so it is that this 1957 West German recording lives on as a well-preserved example of how military music would still have been played in todays’ Bundeswehr, but for political interference…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Nazi-era Marching Song Lyrics…

One of the perennial questions we are asked here at Tomahawk Films, (and another such welcome letter winged its way in to us over the Christmas break), is: “why do we not include a full English translation sheet with each of our German Soldier Song CDs..?”

….and though it is something we have often considered down the years, (and as Tomahawk’s producer is one I still keep coming back to periodically!), there are two main reasons that stop us undertaking this additional work… and unfortunately the first rather dull answer is purely one of economics:

For the last 26 years of renovating & re-mastering Nazi-era music, (first on cassette & from 1999 on CD), we have been forced to increase our product prices to our much valued customers on just 2 occasions, (then only as a result of postage increases, and not at all in the last 8 years), as we strive to do all we can to hold down the price of everything in The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive … a little painful when everything we need here at Tomahawk for our production work is continuing to rise remorselessly….

Though one of our chief aims, (apart from trying hard to produce good quality audio & visual German archival product), is to keep prices at a sensible & stable level, Tomahawk’s bills have again seen further rises recently: from recording time at Dubmaster Studios to factory replication of the CDs, from the cost of cover artwork design & printing to increases in the cost of packaging our products..

Then there’s the Royal Mail, whose latest upswing in 2012 was the biggest single price hike in the company’s history, particularly in Overseas shipping to Europe and the rest of the World..!

The only way we can put any sort of gloss on this is to tell ourselves: “we couldn’t drive or fly our packages to their destinations for the cost of the stamps we put on our precious orders..!”

However, every price rise Tomahawk has been faced with, we have stoically opted keep both our UK prices post-included whilst also taking every increase in our production costs ‘on the chin’ and simply swallow them, rather than increase the overall retail price of our products… but each one very slowly and steadily chips away at our overall profit!

Unfortunately, on top of these myriad price rises Tomahawk faces, (and have you noticed how nothing ever actually comes down these days?), if we then opted to commission our German linguist to translate every song into English and then design & print small flyers for each CD and then add in those additional costs, that is yet another cost that Tomahawk would have to bear whilst still strenuously making every effort to keep our end prices to you, the collector & enthusiast, static & stable..!

Though Tomahawk Films did not enter this field of archival endeavour with the main aim of making money, (personally I would have become a merchant-banker or a lawyer if money had been my goal, though my family would have probably disowned me!), we do have to show a small profit, if only to keep the taxman happy! So sadly though a wonderful idea, and very good of  our customers to suggest it from time-to-time, the stark fact is that, for the moment, we still feel that adding English translations to each of our Third Reich/Nazi-era Musik CD packages continues to be a commercial non-starter.

The other main reason is simply because of the integrity of the songs: .many wonderful Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS marching songs, allied to some equally lovely civilian sentimental songs we produce, don’t actually scan quite as well in English as they do in German and we feel that many would end up having a literal translation… and I would personally feel uncomfortable taking these often very beautiful German songs and messing about with them as I think they are just so beautifully enigmatic in their original native tongue…

However, the good news for those that would like some literal translations is that I have done just that with several very important songs in the history of the Third Reich which have a special story to tell, at various points throughout my book The Military Music and Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45.

Many years ago when the question of German song lyrics & their English versions came up and I first considered commissioning such translations, I finally settled on a plan for writing a small book that contained  just the original German lyrics to the favourite songs from the Third Reich…

But then, as I laid out a basic skeleton for the little book I actually started to ponder upon many other questions that had often come to me whilst producing our material, such as:  where did this wonderful music originally come from? who were the soldier-musicians that played the songs? how did they fare in the war? what was their musical & military training like? what of their instruments & their uniforms? what were the meanings behind these soldier songs & stirring marching music? what of the composers, the singers, the conductors? what indeed of the German recording & radio industry? how did it begin and then ultimately all end in May 1945? was there life for the Soldier Song in post-war Germany?

The questions started coming thick & fast..in fact the more I started to think about the subject matter, the more questions I suddenly started to ask myself..!

Yes, we had been successfully producing & re-mastering this terrific archival music for over 25 years, but yet despite being fascinated by it and absolutely loving what we were producing, we had no real insight into those who originally wrote, performed or listened to it during the Third Reich…and so after a few intense weeks of thinking about this whole subject matter much more deeply than I had to date,  my ‘book skeleton’ based originally around 70-odd sets of German song lyrics had suddenly stretched out to some 20 odd chapters into a complete and somewhat comprehensive reference book..!

So began a long, intense but enjoyable 6 years of in-depth research period in which I looked at and documented every aspect that I could uncover relating to the story of Third Reich Military Music and the Soldier Musicians behind it…and on this journey I also studied some of the more important songs in the history of the Third Reich…and both transcribed and then translated those particular & special lyrics as a part of my personal telling of this quite amazing story, (something kindly remarked upon by the famous UK military author Brian L Davis in his later review of my finished book)

The songs specifically researched & translated include: Lili Marleen, the Deutschlandlied,  Ich hatt einen Kameraden, the Horst Wessel Lied, the Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht favourite ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’, the hugely popular  Panzer Lied..and both the former East German National Anthem and the West German National Anthem in the latter chapters looking at post-war German military music and musicians from 1948 right up to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Finally to round off this utterly fascinating and totally absorbing story, I included that original chapter containing the German lyrics to 71 of the most famous and beloved Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS marching songs as sung throughout the Third Reich, for those collectors that wanted to be able to sing along to the Tomahawk Film’s CDs they had already kindly bought from us.

Not quite the full list of English translations that some of our terrific customers have often enquired after, but judging by the fabulous reactions to my book from Third Reich collectors & Nazi-era music enthusiasts around the globe, this 100,000-word book, (also containing over 1,100 unique colour & black & white photos) has hit the right note, if you will excuse the pun, and hopefully sets Third Reich military & civilian music and the ever attendant & evocative German Soldier Song into some sort of context whilst also hopefully adding something more to the knowledge of our shared hobby and to the overall enjoyment & understanding of this rare and historical branch of musical history…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Converting Nazi-era Military Music to Tomahawk Films’ CDs…

At the risk of ‘teaching Grandma to suck eggs’, not all collectors will be familiar with the art of digitally re-mastering old & highly precious 78rpm schellack records into a modern playable format, (some now actually over 100 years old), and yet, even in today’s digital age, some still believe it is simply a case of whacking a much-loved schellack onto an old wind-up record player, sticking a microphone in front of the speaker..and hey presto..job done!! (…and yes, we have seen that done!).

Happily for us, all of Tomahawk Film’s archival 78rpm German recordings are digitally renovated & repaired, (where needed) and then remastered by the superb archival audio-engineer Simon Wood (or ‘Woody’ as he is known by everybody), at his superb recording studio, Dubmaster, deep in the heart of our beautiful southern county of Hampshire.

Using the very latest and updated technology available to the world of audio-dubbing, Tomahawk has enjoyed a fabulous 25 year-plus relationship with Woody and on many an occasion we have called on his considerable expertise as both a television location sound-recordist & studio audio-producer to recover, preserve & then re-master some of our original audio material that has come in directly from all four corners of Germany… and some of it quite often in various states of disrepair..!

Whilst some of these beautiful and very rare schellacks have been found by us in Germany in almost pristine condition, (thanks to careful handling by the previous owners), and so often look & sound as if actually produced in recent years and thus need only a minimum of the love & care Woody lavishes on them, nevertheless it is the case that some of our original material now goes back as far as 1910 and has required a bit more in the way of TLC..!

Our unique Imperial German release: The Kaiser’s Musikkorps of the Great War 1914-1918  (for which many thanks to our friends at Eagle & Lyre for their additional help & expertise in this earlier field of German military music), being very much a case in point. This earliest of CD’s in our Archive actually started life as a wonderful collection of some of the first schellacks around that were actually found, by accident, in the former Eastern Germany, when a house was being demolished and a large, carefully bound album of these old records was found amidst the lathe & plaster of the attic as it collapsed around the builder’s heads..!.

When you come to think of it, it really is quite amazing that here was an original schellack record collection that had survived the the 5 years of World War One, the Weimar Republic, the Rise of the Nazis & The Third Reich, heavy Allied bombing of Germany’s cities and her industrial areas in 1943-44 and then, post-war, Soviet Occupation and the ultimate Fall of the Berlin Wall… talk about ‘if only a collection could tell a story’..!

Amazingly these schellack 78rpms also cleaned up beautifully in Woody’s studio and so Imperial German Military music, that would have been played on wind-up gramophones in fox-holes & trenches of the Western Front, can now be enjoyed by collectors & enthusiasts on CD some 100 years later!.

Working with schellacks that have actually been quite this old was something of a nervous one-off for Tomahawk as the majority of our German music releases are from the Third Reich/Nazi-era and so Woody ‘only’ has to go back some 75-odd years. However the recovery & restoration of this wonderful music still requires the same skills & studio equipment and Woody’s professional lightness of touch, (or ‘magic’ as I still call it!), in re-mastering this historical material to CD and so successfully preserving The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive of Third Reich/Nazi-era music for many years yet to come..!

As far as the actual sound quality of our original old recordings themselves are concerned, many collectors will know that an original historical schellack 78rpm record had a beautifully inherent and very distinctive low-level hiss & rumble, (even when brand-new in the 1920s, 30s & 40s); and whilst Woody has faithfully brought many of these lovely old records ‘back from the brink’ and digitally cleaned them up to give a markedly enhanced listening experience, in so doing he has also successfully managed a superb ‘historical balancing act’ to leave enough of that original light hiss & rumble in the CD transfer in order to preserve the integrity of the original medium…

The end result is that our listener is happily aware that he is listening to an original & historical schellack recording and not some ‘antiseptically over-worked recording’ that sounds like it was merely lifted yesterday and as such has absolutely no atmosphere left to it whatsoever! With his incredible sense of hearing, (and his hands a blur over a studio dubbing-console that looks more like Concorde’s flight-deck!), Woody has ensured that in Tomahawk Films’ audio recordings you are listening to the high quality that original German audiences would have also listened to on schellack 78rpm, either on their gramophones or on radio via the early radio recording services of The Third Reich..and even earlier!

It also has to be said that Woody himself has a long and very distinguished television & recording studio background, (including television drama & documentaries as well as studio & location recording of anything musical from modern rock bands to classic orchestral ensembles), and such is his expertise in audio-art that this year he found himself much in demand in a supervising audio-recording role on the UK Television sound coverage of the Olympic Games staged here in London in 2013. So Tomahawk Films count ourselves very lucky to still have all of that audio & studio recording  expertise at our command along with Woody’s sensitive ears..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012