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Nazi Music: One of the engines of Nazism

A brief historical introduction



By John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.), Formerly Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of NSW, Australia

This is a difficult subject to broach both because of its political sensitivity and because musical tastes differ so much from person to person. While there is some music that has near-universal appeal (some of the arias from "Carmen", for instance), it also seems to be true that no two persons have exactly the same musical preferences and that must obviously influence how Nazi music is perceived and evaluated.

It is also a field that is bound up with emotion so it is both difficult and dangerous to attempt the sort of objective comments that should characterize any discussion of history. I think however that we need to take a stab at it. And I submit that it is a grave omission to neglect music as an element in the historical appeal of Nazism to Germans. Wherever they marched, Nazi formations sang -- be they Hitler Youth, brownshirts or the armed forces. And being German, their music was very good. Germany is the home of good music. German-speaking people are responsible for something like two thirds of the classical repertoire -- from Bach and Handel to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner, Schumann etc.

As a libertarian, any form of Fascism is anathema to me but I think it was William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) who noted that the Devil had all the good songs. And the Nazis, just because they were German DID have many good songs. There were many Fascist movements worldwide in the first half of the 20th century but none of them were remotely as musical as the Nazis.

So good music had great power to move a musical people and it seems clear to me that music was one of the things that made Germans march for Hitler. Music is however a form of communication that transcends time and space so it seems to me that there is one way that I can support my contention about the importance of music to the appeal of Nazism: I can actually play you some of the music and you can judge it for yourself. I start with the Badenweiler march. This is actually a First World War march but Hitler made it his own. It was normally played only in his presence. It announced his arrival at rallies etc.



The famous song of the S.A. (Brownshirts) was of course the Horst Wessel Lied. It refers to prewar street fighting with the "Reds". There is no rivalry like sibling rivalry, though after Hitler came to power, many of the Reds simply joined the Nazis.



The English translation is a poor thing but I give it below for those who understand no German.

The flag high! The ranks tightly closed!
SA march with calm, firm steps.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit in our ranks.
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the stormtroopers!
Already millions look with hope to the swastika
The day of freedom and bread is dawning!
Roll call has sounded for the last time
We are all already prepared for the fight!
Soon Hitler's flag will fly over all streets.
Our servitude will soon end!
The flag high! The ranks tightly closed!
SA marches with a calm, firm pace.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit in our ranks.

The original is much more moving:

Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig, festem Schritt.
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
Die Strasse frei den braunen Batallionen.
Die Strasse frei dem Sturmabteilungsmann!
Es schau'n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen.
Der Tag fuer Freiheit und fuer Brot bricht an!
Zum letzten Mal wird schon Appell geblasen!
Zum Kampfe steh'n wir alle schon bereit!
Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen ueber alle Strassen.
Die Knechtschaft dauert nur mehr kurze Zeit!
Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig-festem Schritt.
Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschieren im Geist in unseren Reihen mit.


Then there is Vorwaerts, Vorwaerts -- the very inspirational song of the Hitler Youth. It absolutely EXUDES dedication and heroism. The power of it may perhaps be judged from the fact that it is still illegal to play or sing it in Germany today. The words are actually quite simple and that may be the reason why some commenters describe them as banal -- but those who sang it certainly did not see it that way. They lived it during the closing stages of the war -- displaying great heroism in defending their country. The idealism is probably one of the reasons why those survivors of the Hitler Youth who are still alive today often have warm memories of their time in the Hitler Youth.



For those who wish to study the song, I also give the words below with my translation.

Refrain:

Uns're Fahne flattert uns voran. Our flag flutters before us
In die Zukunft ziehen wir Mann fuer Mann We trek into the future as man for man
Wir marschieren fuer Hitler We march for Hitler
Durch Nacht und durch Not Through night and hardship
Mit der Fahne der Jugend With the flag of youth
Fuer Freiheit und Brot. For freedom and bread
Uns're Fahne flattert uns voran, Our flag flutters before us
Uns're Fahne ist die neue Zeit. Our flag is the new time
Und die Fahne fuehrt uns in die Ewigkeit! And the flag leads us into eternity
Ja die Fahne ist mehr als der Tod! Yes the flag is more to us than death

1).
Vorwaerts! Vorwaerts! Forwards, forwards
Schmettern die hellen Fanfaren, Blare the bright fanfares
Vorwaerts! Vorwaerts! Forwards, forwards
Jugend kennt keine Gefahren. Youth knows no danger
Deutschland, du wirst leuchtend stehn Germany, you will brightly stand
Moegen wir auch untergehn. Even if we have to die
Vorwaerts! Vorwaerts! Forwards, forwards
Schmettern die hellen Fanfaren, Blare the bright fanfares
Vorwaerts! Vorwaerts! Forwards, forwards
Jugend kennt keine Gefahren. Youth knows no danger
Ist das Ziel auch noch so hoch, No matter how high the goal
Jugend zwingt es doch. Youth will force it through

2.) Jugend! Jugend! Youth, Youth
Wir sind der Zukunft Soldaten. We are the soldiers of the future
Jugend! Jugend! Youth, Youth
Traeger der kommenden Taten. Bearers of coming deeds
Ja, durch unsre Faeuste faellt Yes, through our fists fall
Wer sich uns entgegenstellt Anyone who opposes us
Jugend! Jugend! Youth, Youth
Wir sind der Zukunft Soldaten. We are the soldiers of the future
Jugend! Jugend! Youth, Youth
Traeger der kommenden Taten. Bearers of coming deeds
Fuehrer, wir gehoeren dir, Leader, we belong to you
Wir Kameraden, dir! We are your comrades



Hitler youth using their fanfare trumpets



There is of course much more Nazi music but the above will hopefully give you the idea. My apologies to any Jewish readers who may be offended by this article but Wagner is performed in Israel these days so I think the time has come when music can be judged as music, regardless of its appalling associations.

And Hitler himself loved his music. The photo below shows him in white tie and tails attending the Wagner opera festival at Bayreuth in 1939. There is no doubt of his real devotion to opera -- and indeed to classical music generally.







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