Charlie And His Orchestra: Nazi Propaganda Swing

Warfare takes many forms, and none so varied as the experimentation and creativity seen during the Second World War. This crazy era started with horse-drawn artillery and biplanes and ended less than a decade later with jet fighters and atomic weapons–all while stepping to a swinging jazz soundtrack. That is, of course, unless you were German (or, more accurately, a subject of the Nazi Reich). Hitler portrayed swing was seen as decadent, immoral, and distinctively anti-Aryan: the music of the negroes and the Jews (after all, Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald were among the biggest musicians at the time). Naturally, it was outlawed under the Reich.

Meanwhile, the Gestapo had a “brilliant” plan to use this musical menace against its heathen source. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels assembled a cadre of talented German musicians to record their own “Nazified” versions of popular swing tunes and broadcast them at Britain and North America via shortwave radio. The whole point was to demoralise and intimidate the Allies by tempting listeners with the familiar tunes, then squeeze in a little “pro-Hitler” sentiment after the first verse or during the vampy midsection.

Why are the ships always sinking and breaking at sea? What makes the British stop thinking of their cup of tea? …German submarines!

Ridiculous Nazi psywar lyrics aside, the recordings aren’t bad–even a little catchy–and a nifty reminder of some of the more subtle aspects of total war. If you would like to know more, check out the write-up by WFMU and give the rest of the tracks a listen.

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