Josef Goebbels himself oversaw one of the weirdest propaganda initiatives of World War 2.
Hitler’s Germany was a fundamentally racist state, with almost all minorities being reviled and persecuted.
A racial purity law enacted in 1933 turned the Nazi Party’s institutional racism into law.
Germany’s small black population, numbering perhaps a few thousand at the time, were excluded from education and all but the lowest-status work.
They were also legally prevented from having relationships with white Germans.
The Nazis’ racial pseudoscience led to jazz music being dismissed as ‘animalistic’ and ‘primitive’ but even Hitler’s brutally repressive régime couldn’t completely eradicate peoples’ appetites for the exuberant sound of black America.
“They rewrote jazz standards with anti-Semitic lyrics”
Jazz was placed on the Nazis’ list of ‘degenerate’ art. But at the same time, Hitler’s infamous propaganda chief Josef Goebbels put together a Nazi Party jazz band who performed well-known swing numbers with the lyrics altered to reflect the party’s anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-Allies point of view.
Led by an English speaking German named Karl Schwendler, Charlie and His Orchestra’s Hitler-approved jazz could be picked up on the medium-wave and short-wave bands in Canada, the US and Britain.
Winston Churchill himself was said to be a fan, finding the lyrics that insulted him hilarious.
You’re Driving Me Crazy, for example, was repurposed as a comedy number with a (very poor) Churchill impersonator intoning “The Germans Are Driving me Crazy”.
Venerable jazz standard Bye Bye Blackbird became a dig at Britain which went “Bye Bye Empire”.
There was even a whole song about Churchill called The Man With The Big Cigar. Its lyrics ran, in part:
Who is that man with the big cigar?
who’s greatest friend is the USSR.
He’s known around from near and far
That actor man with the big cigar.
He puffs away
every night and day
with a twinkle in his eye
and all the while behind that smile
lurks many an untold lie
Down Whitehall way
you’ll see his car
He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere,
that friend of the USSR!
The jazz propaganda wasn’t deliberately transmitted to German receivers, but the band nevertheless accrued a cult following within the Reich for their idiosyncratic blend of hot rhythms and hate speech.
The songs would frequently start like a regular jazz standard, before breaking into a spoken word section that lampooned the British upper classes: “Nice people with Eton manners, but no brains just a top hat, that’s all” or Churchill directly – The Sheik of Araby’s middle section had Churchill confessing his fear of German bombers
Who Will Buy My Bublitchky? had a British aristocrat revealing her love of the Russian Bolsheviks, singing “I’ll telling you duckie, they’re very nice” while Submarines was a jolly number that asked “why are the ships always sinking at sea” before answering “German submarines!”
Understandably, the records virtually disappeared after Hitler’s defeat, and Charlie and His Orchestra are all but forgotten now.
Unlike many of Nazi Germany’s most prominent figures, the members of Hitler’s secret jazz band managed to live out the rest of their lives relatively peacefully.
Star saxophonist Lutz Templin remained in Stuttgart after the war and pursued a musical career there for the rest of his life.
Vocalist Schwedler remained in Berlin after the rest of the orchestra were evacuated to Stuttgart in 1943. He worked in a German casino after the war ended, before emigrating with his family to the USA in 1960. He returned to Germany some time in the late 1960s, dying in Bavaria in 1970.