Unexpected Pop Culture from the Third Reich

In these film clips from the Third Reich you will see song-and-dance routines similar to some presented in Cabaret. We even get to see the Hungarian-born actress Marika Rökk and a female jazz-pianist wearing a men’s clothes. Supposedly all that fun was shut down and replaced with a nonstop playlist of martial music and Wagner. As with many representations about the Third Reich, it turns out not to be the case.

Much of the music in these clips qualifies as “jazz,” which we are supposed to believe was banned in the Third Reich.

The director of these films, Georg Jacoby (Marika Rökk’s husband), was a member of the NSDAP. At the bottom is a film clip from another director, Helmut Käutner.

I took a course on interwar German culture at a major university that gave no hint that any of this kind of film existed or was even permitted in the Third Reich. In fact, we were told that there was “no art” in the Third Reich. I think I can fairly say, regarding the tuition for that course, that I was robbed.

As far as film goes, much of the content that we associate with the decadent culture of the Weimar period is still there, with the more objectionable elements removed. There is American-style jazz and dancing, and even some women dressed in men’s clothes — just no men dressed in women’s clothes and no sympathetic portrayal of sex-criminals (as in Fritz Lang’s M,1931, starring Peter Lorre). Given a fair representation, most Americans would find the pop culture of the Third Reich much more agreeable than that of the preceding Weimar period, and certainly not stale and narrow as American propaganda has portrayed.

“Ach, ich hab ja so viel Rhythmus” (Oh, I have so much rhythm!) from Und du mein Schatz fährst mit!, 1937

Finale from Und du mein Schatz fährst mit!, 1937

“Schlangentanz” (Snake Dance) from Kora Terry, 1940

In a similar vein, Ilse Werner, Wir Machen Musik, 1942. This was directed by Helmut Käutner, who began his career in the Weimar period and came to great success in the Third Reich.

Marika Rökk, “Ich Brauche keine Millionen,” (I need no millions) from Hallo Janine!, 1939

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