May 25, 2012
On December 22, 1940, a former Manhattan housewife named Etta Kahn Shiber found herself in Hotel Matignon, headquarters of the Gestapo in Paris, sitting across from a “mousy” man in civilian clothes who said his name was Dr. Hager. Shiber, a 62-year-old widow, planned to follow the advice that had replayed in her head for the past six months—deny everything—but something about the doctor’s smile, smug and imperious, suggested that he didn’t need a confession.
“Well, the comedy is over,” he began. “We now have the last two members of the gang.… And I have just received word that Mme. Beaurepos was arrested in Bordeaux two hours ago. So there really wasn’t any reason to allow you to wander around the streets any longer, was there?”
A clerk appeared to transcribe everything she said. Dr. Hager asked hundreds of questions over the next 15 hours. She answered each one obliquely, being careful to say nothing that could be used against her friends and accomplices, and was escorted to a cell at the Cherche-Midi prison.
As he turned to leave, Dr. Hager smiled and reminded her that the punishment for her crime carried a mandatory sentence of death.
May 17, 2012
Amid the collection of thugs, sycophants, stone-eyed killers and over-promoted incompetents who comprised the wartime leadership of Nazi Germany, Joseph Goebbels stood out. For one thing, he was genuinely intelligent—he had earned a doctorate in Romantic literature before becoming Hitler’s propaganda chief. For another, he understood that his ministry needed to do more than merely hammer home the messages of Hitler’s ideology.
Goebbels knew he needed to engage—with an increasingly war-weary German public, and with the Allied servicemen whose morale he sought to undermine. This clear-eyed determination to deal with reality, not fantasy, led him to some curious accommodations. None, however, were quite so strange as his attempts to harness the dangerous attractions of dance music to Hitler’s cause. It was an effort that led directly to the creation of that oxymoron in four-bar form: a Nazi-approved, state-sponsored hot jazz band known as Charlie and His Orchestra.
By the late 1930s, swing and jazz were by far the most popular music of the day, for dancing and for listening. But, originating as they did from the United States, with minimal contributions from Aryan musicians, the Nazis loathed them. The official party line was that these forms were entartete musik (“degenerate music”), and that their improvised breaks and pounding rhythms risked undermining German purity and discipline. In public speeches, the Nazis put it more harshly than that. Jazz, Goebbels insisted, was nothing but “jungle music.”
Throughout the war years, it was German policy to suppress the music, or at least tame it. This resulted in some remarkable decrees, among them the clauses of a ban promulgated by a Nazi gauleiter in Bohemia and recalled (faithfully, he assures us—“they had engraved themselves deeply on my mind”) by the Czech dissident Josef Skvorecky in the introduction to his novella The Bass Saxophone. They are worth quoting in full: