Thursday, October 12, 2017

Radios in the Third Reich

Wikipedia: de:Benutzer:Hihiman,
Radios were ubiquitous in the Third Reich. Under Goebbel’s guidance, “Volks-empfänger” or “people’s receivers” were made affordable and became a major propaganda tool. People could sit in their warm kitchens and be brainwashed. Not only that, broadcasting was cheap…much cheaper than producing a movie, like say, Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.”

 Of course, radios didn’t just replay speeches by the Nazi elite. Goebbels was quite aware of the power of music. He filled the airwaves with high-end operas and classical music, peppered liberally with Nazi propaganda.  For Operation Barbarossa—the invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941—he commissioned new music to encourage morale in the German people. Attacking Russia meant the war would not be ending soon.  

Marching songs were popular because they worked. Songs like Erika have a strong beat and catchy tune. The lyrics are quite innocent…about a young girl named after a flower. But the song will continue to be tainted with the Nazi era.

Another marching song is much less innocent. The lyrics were written by Horst Wessel, a young SA member who was shot by communists in 1930. While he was credited with the musical composition, he probably borrowed the melody from somewhere else.  Goebbels created a martyr out of Wessel and his song became the Nazi anthem. The Horst Wessel Lied has been banned since the end of the war, while many parodies have been written.

There are many German marching songs. A few more examples include:
“Es zittern die morschen Knochen,”  Sieg Heil, Viktoria,” “Panzerlied,” “SS Marschiert in Feindes Land.” Most have infectious melodies and combative messages. Music is powerful stuff. Hours of tedious marching became an odious type of dance. Every army has its music.  It’s terrifying to realize how beautiful music can become the tool of incredible evil.

I like music for walking…not marching. No uniforms, and no goose-stepping—just an uplifting rhythm to add some pep to my step. And...,I don't even have to do the singing. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017


Propaganda: comes from the word ‘propagate.’ It means to spread information. The Catholic church saw propaganda as one of its duties and created foreign missions.

It didn’t take long for ‘propaganda’ to turn bad…to become a pejorative.  It came to mean, ‘misleading’ information that manipulates its intended audience. Nowadays, we call it ‘fake news.’

I’ve been reading Joseph Goebbels’ war time diaries. Goebbels was a propaganda master during the 30s and 40s. Goebbels monitored what films would be produced, what got cut in those films, what documentary newsreels would be seen at the beginning of those movies, —and when they could be seen. Timing was important.  He controlled what newspapers and magazine were allowed to print, and banned foreign newspapers. He’d even decide on the timing for Hitler’s emotional speeches.

Kate Greenaway Public Domain  
Goebbels was like a conductor and the Third Reich was his orchestra. Of course, the composer behind it all was Hitler, but Goebbels made the Third Reich’s message blare loud and hypnotically for twelve frightening years. Kind of like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

In this age of the internet and social media, Goebbels—the ultimate control freak—would no doubt be sleeping even less than he did while writing his war diaries. The father of six children had little time for parenting or for sleep while he managed propaganda during the Second World War.

Propaganda is still rampant and we must always scrutinize what we read, watch or hear.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Königsberg, Kaliningrad ... a complicated place to watch soccer

Seven things that you might not know about the former Königsberg:
Photo by Andreas Toerl

1.     Königsberg means ‘king’s mountain’ in German. This most eastern Prussian city was born in 1255. Known as a muli-cultural hub—it attracted Lithuanian, Polish and Prussian intellectuals. Now, it carries the distinction of being Russia's most western city. 

2.     Königsberg’s most famous citizen—philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)—is still remembered with a re-cast statue. (The original was destroyed in 1945). He even has a university named after him—Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. Kant's beliefs included the idea that peace was possible through democracy and cooperation.  

3.     Königsberg’s German population (close to 400,000 in 1939) was either killed or expelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949.  Its current Russian population is at about 430,000.

4.     Königsberg was renamed, Kaliningrad, in 1946, to honor one of the original Bolsheviks, Mikhail Kalinin. During the cold war, it became a 'closed' city. No foreigners were allowed to visit. (Another part of mom's life that ceased to exist.)

5. The Kaliningrad Oblast (area) continues to have strategic military interest. With an increased American presence in Poland, the Russians have threatened to make the Kaliningrad area into a nuclear missile zone. 

On a lighter note... 

6. Königsberger klopse—a type of meatball cooked in a white sauce. My mom liked to make them but when I was a child, I was a bit leery of the capers hiding inside them. Nowadays, Kaliningrad restaurants serve them to nostalgic tourists. I'd like to go over and verify this. And yes, Kaliningrad welcomes German tourists searching for family memories. 

7.  Kaliningrad is one of the venues for the 2018 Fifa World Cup. Can't wait. I wonder if Chancellor Merkel and Putin will be sitting together and watching those games (like they did in Brazil). 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Petrichor, pernickety and brouhaha

Our ancestors were hunters & gatherers, and so am I. I collect stones. They take zero maintenance, and my garden is better because of them. (Says a lot about my green thumb.) 

As a writer, I also collect words. During the last day or so, three words that I’d love to use, stayed with me and I’m going to share them.

First there’s petrichor. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs. I keep my window open and inhale. Ah there’s nothing quite like petrichor…especially in the fall when it’s mixed with the smell of decaying leaves and the sound of migrating birds.

I was delighted to discover that the word petrichor—the smell of rain—comes from the Greek word petra…meaning stone and chor…which refers to the fluid in the veins of gods.
Then there’s the word pernickety. All those consonants! They prickle like the word’s meaning. The word jumped out at me while reading a translations of Goebbel’s 1940 diaries.  Another word he used that I’d like to find a perfect spot for, is the word brouhaha. Again, an example of onomatopoeia.
Words are like stones. They can be used to build or to destroy and they have stories within them. A writer’s tools.

The Nazis carefully manipulated the German people with their propaganda. We call it fake news. A bunch of words. A lot of power. 

Okay, now let me try to use these three delicious words in one thought. Petrichor drifts in through the open window, alongside the brouhaha of squabbling blue jays, while I attempt to text on my pernickety smartphone.