Denmark: Censorship on music during the German occupation

Speech by Mr. Hans Skaarup, at the 1st Freemuse World conference in 1998

Imagine a young person in a music quiz in the radio or on TV. The question is: “Has the German composer Mendelssohn ever been prohibited in The Danish National Radio?”. You can imagine the answer: “No, of course not”.

But the answer is wrong. Mendelssohn and all other Jewish composers were banned in the Danish radio during the German occupation from 1940-1945. The same happened to the composers and musicians which the Nazis stamped as ENTARTET, degenerated.

The German censorship in The Danish National Radio during the Nazi occupation of Denmark is relatively well-documented in recordings in the radio archive. There is documentation in a few books about the history of the Danish Radio but as far as I can see, nobody has been especially engaged in that part of the history, not even in radio programmes. The Danes and the staff at the radio house had to accept the situation at that time and did so without protest. But the radio director F.E. Jensen and the radio board tried to keep as much of the radio administration as possible on Danish hands.

The German Reich-Rundfunk tried with strong persistence in the end of the thirties to tempt the Danish Radio to transmit the endless speeches of Adolf Hitler. The Danes thanked courteously NO, and broadcasted only very short cuts in the news and programmes.

When the Second World War broke out on the 1st of September 1939 the radio-board decided to make severe restrictions regarding the light programmes and they cancelled entertainment and cabaret. Instead they concentrated the energy on news and programmes. Broadcasts ended as early as 11 o’clock pm.

When the German troops attacked Denmark in the morning at 4 am on the 9th of April 1940 there was silence in the radio studios of the old radio-house at Kongens Nytorv close to the Royal Theatre. The first programme began at 7 am and was broadcasted according to the plan, while the technicians heard the shooting in the streets of Copenhagen. Just before 8:30 am German troops entered the radio-house. It was done quietly and no-one put up resistance. The Germans ordered the Danish speaker Mr. Schiønning to read the German proclamation, thrown as flyers over the larger Danish cities by aeroplane.

From that moment on the Danish Radio was governed by Nazi ideology. The real head of Radio Denmark was now Dr. Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich Secretary of Propaganda. From now on and for the next 5 years it was this highly gifted brain of the Nazi top in Berlin, who controlled Danish cultural politics. On the evening of the 9th of April Goebbels spoke in the Great German Radio informing the German people about the invasion of Norway and Denmark.

The new political regime was characterised by extreme racism. Music of Jewish composers was immediately prohibited in Denmark: Mendelssohn, Fritz Kreisler, George Gershwin – just to name a few. Planned programmes with Jewish composers were cancelled. However, it was not just the Jewish composers. In Nazi Germany they had an expression for art, not accepted by the Nazi regime, it was called ENTARTETE KUNST – degenerated art, and many world famous Arian artists was stamped with this expression.

For me today it is completely impossible to understand. For me Mendelssohn’s music seems politically harmless and from a musical point of view very German and very important.

Totalitarian States have always known how important ART is as a spiritual weapon. During the occupation of the Danish Radio the Nazis showed an extreme fear of any criticism of the system and especially of DER FÜHRER, Adolf Hitler. Here the worst in the Preussian attitude to life was combined with an extreme hypersensitive Nazi angle, totally lacking humour and self-irony. The years of the German occupation of the Danish Radio is a story combined of tragic and humorous elements. A fight between Danish humour and the stupidity of the fanatic Nazi ideology.

Immediately the day after the occupation the Danish tone changed. A German military censor moved into the radio-house. It was his duty to monitor the programmes so that nothing would conflict with German interests. As soon as the 12th of April, a civil censor came from the short wave radio station in Berlin. The Danish National Radio was now a part of the German cultural front and the programmes were forced to promote Danish-German understanding. Danish nazi friendly programme controllers were hired. Teaching English and French in the radio was to be stopped immediately. The Danes were forced to learn German only. But the radio-board would not accept this so the English teaching programmes was for a very long time a point of tension between the leader, Mr. Jensen and the German radio commissioner Mr. Lohman. Mr. Lohman declared that English would not play a part at all in the new German dominated Europe after the war.

Even weather forecasts were not allowed, because this way allied flyers would know how the weather was in Denmark and would be able to find the right time to throw weapons down for the Danish resistance people.

For the board and for Mr. Jensen especially, it was a balance at knife edge and a lot of tactfulness was required in the relationship with the German authorities. It was important to keep as much as possible of the administration on Danish hands. Many jobs were involved and after the battle of Stalingrad it was clear, that the Germans were not going to win the war. Therefore it was very important that the Danish staff was intact when the war was over and the Germans had left Denmark.

The first years of the occupation passed quietly. The radio programmes became more and more boring and the Danes listened to the English BBC instead, who broadcasted news in Danish every evening. The Germans installed jamming stations all over the country but with a good antenna it was still possible to listen to the BBC.

When USA and Russia entered the war, American and Russian music was prohibited too. Danish national songs with anti-German lyrics were forbidden and the Danish Schallburg Squad, Danish soldiers in German service, fighting at the eastern front in Russia, took beloved Danish songs and gave them a Nazi inspired lyric.

The great radio hit in 1941 was the German song LILI MARLEEN sung by Lale Anderson. It was recorded in 1939 but was quite unknown until the German soldiers who occupied Beograd, chose it as their battle song. After a very short time the lyrics were translated into 42 languages and was sung all over the world. In Denmark it was recorded with an in-offensive Danish lyric and the march rhythm was reduced.

The national disposition and the talk in Copenhagen during these years was very ironic and witty as a contrast to the German occupation. The lyrics of Lili Marleen were rapidly changed to an anti-Nazi version.

It is very difficult to ban the wit of the people. The Minister of Justice himself sang the persiflage version at a cabinet meeting. The Germans demanded the unofficial lyric stopped immediately. But how could the ministers stop the Danish wit. It was impossible. Then the Germans banned Lili Marleen completely – even the German version with Lale Anderson. It was not allowed to be played in restaurants, with or without the lyrics and it was banned in radio programmes.

For many years physical exercises were a tradition in the morning programme. It was a tradition too, to begin the programme with a cheerful melody or a march. One morning in 1943 the speaker played Sousa’s “Liberty Bell”. Big trouble!

In September 1944 the Germans arrested the Danish police and sent the police-officers to German concentration camps. The radio was silent a couple of days and when it started the first song played was the overture of Franz von Suppes “Banditenstreiche”, in English this means something like Scoundrel-Tricks. Both speakers were threatened with a court-martial. But Mr. Knuth who played “Banditenstreiche” did not understand what he had done wrong. He told the German radio-dictator, Herr Lohmann, that he wanted to play “a cheerful piece of fine German Arian music”. He could not see that anything could be wrong there. This make believe NAIVE attitude saved him from a court-martial.

The period of the German occupation is full of stories of this kind. It was also forbidden to play another specimen of good German Arian music, namely Carl Maria von Weber’s “Jubel-overture”. Weber was Arian through and through but the problem was that the end of the overture: “Heil dir im Siegerkranz” is the same tune as “God save the Kind”. Emmerich Kalmann’s Operettas “The Czardas Princess” and “Countess Mariza” were also banned. Even if only the lyric-writer was of Jewish origin, this was enough to ban the whole operetta.

During the occupation the Danish National Radio was forced to transmit Hitler’s speeches in full length without translation. Ib Wiedemann, who worked as a speaker during the last 3 years of the war, has told me about the transmission of Hitler’s last speech on the 30th of January 1945, the 12 anniversary of the Nazi regime. Hitler finished with the words “Und möge der allmächtige das Grossdeutsche Reich bewahren” – “And may the mighty God save the Great German Empire”. Mr. Wiedemann couldn’t hold back a quiet AMEN. The German controller who was a convinced Nazi from Berlin, came up and strangle-held him and said: “You could have saved me from that”. A friendly Austrian occupation officer told Mr. Wiedemann to escape for some time to avoid a court-martial. When he came back the Nazi apologised and told him that his wife and 5 children were in Berlin and Hitler said nothing about the Russian soldiers who were approaching Berlin at that time. This was why he reacted to strongly.

For Mr. Wiedemann the night between the 4th and the 5th of May 1945 was the greatest event of his life. From 11 o’clock in the evening until 8 o’clock in the morning he was free to play all the banned records, still available in the archive.

This was the most euphoric moment in the history of the Danish National Radio.

Mr. Hans Skaarup, producer, Danish Broadcasting Corporation, Denmark.

1st Freemuse World Conference On Music and Censorship

The 1st Freemuse World Conference on Music and Censorship was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 1998. Among the participants were musicians, reseachers, human rights activists and journalists from all over the world.

Read the speeches as PDF
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