Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Diva From Sweden - The Byzantine Journey of Zarah Leander...

Adolf Hitler admired  the work of the Swedish actress and singer; however, from a distance. I know of only one meeting between Zarah Leander and the Nazi dictator, and this meeting did not involve itself in anything political, from what can be gathered.
Leander first made her mark in Sweden, then  moved to Nazi Germany, where she established herself as a popular movie actress and singer. She, in actuality, took the place of Marlene Dietrich, who was strongly anti-Nazi, and who left Germany permanently, along with other talents such as the movie genius Billy Wilder and actor Peter Lorre.
Leander, like Dietrich, sang in a low , throaty manner, producing many records in a relatively short period. She decided to sign a contract with UFA, Germany's answer to Hollywood, after determining  that it would be better for her to remain closer to her native country Sweden, than to take a chance at success in California, which was much further away. She actually mused, in a post-war interview, about whether she would have succeeded in Hollywood. It seems that she might have been reticent about taking that chance.
At any rate, Leander became very successful in Germany, and even though Josef Goebbels, the Nazi Minister of Culture, did not think, initially, very much of Leander as an artist, he could not afford to ignore her popularity. In other words, Zarah Leander became one of  a handful of powerful women in Nazi Germany, a Germany that Hitler decreed become  a culture  with its women at home where they belonged, raising families for the State. It's of some interest to me that of  the tiny coterie of woman who attained power in Hitler's court, two were not native to Germany; one, of course, was Leander. The other was the daughter-in-law, Winifred, of  the legendary composer and Hitler's artistic hero Richard Wagner. Winifred was an
English Orphan.
Leander was free to journey often to her estate in Sweden, even during the war. One should be reminded that Sweden was one of very few European entities which was not occupied by the Nazis.
In 1943, during a bombing raid by British bombers, some bombs dropped perilously close to Leander's German residence, which resulted in Leander's decision to leave Germany permanently and go back to Sweden, where she met a palpable amount of derision for having achieved stardom in Nazi Germany.
Zarah Leander continuously denied having anything to do with the politics in Germany, and although she was decried by a number of her  countrymen and women, she was never held in any form of punishment, and continued to live in Sweden until her passing in, I believe, 1981. She described herself as "an idiot, politically."
Two incidents in Leander's career bear some humor:
In a conversation with Goebbels, the Minister of Culture asked Leander " by the way, isn't Zarah(Sarah) a Jewish name?" Whereupon Leander asked this powerful, fearsome Nazi "Isn't Josef a Jewish name?" After a moment of mildly stunned silence, Goebbels  broke into laughter, and the conversation ended. Whether this incident is simply  apocryphal, I cannot answer. Personally, I cannot see Leander having accrued enough personal courage to ask such a question of such a hateful racist, who was one of the great powers in the Nazi hierarchy.
The following is indeed true, however. There is a 1938 recording of Leander singing the Yiddish tune "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon(To  Me, You Are Beautiful).
It was recorded in Germany five years after Hitler came to power. This piece was banned in Germany immediately after the recording was made. How in the world did it escape Hitler for five years? All Jewish music was, of course, banned in Germany after Hitler assumed power. But this little tune escaped, as it was distributed and sold outside of Germany before Hitler expunged it.
Go to YouTube - I believe it's there for you to hear...

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Blogger Peter Vinton said...

I had never known of this person. Absolutely engrossing. Thank you!

January 22, 2014 at 3:12 AM  

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