oh, zarah!

time to get back on track. and the in a way logical next post after karl gerhard is the great deep voice of zarah leander. i have to admit that first i did not want to post her – then realizing that this would be a somewhat arrogant move… arrogant in the sense that i try to give a glimpse of the connection between music, i.e. culture and society through a couple of related, maybe opposing posts. and zarah leander has been an artist that still raises questions about – the role of the artist in society, and yes, responsability.

she has been shunned for being the star in nazi germany: not only the biggest movie star, but also the biggest selling singer of these times. but as usual it is not that easy.

she always stayed a swedish citizen. she did not mingle socially with the big names of the third reich. she got a big amount of her money paid out in swedish kronen. she did not participate in, hmm, explicit propaganda. that might be some facts on the positive side. the reasoning by zarah leander for working in germany at the time went along the line that she was never a political person. well well… my problem with that argument is, that i believe that the political is always social – and the social is always political. there are varying degrees – and while nobody raises an eyebrow if today in a so-called democratic society an artist claims to be a non-political person, the situation changes for other forms of societies. of course that makes sense: different ways of social organisations do produce different responsabilities. the pressure of a dictatorial regime might demands a different citizenship. i write “might”, because i do not know how it is to live in a dictatorship. and i am very cautious. i do not want to pretend that i would have been a fighter for human rights under the nazis. i might would have been an opportunist. i might would have been a freedom fighter. i most probably would have made a lot of compromises.

so to a degree i find it futile to criticize zarah leander for being a star in the nazi-aera. what i do criticize is her unwillingness to explain afterwards. to explain to us how it could happen – to explain the times. and given the unbelieveable scope of destruction and death maybe some remorse would have been appropriated. but yes, for me, being born much later, explanation is what i need. and at least this responsability she could have acknowledged…

but then again i think we also have to consider that zarah leander was not only in germany a star – and that her career did not end after 1945. and of course that after the war people were not that hot for explanations of the past. and this has not been limited to germany. yes, verganheitsbew√§ltigung…

for me zarah leander is therefore also interesting as a kind of stepping stone to think about not only the responsability of the citizen, but also of the responsability of the artist. the question is one that gets asked over and over again, has to be asked over and over again, and finds many different answers. and looking back in time – and looking back to very hard times, this question might get some sharper outlines. but then we should not make the mistake and believe that these outlines have been equally clear at the time: we see it in our times. it is obviously not that easy to take the “right” political stance for an artist. after all it is now, and history hasn’t made its judgement yet… and there are enough examples these days to show the problems of political action of artists with or outside their art. and there are many examples where our judgement seems to be blinded, too. i am just still not getting over the fact that seemingly nobody sees a problem in the fact that madonna played the lead in evita… i mean it is evita peron. it’s not, you know…mother theresa (but then i even less want to see a musical made about the life of mother theresa, thank you very much). and i still find it amazing how problematic it seems to be for artists (not only artists, though) to critcize politicians in our free and democratic world…

before i totally go off with rant, let’s go back to zarah leander. to a degree the problem i have with her is that i do not like her (a)political stance – but that i have to admit that her voice was absolutely stunning. which brings me to another problem: where is the line between artist and her / his work? a question i ask myself quite often, since liking the artist does for me not always fall together with liking the art. and the other way around, of course. so i do listen from time to time to zarah leander – but with a grain of salt, well, a little bit more then a grain, actually.

so have a listen for yourself now – goldene serie: zarah leander, a kind of best of with mostly her big hits from her movies, ripped from vinyl, including cover scan and tracklisting, you can get here.

and to round off that post nicely, i would like to point you into the direction of this overwhelming website. i guess paul seiler is the unbeaten specialist of all things zarah leander.

and i would like to point you into the direction of the webpage of tim fischer – he tours again with his first program (ha! which i saw back in the days!) zarah ohne kleid. a kind of bittersweet hommage to zarah leander. and yes, we get back to mister fischer in one of the following posts…

3 Responses to “oh, zarah!”

  1. Tony Childs-Cutler Says:

    What do you make of the recent claims that Zarah Leander was working for Soviet intelligence in World War 2? That the British historian Anthony Beevor regards her as more important to Soviet agents than Olga Chekhova? That her Swedish Communist Party membership card has lain in a Moscow archive for decades? And that Oscar Fovarge has included her in ‘Lili’ new British musical review and referring to her work for both sides in WW2? And what do you make of British veterans willing to send flowers to place at the foot of her statue in Karlstad, as recognition of her contribution?
    I’d like to know your views.
    Best regards,

  2. sunbathinglizard Says:

    hi tony,
    this is interesting news – and it would explain the life-long silence of ms leander. then while one could be ent-nazifiziert, being a communist has always been far worse…
    and from my point of view it would make her – and her easy, entertaining music more complex. yes, i do fiind it very intriguing. so what to make of it? well, it just shows that one can be always ignorant, not knowing some facts that will change the context dramatically. and that there have been even more ways to deal with a regime like the one in germany at the time…

  3. Tony Childs-Cutler Says:

    Hi Sunbathing lizard!

    I’ve just seen Oscar Fovarge’s musical play ‘Lili’. As reported, he ‘outed’ Zarah Leander as a Soviet spy. Interestingly, this was not as bad as being a Nazi stooge, at least to a British aundience. After all, the Soviets were on the side of the Allies from 1942 onwards. Far from being a hate figure, the character of Zarah was liked by both an elderly audience of World War 2 veterans and young people who loved Fovarge’s new lyrics for her Fritz Doelle song. This was an examination of the apsirations for celebrity at any cost, and some subtle hints of her status as an agent. Her code name it seems was Rose-Marie. Watch out for ‘Zarah’s Song’. I understand it’s coming up on You Tube in the next couple of months.

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