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Hitler's Bizarre Propaganda: Charlie and His Orchestra

Updated on October 25, 2014

Imagine, your an American GI somewhere on the front or perhaps further away listening to a radio broadcast and in "perfect" American English the announcer plays a favorite jazz, like St. Louis Blues. The music is spot on as to seemingly authenticity and even the vocalist sounds 100% American. Yet, as you listen and perhaps sing along, you stumble over the lyrics that, as best as you recall, seem different. The song continues and you think, "these can't be the words".

They are not the original lyrics and that was the bizarre propaganda machine Hitler used between 1940-43 using "Charlie and His Orchestra", a professional German unit that had learned perfectly American jazz favorites. The idea was to undermine American morale through their own music but altered lyrics that favored Germany. The Germans would use lyrics that were anti-Semitic, promoted attacks by the German forces. For instance, the lyrics to "You're Driving Me Crazy" were changed to: "The Jews are friends that are near me to cheer me, believe me they do, but Jews are the kind who will hurt me, desert me, and laugh at me too".

Charlie was the singer, his real name was Karl Schwendler. Recordings show there was no German accent when he sang, he sounded American. Much of the other targets for propaganda were Winston Churchill and the French. However, weird all this is, the Americans had their own propaganda music show conducted by Glen Miller in 1944. Glen Miller and others would perform during the, "German Wehrmacht Hour". The singer of this band was Johnny Desmond. Unlike the German version, the American version was subtle. Glen would play German standards and an American-German woman would then make statements about why it is great to be free and other virtues of being free.

The propaganda plan totally failed for Hitler. Not only did no American convert but even many German officers who loved American jazz scoffed at Charlie. It was just a stupid idea even though it was well executed.


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    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 3 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      A WWII trivia I had not heard before. How would you compare it to the Japanese effort with Tokyo Rose? How did Schwendler fare after the war compared to Tokyo Rose?