The Reichstheaterzug, had been on the road since 1934,
and KdF celebrated its mobile theater for its ability to entertain in the “farthest patches of the [German] fatherland,” as described in Chap. 3. 1 But with the advent of World War II, the Reichstheaterzug set out on even longer journeys, now deployed by KdF to visit members of the Wehrmacht away at the front. In 1940, the Reichstheaterzug even voyaged to a new continent when it was shipped to Libya to entertain German soldiers stationed in North Africa. By 1943, on the occasion of KdF’s tenth anniversary, the Nazi press agency DNB boasted that the Reichstheaterzug had travelled a cumulative distance of over 215,000 km, or “five times the circumference of the earth”2 (see Fig. 4.1). That the Reichstheaterzug not only continued to operate during World War II, but in fact, in providing troop entertainment, greatly expanded its activity, stands pars pro toto for the history of KdF during the war years. This chapter will illustrate that the leisure organization became a major player in the realm of troop entertainment for the German army.3 Almost predictably, this activity was not uncontested and drew much criticism, but it nevertheless expanded continuously, eventually dominating all other areas of KdF’s work. The leisure organization followed German soldiers wherever the war was being fought, organized events for injured Wehrmacht members during their convalescence in military hospitals, and even brought its entertainment programs into concentration camps.
chapter looks at the content of these programs,
the logistics of putting them on and how they performed, their reception by audiences, the artists who participated in them, and the perspective of leading Nazis and representatives of several German agencies on KdF’s entertainments. I will describe KdF’s performances and their contexts, and I will show how KdF’s troop entertainment activity was very much guided by the leisure organization’s commitment to light amusement and “joy production.” The years of World War II and the mass destruction created by the Nazi regime did not halt its entertainment efforts; instead, that destruction was accompanied by another campaign, one that was quite aggressive, and certainly persistent, expensive, and exhaustive—a “warfare for joy.” The entertainment of Wehrmacht soldiers lay within KdF’s purview because of a 1939 agreement between the leisure organization, the Wehrmacht, and the Propaganda Ministry. According to this deal, the Wehrmacht would finance KdF to arrange entertainment programs for soldiers. In practice, that meant KdF was in charge of organizing programs including almost every sort of cultural activity with the exception of film.
screenings, which were the responsibility of the Propaganda Ministry.
4 The Wehrmacht provided KdF’s artists with food and housing, arranged their transport and the locations for their performances and, in some cases, laid on fuel for their vehicles.5 KdF’s entertainment mandate from the Wehrmacht was not limited to soldiers stationed at the front. The leisure organization also arranged events for injured soldiers during their convalescence in military hospitals. KdF’s cultural programs for wounded soldiers took place both inside hospitals and in municipal theaters all over Germany. I previously discussed how KdF went about “bringing culture” to injured soldiers at the “War Festival” in Wagner’s opera house in Bayreuth. Naturally, much more mundane events were more common, including variety shows for wounded soldiers with titles such as “Froher Nachmittag für unsere Verwundeten” [“Happy afternoons for our casualties”],6 which were staged on a regular basis in local theaters. But not all wounded soldiers were ambulant so, in addition to these bigger shows, KdF also employed smaller artist ensembles, or even individual artists, to perform in hospitals, bringing entertainment right to the soldier in his sickbed.7 Puppet shows, for example, were particularly popular8 because as acts that only needed limited paraphernalia they could perform in one sick room and then easily move on to the next ward. The leisure organization also offered participatory activities for soldiers, including courses in arts and handicrafts. Such programs built on the prewar experience the organization had gained through its work in German factories. Similarly, KdF also transferred the idea of the “factory exhibition” into military hospitals and arranged for the display of art in hospitals, sometimes including art produced by the soldiers themselves. Not only art, but also artists came, as KdF sometimes brought professional fine artists to visit military hospitals to sketch portraits of hospitalized soldiers. This was meant both as a distraction for bedridden soldiers and to help realize KdF’s goal of bringing “culture to the people”: even a wounded soldier could connect with the fine arts.9 Again similarly to its prewar practices, KdF’s cultural events and programs were matched and complemented by those arranged by the organization’s Sports Department. Helpfully, of course, sports activities could also speed up soldiers’ healing and recovery. KdF’s Sports Department offered workshops to prepare sports trainers for their work with wounded soldiers. Eventually, over 200 such trainers worked in over 250 military hospitals, where they arranged games and directed exercises and calisthenics for wounded soldiers.10 According to one KdF sports teacher, the sports.
activities for wounded soldiers were conducted in the “fresh-cheerful style
KdF’s classes” and included “a lot of games and community work.”11 An emphasis on cheerfulness or playfulness can also be discerned in photographs of KdF’s sports programs for wounded soldiers,12 suggesting that in this work KdF stayed in sync with its overall cadence of “joy production.”13 When it came to the entertainment of soldiers stationed at the front, KdF’s leading role was not uncontested. The ins and outs will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter, but at this point it is important to stress that KdF was not the only agency involved in troop entertainment in Nazi Germany: in addition to the Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment, the Reich Chamber for Culture (the Reichskulturkammner, or RKK) and its different constituent chambers also played an important role. Furthermore, the department of Alfred Rosenberg, responsible for the ideological and intellectual education of the Nazi party, was involved when it came to providing lectures and reading material to German soldiers at the front.14 This multiplicity of agencies and responsibilities was the source of many issues, and, despite several attempts and agreements,15 and despite the all-embracing approach of KdF, the situation around troop entertainment remained in a state of chaotic competition. Throughout the war, KdF, the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment and the Wehrmacht each maintained their own independent budget for their activities related to entertaining soldiers,16 thus financing and perpetuating a “colorful, disorderly coexistence of troop entertainments of all kinds.”17 KdF’s predominant role in troop entertainment centering on theater at the frontline at the beginning of the war may be said to have grown naturally out of its prewar activities in mobile theatrical and other cultural performances, such as the Reichstheaterzug, and also to have been a continuation of the organization’s prewar collaboration with the Wehrmacht. Since the beginning of 1937, KdF had set up large-scale theater events for workers, employed by the Reich Labor Service, building the Autobahnen and the Siegfried Line.18 The infrastructure and know-how developed through this work gave KdF a head start when it came to organizing theater entertainment for soldiers at the front. As the war began, KdF also benefited from its pre-existing relationship with the Wehrmacht. This had been initiated in 1936 by an agreement between Ley and the Minster of War, Werner von Bloomberg,19 and put the leisure organization in charge, not only of entertaining Wehrmacht soldiers in their free time, but also of providing them with KdF-built housing [KdF-Wehrmachtsheime].
Sending Out the Troupes: KdF’s Front Entertainment Performances and Performers In addition to the Reichstheaterzug, KdF quickly sent out more mobile stages after September 1939. An SD report from November of that year (only a couple of months into the war) stated that the leisure organization already operated ten stages purely for German soldiers stationed on the Western Front;21 by 1942, two years into the war, a KdF brochure on troop entertainment from 1942 claimed that 1520 KdF stages were touring occupied France and Belgium.22 In geographical terms, by October 1941, KdF’s activities had already expanded to Italy, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and southeastern Europe. Entertainment was also made available to soldiers at the Eastern front, albeit on a considerably smaller scale (Fig. 4.2).23 The number of KdF-organized troop entertainment events continued to grow throughout the war. In 1941, the DAF reported that circa 188,000 KdF events for soldiers had taken place,24 performed by over 4,000 KdFhired artists,25 with attendance numbers reaching 68 million.26 In Belgium Fig. 4.2 KdF entertainment for German soldiers in Russia, 1943 (Bildarchiv Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-698-0016-29).
and France alone, a KdF brochure boasted running over 50,000 events in the first two years of the war, and claimed that, overall, more than 24,000 artists had performed for soldiers on more than 1,600 stages.27 In July 1944, KdF leader Bodo Lafferentz bragged in an article in the Nazi newspaper Der Angriff that there were 836,000 troop entertainment events during the war, attended by overall 275 million German soldiers.28 What exactly did all these artists do—what sort of events was KdF providing for German soldiers? The memoirs of the Wehrmacht paratrooper Rudolf Adler, born in 1919, provide a glimpse into the everyday experience of “front theater” among German soldiers. In March 1943, when Adler was stationed in Russia, a front theater troupe came to visit. Their stage was mounted in an old shed: white sheets were used for decorations, spotlights and improvised heaters were set up, and a theater with space for an audience of 150 soldiers created. The show lasted 90 minutes, writes Adler, and consisted of performances by a “pretty female accordion player and two dancers,” followed by “some sort of vaudeville program with magicians and such like.” Adler remembers the delight the performance caused: “We were all very excited and forgot everything that had happened before. This all happened 4 km behind the front. Again and again, one could hear the roar of guns. […] that really was something special!”29 Adler’s testimony reveals that front theater was often make-shift, but also that the performances were very much appreciated for the diversion they brought. The troupe stayed for one week, playing once each day, in order to reach all German soldiers stationed in the area.30 Even though Adler refers to the performance as “theater,” his descriptions are of shows that might be more aptly characterized as vaudeville with music and dance.31 According to a KdF report from 1941, about 40 percent of all KdF events in 1941 were theatrical performances (including opera and operetta), 15 percent were concerts, 30 percent of the events were vaudeville shows, and 30 percent could be categorized as “cabaret” [“Kleinkunst”].32 An analysis of KdF’s overall troop entertainment program from the same year paints a similar overall picture. The majority of the events listed here were concerts (44) or theatrical performances (42),33 in addition to 20 “social evenings,” 20 vaudeville performances, 18 lectures, 16 programs that explicitly offered “music, singing and dance,” eight cabaret shows, six opera programs, three magic shows, and two puppet performances. This program once again highlights KdF’s “joy focus,” which becomes even clearer when the 42 theater performances are broken down by genre: 19
were comedies,34 13 were folkloristic “amusing stories,” and, of the mere nine that merited the label “Schauspiel” [drama], only one was a “tragedy.” Thus, KdF can again be seen sacrificing its original goal of “bringing culture” to its audience, putting the emphasis, instead, on easily accessible and amusing “joy productions”. This “joy production” most often took the form of light music and vaudeville acts, especially in the so-called Bunte Abende. Such events constituted a large proportion of all KdF’s performances for soldiers, as can be seen from the records of the performances that were offered for different Wehrmacht divisions. For example, 19 out of 31 events organized by KdF for the Fourth Mountain Division in November 194035 fell into this category. These Bunte Abende carried titles such as Alles in Ordnung [Everything in Order] or Rhythmus der Freuden [Rhythm of Joy].36 In December 1940, half of all the 28 entertainment events for the division were vaudeville evenings, titled for example Heitere Bühne [The Cheerful Stage,] or Lachende Kleinkunst [Laughing Cabaret]. Vaudeville shows remained the most common form of entertainment in the following months, the soldiers being able to attend, in January and February 1941, events with such titles as Heiteres Kunterbunt [Cheerful Motley], Tausend Takte Heiterkeit [One Thousand Beats of Happiness], Konfetti [Confetti], Bunter Abend [Colorful Evening], Wohl bekomm’s [Cheers!], and Freude und Lachen [Joy and Laughter]. And even when more traditional theater substituted this vaudevillian fare, the pieces were often comedies. For example, in February 1941, KdF arranged for the division performances of musical comedies by the Stuttgarter Kammerspiele and of the lightly bawdy folk play Das Herz in der Lederhos’n [The Heart in Lederhosen]. Other theatrical pieces staged for the division included the comedy Dieses Wasser trink ich nicht [I don’t drink this water] and the folk play Anna Susanna. Plays that might merit the label “high-brow,” such as Schiller’s Wallenstein (performed twice for some of the division in December 1940 by the Wuerttemberg State Theater) were such an exception in the repertoire as to clearly prove the rule that, overall, KdF focused mainly on presenting the soldiers in this division with light and entertaining pieces.37 The strong commitment to amusing light entertainment revealed in this detailed overview of the leisure organization’s events for the Fourth Mountain Division, while the division was stationed at home, can also be seen when analyzing the programs KdF offered German soldiers in occupied countries.38 It would be very hard to argue that this type of troop entertainment realized the organization’s putative goal of.
“bringing culture to the people,” which was so prominently celebrated in its programmatic writings. Rather, a perusal of KdF’s troop entertainment programs reveals a consistently strong focus on light entertainment and concomitantly scant concern for performances of “high-brow” art, even when troops were stationed in the relative stability of Germany itself. Detailed reports of the actual contents of the programs as performed are rare, but there are sources that function as (albeit brief) reviews of the performances staged at KdF events for soldiers: the famous race driver Hans Stuck included in a diary a short description of the show put on by a front entertainment troupe called “Drei und ein Schifferklavier” [“Three and an accordion”], consisting of one male and two female performers. Paula von Reznicek, Stuck’s wife, who, with her husband, toured Germanoccupied Europe as part of the troop entertainment program describes the performances as “first-class” and their program as “entirely cheerful […] He sings classical operetta quite well […] She does comedic presentations and songs, partly in costume, all bawdy [and] sometimes rather funny chansons […] The very pretty girl, just 18 years old plays a couple of fairly difficult solo pieces, which brings stamping and clapping from the soldiers.”39 One-and-a-half years later, Reznicek’s diary chronicles more performances, by the front theater troupe “Wer lacht mit?” [“Who laughs along?”]. According to Reznicek, the troupe comprised some dancing girls, a magician, a whistler, and some acrobats. It put on a “varied program” and, although Reznicek was not taken by the “rather naked and not necessarily attractive girls,” she seems genuinely impressed by the final act, an ensemble of French comedy-acrobats who earned “endless applause.”40 Wehrmacht divisional reports also include short descriptions and even critiques of KdF performances. For example, from a 1943 report of the 257th division we learn that the program “Und die Musik spielt dazu” [“And the Music plays along”] involved “attractive emcees,” but a merely “mediocre cellist” and “average female dancer,” while a tenor displayed some talent but his voice was affected as one of his lungs had previously been winged by a bullet.41 The event “Mit Tempo und Schwung” [“With Tempo and Verve”] was performed by an ensemble consisting almost entirely of women, including singers, a pianist and accordionist, a comedian, a dancer, and an illusionist. While the latter two were only “average,” the other acts drew “rapturous applause” from the soldiers.42 Such descriptions of KdF performances (given from an audience perspective), though brief, help us understand what happened on often make-shift stages in front of entertainment-hungry soldiers. Performances.
tended to be “mixed bags,” both in content and standard, while artistic excellence and the dissemination of “high culture” content were not usually prominent features: instead light entertainment predominated, often highlighting bawdy humor, and making sure there were pretty girls on stage. Furthermore, descriptions like those cited above suggest that this kind of programming appealed to its audiences and that KdF’s events were successful with the soldiers who attended them. However, KdF’s events did not garner universally positive receptions, nor were the positive views uncontested. Some of the less positive feedback on KdF events for soldiers will be considered later in the chapter. As noted above, from the beginning of the war, troop entertainment was funded by the Wehrmacht but carried out by KdF.43 This framework meant that the artists who performed for the troops were engaged by KdF and hence remained civilians and did not become members of the army.44 In certain regards the artists were treated as part of the army’s retinue with regards to transportation: they received Wehrmacht travel licenses, for example, and could use military trains.45 On the other hand, responsibility for billeting its artists fell on KdF. The organization requisitioned hotels46 and established homes for its traveling artists throughout German-occupied Europe, for example in France (Lille, Bordeaux, and Paris), in Poland (Kraków), in Latvia (Riga), Serbia (Belgrade), Greece (Athens), and Norway (Oslo).47 Despite these more salubrious possibilities, artists travelling for KdF most often had to make do with rather improvised lodgings—sometimes in local hotels, sometimes in civilians’ houses—and the artists were not always happy with their accommodation. In 1940, KdF put up members of the female dance chorus “Hiller Girls” in a (former) brothel in Brussels; this prompted several dancers to quit the tour and the chorus.48 The size of KdF troupes and the scale of its events varied greatly. Some ensembles consisted of only three of four people, while others could be quite large; the German Opera from Berlin sent 450 people for performances at the Western Front.49 Some performers also travelled as individual KdF troop entertainers. Among these, the magician Marvelli was particularly celebrated in the leisure organization’s publications for travelling to the African desert on behalf of KdF.50 The varied scale of KdF endeavors is reflected in Wehrmacht correspondence about troop entertainment in occupied Denmark, which utilized three categories: major events with troupes of up to 30 members, who required a hall and proper stage equipment for their performances, which were planned for up to.
200 attendees; medium events with ensembles of up to five people who could perform for 50–200 people without requiring a hall; and small events, where between one and three performers entertained an audience of 10–50 people.51 Often, ensembles performed several times in one place, meaning that in sum they might reach audiences of several hundred or even over a thousand soldiers at one location.52 Ideally, entertainment events for soldiers were to take place weekly,53 with large events to be staged at least once a month.54 In many geographical areas, however, this plan could never be realized,55 and Wehrmacht reports chronicle the soldiers’ disappointment about the lack of entertainment. In most cases, KdF put together ensembles by hiring artists through agencies.56 The troupes were often little more than improvised, the artists in an ensemble sometimes only meeting each other for the first time when they were already abroad.57 Towards the end of the war most performances were given by small ensembles or solo artists; Reich Culture Chamber lists of wage permissions for artists working for German troop entertainment suggest that, during 1944 and early 1945, KdF hired performers who could perform alone or as part of duos and trios, including various types of musicians— a pianist, an accordionist, a violinist, and (opera) singers—as well as acrobats, a magician, and a comedian.58 All throughout the war, German troop entertainment efforts suffered from a lack of suitable artists.59 Instituting compulsory front service for artists was debated for a long time by both KdF and the Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment, but was not completely introduced until January 1944.60 Instead, KdF tried to attract artists by offering high wages61—something else that attracted much controversy and criticism, criticism that is discussed later alongside other negative perspectives on KdF’s front performances and performers. Some of these criticisms were part of larger issues related to the administrative rivalries in the realm of troop entertainment. Specifically with respect to paying artists, the Reich Culture Chamber set up a special office in 1943 that took general charge of finding and recruiting artists for KdF and the other Nazi agencies involved in troop entertainment activities.62 Although the function of this new “Künstler-Einsatzstelle” extended across several troop-entertainment agencies, Alexander Hirt sees it as a specific attempt by the Reich Culture Chamber to gain more control over KdF, with the latter now only able to hire artists approved by the former.63 In practice, one of the main effects of this development was that it became much more difficult for KdF to employ artists for troop entertainment, hindered by a lengthy bureaucratic.