Swingtime for Hitler

Goebbels’s Jazzmen, Tokyo Rose, and Propaganda That Carries a Tune

Narrated by Scott Simon
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Pub Date Sep 13 2023 | Archive Date Mar 05 2024
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From the beloved host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, an exploration of the dangerous power of propaganda and hate speech, told from Simon’s perspective as a longtime journalist and his horrified fascination with a Nazi swing band that spread vile ideas through catchy songs broadcast in Europe and the US during World War II. At a time when intolerance and divisiveness are again on the rise, this story is an urgent reminder that sins of the past live on in the present.

In his long career as a journalist for National Public Radio and host of the popular Weekend Edition Saturday, Scott Simon has traveled the world, covering wars and political unrest. During that time, he grew familiar with the insidious lies dictators and oppressive regimes tell to keep their citizens in check. Simon has become, in a way, an aficionado of propaganda. From Bosnia to Rwanda, he heard it all — or so he thought until he was introduced to the morbidly fascinating work of Charlie and His Orchestra.

Created by Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister for Propaganda, Charlie and His Orchestra was a band that played popular jazz and swing tunes rewritten with Nazi lyrics. They were regularly featured on a German radio show that reached airwaves in Britain and the US. The Reich hoped that the hateful messages of the songs would get through to faraway listeners and sway opinion in Hitler’s favor. Propaganda, the Germans figured, went down more easily when administered through a saxophone riff.

Simon heard the music and was hooked: appalled by the ways in which beloved songs had been twisted to promote a warped ideology, and yet mesmerized too. Chicago jazz and blues, and radio broadcasting, were worlds he knew and loved. He was outraged that musicians would be a part of such an enterprise. But he also knew that most of the musicians didn’t have a choice: They were too afraid to refuse the Reich, and some were Jewish prisoners recruited from concentration camps.

Simon’s story examines propaganda through the lens of his interest in this repugnant yet magnetic band from Nazi Germany. It examines the persuasive power of a new medium, radio, and how World War II played out for most people via spins of the dial. Simon’s audio narration contains many clips from Charlie and His Orchestra songs. As Simon wryly notes, it’s hard not to tap your foot to the beat. He also speaks to his own experience with propaganda. He’s seen it deployed many times in the former Soviet Union, China, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and other countries whose wars and tyrannies he covered in his decades at NPR. More urgently, he speaks to the hate speech we increasingly experience right here, right now. Propaganda is the blunt tool used by the intolerant and those who want to hold onto power at any cost. And unlike in Nazi Germany, it’s now in the hands of everybody. Anyone with a phone can reach millions with the aim to deceive and mislead. Social media platforms use algorithms that can insert unfounded, corrupt, and indefensible accounts almost surgically into the minds of those most willing to believe them. This fake news is old propaganda in a new guise. By comparison, Charlie and His Orchestra seem almost quaint.

To experience this story most fully, Scribd encourages readers to choose the audio option of Swingtime for Hitler. Vintage sound clips from the band’s performances, coupled with Simon’s unparalleled voice and narrative skill, make this a tale that will stay in your mind — and ears — for a long time to come.

From the beloved host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, an exploration of the dangerous power of propaganda and hate speech, told from Simon’s perspective as a longtime journalist and his horrified...

Available Editions

EDITION Audiobook
ISBN 9781094462691
DURATION 2 Hours, 10 Minutes, 17 Seconds

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (AUDIO)

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