October 2019 – January 2020

This exhibition shows a small part of the collection of children’s songbooks published by the Nazis that The Wiener Holocaust Library holds. 

Music was a key element of Nazi propaganda. Prominent, recurring themes were nature (often used metaphorically) and the military as well as classic children’s songs – songs that I still sang in school in the late 2000s.

When the Nazis came to power there was no drastic change in music. Instead, they made use of pre-existing songs. Old songs melodies were fitted with new, national socialist lyrics.

In schools in Germany since the nineteenth century, music was as a tool to create a sense of camaraderie and to fight individualistic tendencies and create a unified nation. When the Nazis came to power, they used the already well-established structure for their own benefit. The two main spaces in which children spent their time and were susceptible to propaganda were schools, where music classes were a fixed part of the curriculum, and the party youth organisations Jungvolk, Hitler Youth and League of German Girls (BDM).

In youth organisations, songs were sung at most meetings. At summer camps, special songbooks were handed out. The effect of the songs was immediate as well as long-lasting. In 1981, artist Tomi Ungerer said in an interview: “I don’t do it anymore, but up until a few years ago, whenever I got a little depressed, I automatically started singing Nazi songs and everything would become sturdy and forward again… It was a good medicine. Because these songs were injected into me like a drug. You know, if you take heroin, it stays in your blood for a whole year. And if you were brought up by the Nazis, these Nazi songs stayed in your brain for twenty, thirty years.”

This exhibition was created by the Library’s Action Reconciliation Service for Peace intern Emma Hansen.