The Frankfurt Hot Club was a group of young German jazz musicians who defied the Nazi Party’s opposition to jazz music by continuing to listen to and play to jazz despite the Nazi’s efforts to stop them doing so. Associated with the Swingjugend (Swing Youth) an Anglo-American movement focused on music and fashion, the group secretly pursued their love of jazz music despite the genre being denounced and later banned by the Nazi Party as degenerate and a threat to traditional Aryan values.
Formed in Frankfurt in 1941, the Frankfurt Hot Club group came together when young jazz lover Horst Lippmann and some of his fellow jazz fans started jamming in the back of Lippmann’s parents’ restaurant. Other key members of the group included Hans Otto Jung, Carlo Bohländer and Emil Mangesldorff. The group would have someone keeping watch for the Gestapo who would randomly visit such venues to ensure that only ‘good Aryan’ music was being played. If alerted by the lookout to the presence of the Gestapo the band would switch from playing jazz music to something deemed acceptable by the regime.
The Frankfurt Hot Club’s members repeatedly risked their personal safety and freedom by trying to circumvent the Nazi ban, for them their passion for the music outweighed the threat. The group made a number of secret recordings during the war some of which still survive today. Their story was told in Rebel Sounds at IWM London, an exhibition exploring how people have stood up for the music they love.
‘Jazz meant more than just music to us during the war’- Hans Otto, band member
Originating in the United States in the early 20th century, jazz music became popular in Germany in the 1920s, with music fans embracing the modern musical style. However when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933 the jazz scene came under threat due to the regime’s contempt for the genre, who dismissed it derogatively as negermusik due to its African-American roots. To the Nazis, jazz music was inferior music performed by an inferior race.
Founded by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, the Reichmusikkamer (Reich Music Chamber) aimed to promote “good” German music which was in keeping with traditional Aryan values, and to suppress “degenerate” forms of music such as jazz and swing music, a form of jazz that developed in the late 1920s.
The organisation controlled all aspects of the music industry in Nazi Germany and its representatives monitored the music scene in conjunction with the Gestapo (secret police) to ensure that only state approved music was performed and listened to.
'The Nazis did not like jazz and wanted to suppress it. That made us love it even more.’ - Hans Otto Jung
According to Carlo, Emil 'liked to make trouble', and as one of the youngest members of the group arguably attracted the most attention from the authorities. Emil’s behaviour was more closely associated with the Swingjugend movement than the rest of the group, whose primary focus was the music.
The term Swingjugend was originally a derogatory expression used to describe the counter culture movement to the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) but became the generally accepted term. The Hitler Youth was the youth arm of the Nazi Party and members were indoctrinated in key Nazi values including an emphasis on physical fitness, racial purity and a traditional Aryan appearance.
The Swingjugend rejected these values and the Nazi totalitarian state, and adopted a more liberal outlook, as a result the Swingjugend were increasingly targeted by the Reichmusikkamer and the Gestapo, with many followers arrested and interrogated and in some cases even tortured, and then sent to concentration camps such as Moringen.
Emil himself was arrested in 1943 for defeatism, held in solitary confinement for three weeks and then drafted into the army and was posted to the Soviet Union. After the end of the war Emil was held as a prisoner of war until being released in 1949.
Horst was also arrested in 1943, having been caught secretly listening to the BBC by the Gestapo. He was held in prison for several weeks where he became critically ill, but his father managed to persuade the authorities to release him and he spent the remainder of the war hiding in the basement of a friend’s house to avoid being conscripted.
Carlo joined the army in 1940 but was able to return to Frankfurt at weekends to perform in various clubs, and later succeeded in getting himself discharged from the army by deliberately losing an excessive amount of weight. Before the war despite the Nazi ban on non-Aryan music Hans had succeeded in collecting a large collection of records, obtained by various means but his conscription into the army limited his ability to continue collecting. Due to recurrent illness Hans was released from army service but continued performing music.
Most of the group continued playing jazz music after the end of the war, having proved that they could not be silenced by the authorities even when their freedom was threatened or lost.