German Swing Youth:
(English Version by an American Friend of the Swingstyle Syndicate. Copyright by Swingstyle)

Fashion of German Swing Youth
Music and Dance of the German Swing Youth
German Swing Youth Slang
Lifestyle of the German Swing Youth
German Swing Youth Lyrics
(Plus a critique of the 1993 Hollywood Pictures movie “Swing Kids”)

The youth of the western world was celebrating the end of global economic depression and the approach of modern times during the 1930s and 40s with a riotous explosion of dance and music called Swing.  However, in Germany a repressive fascist regime under Adolf Hitler tried to impose its iron will on the German people, and keep them isolated from any international movements that threatened to undermine Nazi philosophy.

For a look at how Jazz came to Germany, click here.

Contemporary Nazi Reports and Measures regarding German Swing Youth.
The Nazi authorities considered the dance craze of the Swing scene a particular menace. Swing was viewed as a very dangerous foreign import, because it was rooted in immoral Black ”jungle music” with accompanying allusions to wild, indiscriminate sex.  Even worse, as far as the Nazi officials were concerned, Swing was a deliberate product of Jewish media moguls in America that, if spread to Germany, could contaminate the blood of  its own youth.  Youngsters caught up in a possible invasion of Swing would revert to more primitive forms of African-inspired behavior.  Their blood would become contaminated as they bred babies of uncertain parentage as a result of sexual relations with multiple partners   The Nazis were horrified as they imagined the prospects. Like the white bigots of 1960-era America boasted on radio shows while smashing records over desktops, “Rock & Roll has got to Go!”  Only in Nazi Germany, Hitler and his henchmen were determined that Swing would never arrive.
To Hitler, the answer to the international menace of Swing was simple and straightforward:  The National Socialist Party system of  military and paramilitary organizations would exert total control over German youngsters, and physically keep them from straying off the narrow Nazi pathway.
Hitler announced the draconian methods he would use to stifle youthful interest in non-German ways:

“(...) Our Youth must learn nothing else, but only to think like and act like Germans! We must get our boys into a Party organization at the age of 10, where they can be immersed for the very first time in the totality of pure German spirit.  Then, after four years, they will be transferred from this Young Folk (Jungvolk) into the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend).  There we will keep them for another four years.  One thing for certain, we will never surrender them back into the clutches of the enemies of our German State.  Instead, we will immediately place them into our Party!  Following this, we will put our young men into the ranks of the mandatory Labor Front (Arbeitsfront), the Stormtroopers (SA), the Party Guards (SS), the Motorized Party Unit (NSKK) and so on.  Then, after they have been members of these organizations for up to two years but failed to become true National Socialists, we will reprocess them back through the mandatory Labor Front for another half-year of curative treatment.  Everything will be united under one symbol, the German Spade of the Workers! And, if they still retain smudges of class consciousness or aloofness from Germandom, then the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) will deal with them for another two years.  Furthermore, if they return after two, three, or even four years, we will immediately put them back into the ranks of the SS, SA or other fit organizations in order to protect them from the slightest relapse from German Will. In this manner, they will not live freely apart from the service of Germany for their entire lives!"

— excerpt of Hitler’s speech at Reichenberg, December 2, 1938.

The National Socialist solution to the problem, imposed by some of the most militant “control freaks” in world history, was apparently less than a total success.  Later, at the height of the war in early 1944, the Reich Ministry of Justice lamented:

“(...)One of the most striking appearances among dangerous groups within the Reich is the so-called Swing Youth.  They are reported to exist in many different parts of the country….These cliques begin their activities out of a selfish impulse to amuse themselves, but rapidly deteriorate  into anti-social criminal gangs.  Even before the war, boys and girls from the elite social set in Hamburg would get together dressed in notorious baggy or loose clothing and become entranced under the spell of English music and English dance.  The Flottbecker Clique (Swing Kids from Hamburg) organized private dance parties attended by 500-600 teenagers during the winter of 1939-40.  These lewd affairs included unrestrained Swing dancing.  The Authorities rightfully banned such house dances, but the cliques were addicted to the English beat  and continued to organize unlawful jamborees full of sexual mischief.  The enormous cost of this illicit lifestyle was met by criminal resort  to petty theft and music store burglaries.  Needless to say, their penchant for the extravagant and self-centered wild life at clubs, bars, cafes and house gatherings comes at the expense of their support for our gallant war effort.  They do not appreciate the success of our forces in the field, and even disparage the ultimate sacrifice of our men in uniform.  What follows next is the inevitable and clearly discernable hostility toward any military service of their own. Clique members show off by dressing audaciously in British-style clothing.  They often wear jackets cut in the Scot slit manner, carry umbrellas, and put fancy-colored collar-studs in their  jacket lapels as badges of their arrogance.  They mimic the decadent English way of life, because they worship the Englishman as the highest evolutionary development of mankind.  Their mistaken ideals of individual freedom (which, in Nazi opinion countered true German freedom to help the greater community by ridding it of pestilence and Jews) leads them to openly oppose the Hitler Youth.  One example of these Swing Cliques was a Harlem Club in Frankfurt that held extremely offensive house parties.  These Harlem Club parties were frequented by very young and impressionable girls who were seduced into freely participating in random intercourse.  The drunken free-sex affairs were typified by alcoholic excesses and dance orgies where teenagers “swung” and got “hot”. Because of  evacuation methods necessitated by wartime conditions, these cliques have now been scattered from their rooting grounds.”

- excerpt from Reichsjustizministerium Report, early 1944

Fashion of German Swing Youth :

The German Swing Youth members are commonly called Swing Kids.  Nazi authorities documented distinctive features of the Swing Kids in order to suppress them.  Official reports stated that Swing Kids could be easily identified by their striking appearance and outlandish clothing, compared to other Germans of their own age.  These traits included several facets.

One of the most prominent hallmarks of the Swing Kids were their flagrant haircuts, which became almost mandatory among their members.  Of course, individual styling of one’s hair has often marked youth rebelliousness, as demonstrated in more recent times by hippies or punk rockers. This was also true in Nazi Germany and not limited to the Swing Kids.  Several informal youth groups at odds with the Authorities used their hair to “make a statement”.  For instance, the hikers of the Edelweiss Pirates (Eidelweisspiraten) sported unique hair styles. 

The differences between American and German hairstyles for youth interested in Swing was probably very slight.  This is because German movies featured stars and starlets who wore their hair in very modern fashion of the times, almost in complete harmony with those of Hollywood actors.  The German Swing Kids copied the hairstyles of their favorite movie idols, and were therefore very up-to-date with the latest trends.

Male Swing Kids rebelled against the short military haircuts of other boys by growing “whips” of long hair, sometimes over a foot in length from their foreheads, that were combed backward with Brillantine or sugared water.  Female Swing Kids openly violated  the traditional, braided hairstyles approved for girls by letting their hair grow long and loose, and by sometimes inserting permanent waves with chemicals and curlers. This artificially-treated hair done up in foreign fashion was an anathema to Nazis, who disdained any deviance from the officially-approved girlish look deemed appropriate for “nice German girls”.

Choosing the proper clothing to harmonize with foreign Swing trends was more problematic for the Swing Kids. Their inspiration came from rare American and English film clips and magazines, or already-known fashions of foreign vintage thought to be in harmony with Swing freedom.  The German film industry, which was very sophisticated and enjoyed global recognition as a cutting-edge art form, provided excellent leads with both its movies and fan magazines.  The film stars dressed and acted in the latest international fashion and their saucy, cool manners matched their idol status. The German Swing Kids imitated their film idols and acted accordingly, and in the process became pretty hep themselves.

The German movies portrayed a lifestyle completely different than that of militarized Germany, so that their atmosphere was one of relaxed peacetime and often luxurious living.  The film industry shied away from films containing a lot of propaganda, because German audiences disliked them.  The lack of propaganda in many movies made films more appealing to Swing Kids.  In addition, movies offered one of the few escapes from the war, and movies refrained from wartime references in order to please audiences.  Modern movie attitudes were inconsistent with ever-present Nazi propaganda methods, but necessary to attract ticket-buying moviegoers.

German film history, click here

Male Swing Kids favored London/New York-style bulky double-breasted suit coats with very wide lapels, or bold-style “zootie” suit coats reaching almost to the knees, after the fashion of the “American Negro zoot suiters”.  If possible, the coats were tailored to cut sharply in at the waist in “tough-guy” fashion reminiscent of Hollywood-fashion American gangsters.  Their baggy, deep-rise trousers with turned-up cuffs, and ostentatious shoes with bright but strong crepe soles, matched this motif.  The American look, however, was tempered with Anglophile favoritism toward carrying an almost-obligatory umbrella, aping English Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.  A foreign daily newspaper in the outer coat bag, as well as a Shag-pipe, topped off the “dead smart” look.  Favoritism toward British ways was most typical of Hamburg, Germany’s largest port city, which for centuries enjoyed strong mercantile bonds with English seaports.

There was some variance between the attire of Swing Kids living in different cities.  Within Hanover the Swing Kids preferred white or off-white overcoats (“dust coats”), pinstripe suits, and extremely wide-brimmed hats worn at a rakish angle.  In Hamburg, on the other hand, several groups of Swing Kids wore dark-colored coats with white “Cachenez” trimming, suits having glen-check patterns, soft-felt Homburg hats in Lettow-Vorbeck style, and blue sporty shirts with bright white or yellow ties.  Swing Kids of Frankfurt liked to dress in “zoot-suiter“ style, complete with zooter coats, trousers that narrowed close about the ankle (for fast getaways on bikes), and a long key chain suspended from the hip almost to the ground that was emblematic of zooties worldwide.  Inside Berlin Swing Kids wore double-breasted baggy suits with ties or flies underneath a variety of overcoats that included civilian trenchcoats, camel-hair coats, and even “teddy bear” fur coats.

Female Swing Kids also appeared very different than their normally-clad counterparts in fascist German society.  Foremost, they used makeup.  Nazi officials were absolutely aghast at the use of cosmetics by women, especially young girls. Such products were considered Jewish artifices of the Hollywood culture, which ruined the natural purity of German beauty and invited sexual wantonness.  The Swing Kid “chicks” defied this intolerance by sporting generously applied lipstick, even in outrageous colors like cyclamen purple.  The brazen use of cosmetics extended even to dazzle-dust (face powder), dragged eyebrows and nail polish.

In America girls became fairly standardized in their apparel by 1940, so that one only needed a few sweaters, a skirt, saddle shoes and bobby sox.  The best sweaters were made of angora and cashmere.  In Germany female Swing Kids wore dresses, or skirts with blouses or knitted pullovers.  Actual American-style sweaters were extremely rare, especially those of angora or cashmere.  In Bavaria girls favored Dirndl dresses (a bodice-dress with full gathered skirt), which were also highly popular in the United States about 1938.  Saddle shoes, however, did not exist in Germany.

The girls who belonged to the Swing movement dallied with almost any device that seemed to evoke Hollywood and “modern decadence”.  They liked to strike sensual poses by using long cigarette-holders in the style of American movie stars.  They deliberately purchased the most expensive dresses they could find, openly scoffing at government programs to conserve material and resources. 

To understand the discontent that stirred Nazi disapproval of female “fashion excesses”, one must understand the National Socialist preference for standardization.  Not only were cosmetics and smoking by girls disapproved (Hitler was a non-smoker), but individual fashion in general was discouraged.  Aside from the obvious dislike of clothing that stimulated sexual desire, the Party believed that a lot of individual choice in clothing was another danger to uniformity within the State.  For young girls, model attire and uniforms of the League of German Girls (JM/BDM or Jung Madel / Bund Deutscher Maedchen) was meant to embody the regulated order and disciplined obedience of otherwise intemperate female disposition.  One is hard-pressed to explain many bizarre aspects of  Nazi philosophy, except to point out that it was perhaps the ultimate male-dominated society.  The public nudity of girls and sun worship by naked youngsters was openly encouraged, and it was permissible for a girl to exhibit her body in “natural German settings” completely unclothed to strangers.  Yet it was a punishable offense to wear dresses that were deemed too short among friends.

Today, many German wartime publications provide us with valuable references to Swing Kid fashion.  During 1939, the National Socialist Party newsmagazine for the Hamburg District, Hamburger Gaunachrichten, featured an outline caricature of a girl Swingateer dancing provocatively in a very revealing, short dress.  Of course, the heart-stopping notion of this image might have inspired rather than discouraged some girls eager to attract boyfriends with their youthful beauty!   One 1944 wartime thesis, by Hans-Herbert Krueger, describes the summertime girls of  a Hamburg Swing Club as wearing white-rimmed sunglasses with unfeminine long pants. This same subject is repeated in another caricature of the Hamburger Gaunachrichten in October 1941.

Regardless of their attire, Little Misses in every country quickly learn how to sit and pose themselves to best advantage.  Such flirtatious mannerisms were highly disliked by the Reich Youth Leadership (Reichsjugendfuehrung), which was set on preserving the “untouchable integrity” of German womanhood.  The very sight of schoolgirls, in Swing-inspired dresses or mixed civilian-JM/BDM attire, smoking and flirting with stylish abandon, must have provided a final shock to many an older, stalwart Party diehard as the war dragged on to its unfavorable conclusion.

Both boys and girls who were Swing Kids had to search hard to create Swing-suitable wardrobes.  Necessary clothing and accessories were difficult to find, even for those with money.  For children from middle-class and working German families, such luxuries were impossible to obtain. Second-hand or discarded clothing and cheaper-quality goods provided one alternative.  However, in general, Improvisation and talented creativity was the order of the day.

Swing Kids of the Vienna Shuffles (Wiener Schlurfs) employed a number of tricks to get the required results.  An old hat could be molded to the desired shape by applying steam.  Large single-breasted suits, if they were large enough, could be converted to double-breasted versions by adding additional buttons.  Of course, petty theft provided a ready answer to getting anything that money couldn’t buy.  However,  this aspect of the Swing Kid culture is not often discussed, although any criminalization was minor compared to the master criminals of the Nazi Party busy slaughtering millions of Jews and destroying the entire nation in a vicious campaign aimed at world enslavement.  But the truth that Swing Kids indulged in anti-societal behavior, such as thievery and perhaps thuggery, must not be overlooked in appraising their conduct as a resistance movement to the Reich regime.

The fashion of the Swing Kids made them easily visible to everyone, and by itself was a indication of considerable courage.  These rebels openly celebrated their differences from mainstream Germanic society.  Within the German Swing Youth movement itself, the individual clubs also distinguished between themselves by wearing handmade identity badges. These included all sorts of small pins.  Some clubs wore collar-studs stuck under and over coat lapels.  The Harlem Club of Frankfurt had rectangular devices tipped with white metal rimmed in blue.  The Wilhelmsburg and Eimsbuettel neighborhood clubs of Hamburg displayed lapel badges made from converted German pennies.

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Music and Dance of the German Swing Youth :

The Swing Kids loved English and American Swing music and jitterbugging as much as they loved Swing-style fashions.  This was all part of their yearning for liberated American ideals and riches, which appeared doubly attractive compared to the suffocating repression of personal freedom and austerity within Nazi Germany.

The most fundamental prerequisite for being a real Swing Kid was owning or having access to the latest shellac Swing records.  Unlike America, there were no jukeboxes that could blare out Swing music sweet and clear.  But a few lucky individuals had gramophones, although the speakers of such portable record-players produced comparatively dismal sound.  Entire clubs formed around a single gramophone owner.  Once the turntable and records were available, the Swing Kids were free to swarm for their favorite jazz musicians like Teddy Stauffer, Nat Gonella and Louis Armstrong.  In the capital of Berlin, possession of Armstrong’s records Tiger Rag and Saint Louis Blues was a must.

Listen to Armstrong:
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Super Tiger Rag

The Swing Kids also listened to Swing music over foreign-broadcast channels like BBC on their home radios.  This alternative became more important as the war dragged on, and sources for actual jazz and Swing records dried up.  Although it was prohibited by the Nazi Government, the resourceful Swing Kids recorded music from the radio and then cleverly pressed the recordings on audio-sound devices (tonfolien), which could be sold undercover at school.  However, the Swing Kids were never content to merely listen to the radio and a few records.  They formed their own bands by rustling together the necessary instruments, such as a clarinet, a sax, a trumpet, trombone, drums and a piano.

Dance was the ultimate experience.  The best thing about being a Swing Kid was the opportunity to Swing and jitterbug to a fast tempo.  The youngsters were free to “break down”, and blow off excess teenage energy, being limited only by their own individuality and pace of spontaneity.  The highly charged atmosphere of Swing-dance events became almost hypnotic as young boys and girls swirled about to dizzy, physically exhausting dance numbers.  Their compatriots in the Hitler Youth, used to the grace and dignity of authorized dance routines, were left dumbstruck by the scene:
“The sight of some three hundred dancing people thrashing about was absolutely horrid.  No one can describe the dancing because no one danced normally.  Indeed, this was the naughtiest of Swing dancing that can be imagined.  Sometimes two boys danced with one juvenile girl, and at other times several couples locked themselves into a mass embrace and just hopped around.  Many couples hopped together while holding hands and bent over wildly, so that their long hair flew across their faces and whipped their thighs as they spun.  You had to worry about the sanity of some of them.  The scenes that happened on the dance floor were fit for a lunatic asylum.  Even the most hysterical and primitive Black jungle warrior war-dance would have paled in comparison to what happened here.  Everyone jumped about like crazy while they mumbled English musical gibberish.  The Band increased the tempo faster by the minute.  No member of the band was sitting, because they were all getting hotter and wilder as they also succumbed to the jungle beat on the stage. You often saw boys dancing together with other boys, always with two cigarettes dangling from each corner of the mouth.”

 - Hitlerjugend Patrol Report on a Hamburg Swing Dance, August 2, 1940.

As this Hitler Youth report reveals, the German officials could not comprehend this type of dancing.  In their minds, dancing was supposed to be a refined series of dance steps obediently executed with precision and charm.  Swing, with its unrestrained zeal and lust for physical exertion, seemed to be either a manifestation of serious mental illness or downright primitive Negroid hysteria. In any case, Swing was decidedly anti-German. The Swing Kids tore down all conventions of approved dance, and behaved with undisciplined sexual indecency, which even included same-partner coupling.  The latent or open homosexuality, the promiscuous sexual conduct between boys and girls, and the total lack of restraint was simply impermissible to Nazi doctrine.  The National Socialist authorities felt compelled to crack down hard against all discoverable Swing dance events.

In the meantime the Swing Kids increased their anti-conventional dancing style, by adding unique gestures to their defiant version of Swing. One dance gesture involved swinging an arm up in a sluggish fashion while lifting a forefinger to the rhythm, in a motion meant to imitate Black performers. Far more serious was the open disrespect of the German National Greeting (Hitler Salute) that Swing Kids ridiculed with another dance gesture.  While dancing, they would outstretch their arm in a typical Sieg Heil, but separated their fingers in a V after Churchill’s famous Victory sign.  Mockery of the German National Greeting was a serious breach of German law, but the Swing Kids openly flaunted it.  A 1941 edition of the Hamburger Gaunachrichten has a picture of a Swing Kid in the very act.

National Socialist literature warned of the dire consequences for the Reich if the world witnessed such gestures:

“A foreign Jewish newspaper once admitted, while cynically reviewing the 1937 Reich Party Convention (Reichsparteitag), that the Nuremberg parades gave convincing evidence that democracy has been eliminated in Germany.  However, the newspaper noted the fact that German youth was still dancing to jazz, and so jazz might provide a round-about way to pry Germany open again to democratic incursion by anti-German forces. We decline a philosophy of life based on how a population dances. But this shows that there is still a lot for us to do, in the revolution of private life, in order to completely Germanize our people.”

— National Socialist magazine SA-Mann, 1938

In the end, however, the task of completely Germanizing the population, by ridding it of foreign influences, failed.  The task was beyond the ability of the entire National Socialist Party acting with the full weight of the militant State Apparatus. The Germans remained part of the world community, because of a simple phenomenon.  Some brave German youngsters wanted to enjoy the individual liberty to Swing.  The Swing Kids desired to dance in the open.  But they continued to swing, even if it had to be conducted in the secrecy of their private rooms or  in underground bunkers.  They were active until the very end of the war.  Now Swing, once confined to a rebellious handful, has experienced a great boom in popularity once again.

German Swing Youth Slang :

The German Swing Kids were heartily disliked by the Nazi Authorities, whose official term for them was simply Swing Jugend (Swing Youth).  However, as usual in Nazi society, there were plenty of derogatory labels to hurl at them, such as Swing-Heinis (Swing Blokes), Hotter (from Hot), Swing-Papen (Swing Popes), Stenze (Dandies or Fops), Tango-Bubis (Tango Laddies) or Tango-Juenglinge (Tango Juveniles). The Swing Kids distanced themselves further from their persecutors by adopting their own slang.

The slang of the German Swing Kids incorporated as many Americanisms or English phrases as possible.  This  was the reason that they deliberately named their groups as “Clubs”.  Many times, the names were chosen to provoke the Nazi officials. The Hamburg Churchill Club and the Anthony Swingers (after British Secretary of State Anthony Eden) are good examples.  Even the Kiel Club of the Plutocrats was a slap in the face of Nazi officialdom, because German propaganda characterized the United States as a plutocratic nation (plutokratisches Amerika).  However, it must be noted that there was probably scant political motivation behind such names, but merely a desire to express anger and get back at policemen and teachers who disliked Swing.

German Swing Kids also gave themselves English nicknames.  Walter was changed to Bobby, Bill or Teddy, and Frank became Frankie.  Other male names of this sort included Eton-Jackie, Tommy, Lord, Fiddlin’ Joe, Hot-Geyer or Old Kluge (because Geyer and Kluge were interchangeable surnames), Hot King, Roy, and Fats.  The formal Fraeulein used in girls’ names was dropped, so they became Anglicized as Blackie, Teddy, Micky or Coca.

Swing-style nicknames and greetings were also popular because the ever-present Hitler Youth could not figure out who was who!  On the streets the boys greeted each other with Hello Big or Old-Hot Boy or Hot Old Boy.  The girls were known as Swing Girl, Jazzkatze (Jazz Cat), Swing-Puppe (Swing Doll) or Swing Baby.  They addressed each other as Swing Hi – Swing Lo, Badideldum, Swing Heil (instead of Sieg Heil) and Heil Hottler (instead of Heil Hitler). Sometimes they whistled the first notes of a well-known Swing melody, as the Harlem in Frankfurt or Goody-Goody in Hanover. 

Listen to Teddy Stauffer and his Original Teddies:
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German Swing Youth expressions were, to some extent, a carry-over from the free days of the cosmopolitan German Weimar Republic.  Whether or not this was a conscious attempt by the Swing Kids to defy the precise anti-Weimar hatred of the National Socialist Party is debatable. Again, the Swing Kids may not have been making any political statement whatsoever, but simply expressing their rebellious attitude.  What made the elders mad, made them happy.  In any case, the language of the Swing Kids was intentionally salted with as much English as possible, especially in public where it might provoke people, as on the street and in cafes and restaurants.  Personal letters were even signed with Swing Heil or the V-for-Victory sign.

In addition to the English trappings of their slang, the German Swing Kids resorted to their own imagination, coupled with foreign borrowings, to conjure up new expressions for their lifestyle.  The most popular expressions alluded directly to Swing music.  They favored Hotten, Hoffest (Hot Party), Hotter and Hotte after the “Hot Music” of Jazz.   To reflect the casual, lay-back lifestyle associated with Swing (which contravened the militant stridency of Nazi Germany), they used Laessigkiet (casualness) or Lottern (living in a dissolute manner, i.e. with unrestrained abandon, derived from its meaning to knock-around, as to knock around a city a night). The Reich Ministry of Justice reported:

“The Swing Youth employ a widespread key word, Lottern, which has become a gang favorite. Its prevalence has spawned a host of derivatives like the Lotter Club, Lotter Boys (Lotterboys) and Lotter Girls (Lottermaedchen). It is found in sentences like “I wasted the whole afternoon just knocking about” (Nachmittags habe ich gelottert)…and the dairy entry “I really cut loose and lazed about the bar as they played Bar-Swing (a form of Swing favored at bars) until way early this morning” (So lotterten wir beim laessigen Bar-Swing bis in den fruehen Morgen hinein) 

- excerpt from Reichsjustizministerium Report,1944

Much of the slang of the Swing Kids is now lost.  We can only surmise that, apart from a lot of English phrases, it must have been a rich underground jargon that varied regionally and reflected the different layers of society. 

One former member of the a Hamburg Swing Club, Uwe Storjohann, recalled that it was considered elegant and courageous in his circle of friends to use Jewish words and phrases.  Words like Begannern, meschugge and nebbisch were spoken as loudly as possible to annoy others.  They would startle bystanders by proclaiming, “No one played jazz as kosher as Benny Goodman!” (Keiner jazzt so koscher wie Benny Goodman!).  Of course, we must recognize that the Swing Youth cared nothing for the Jews or their terrible fate under the Reich, and certainly never had contacts with “real” Jews.  They simply used Jewish vocabulary because it alarmed Germans who disliked Swing, and broke National Socialist taboos.

Lifestyle of the German Swing Youth :

The German Swing Kids wanted to be as close to the entire Swing scene as possible.  They not only wanted the correct dress, music, dance and slang, but they also wanted to act modern like the hep-cats, alligators and rug-cutters of America.  They wanted the fast and free life as well as the lay-back Black attitude that typified Swing.  Of course, all of this was in direct contravention to the intolerant and militarized state of Nazi Germany.

The German Swing Kids deliberately adopted a swagger that included a slight forward bend with light steps, in direct defiance of the straight marching stride approved for healthy Germans.  One Reich Youth Leadership (Reichsjugendfuehrung) report of September 1942 blamed their attitude favoring a carefree life on Jewish Hollywood movies.  The Swing Kids adopted casual conduct that was as public and painfully obvious as possible.

A swingateer from Kiel wrote his friend, “When you leave Kiel, be as nonchalant as you can; whistling and singing English songs as much as possible; and above all, be sure to keep yourself inebriated, and have plenty of hot-looking chickaroos hanging all over you.”

The German Swing Kids hated the Hitler Youth.  The National Socialist Party may have been an exciting diversion for youngsters at first, but the monotony of drill and straightjacket military discipline soon wore thin. To Swing Kids, the Hitler Youth crowd was not only a bunch of icky tin-ears (people who disliked Swing),  but they appeared ludicrous in the silly short pants that were mandatory up to the age of 18.  Many Hitler Youth believers also used their newly-gained authority to act like Little Dictators, and quickly gained enemies as they denounced friends.

Perhaps the most contemptuous habit of the Hitler Youth Patrols (HJ-Steifenkontrolle) was to spy on girls “in order to protect them”.  One girl later recounted that horny HJ kids followed her around and tried to catch her making out with her soldier-boyfriends.  She was just 14 at the time, so they filed reports on her.  One of her boyfriends, home from the front, finally went to the local officials and told them about these peeping-toms.  The Hitler Youth kids were scolded and told to desist, but they kept it up anyway.  They couldn’t get girls of their own, and found snooping on others sexually arousing.

As the above example demonstrates, the Swing Kids were fully justified in their low opinion of some Hitler Youth boys.  Meanwhile, the Nazi Party, clueless as usual to the real needs and sentiments of young people to be individually independent, tried to figure out exactly why the  “wild cliques” of teenage Swing Youth were gaining new “recruits” to their “gangs”

The National Socialist regime was horrified that the ideal savoir-faire lifestyle of a Swing Kid, who spent his entire life in and out of bars, music and dance-halls, was completely irresponsible. The youthful impulse to fritter away one’s life is entirely normal, usually runs its course, and is effectively countered by educated freedom of choice.  But Nazi logic was so twisted that it only saw one problem, a bloated Jewish America forcing its decadence on an otherwise responsible and obedient German youth. The Nazi solution, therefore, was to ruthlessly block all American music and culture from reaching Germany.  Of course, the more the Authorities tried to quash American Swing, the more attractive it became to rebel-prone German youngsters 

The Swing Kids were brought up in a highly structured society that did not give them the mental tools to grapple with systems of government and freedom to choose.  They only knew that America was somehow a “swinging democracy”.  The movies depicted the United States as progressive and abundant in resources, where people had plenty of good clothes and food, and could really enjoy the fun life unfettered by governmental decrees. Many German youth reasoned that the entire package must be due to Swing.  Since the National Socialists were against Swing, their policies and not Swing were to blame.

The German Swing Youth rebellion against the regime was started in this way.  The Swing Kids began to think “outside the box” of National Socialism and adopted liberated individual ways.  The situation, from a Nazi perspective, got worse quickly   Swing Kids started contacting Jews and half-breed Jews.  These contacts led to some intimate affairs. According to the Nazis, lustful Jews had been freed to grope and prostitute German girls, who in turn threatened the entire country with more Jewish blood.  Hitler’s main task was to exterminate the Jewish population, and here the Swing Kids might add to it.  The Nazi crackdown was swift and hard – the Swing Kids were declared political opponents of the German Nation. 

The Swing Kids themselves never intended to have any political effects.  They did not understand politics.  They admired the Western Democracies not from a political standpoint, but because they viewed American and England as “paradises”, where swing-loving people were free to do whatever they wanted.  Many Swing Kids planned to emigrate to the United States after the war, and they tried to ignore the conflict in the meantime.  Both girls and boys tried to “wish away” the violence and the bombing with more Swing, more idle conversation between friends and more relationships.  They turned their backs on the reality around them: the Jewish roundups, the death camps and the steady stream of manpower reserves disappearing into the cauldrons of Russia and France.  Horrified by the prospects of a good life cut short, the Swing Kids sought to avoid service, even the mandatory Labor Front (Arbeitsfront)..

The main form of escapism for Swing Kids was sex, whether it was thinking about it, talking about it, or doing it.  The Reich Youth Leadership emphasized their “moral decay”:
“With Swing Youth, personal affection means nothing. They only select a partner for one purpose, sexual intercourse.  Even the girls constantly change partners within their circle.  Whether it is that boy or that girl doesn’t matter to them, as long as they can copulate somewhere, preferably in an unoccupied home.  Although they engage in sexual activity mostly at house-dance parties, they will use any spot or opportunity, whether in a public building, on an excursion or even while on nighttime civil air-defense guard duty”. 

The National Socialist officials, possibly turned on by the prospect of liberated sex, became obsessed with the topic.  Nazi documents rapidly filled with quotations, letters and diary entries mentioning sex.  Any boasts of group sex were officially recorded, cases of underage sex (under 21) duly noted, promiscuous behavior described in detail and, of course, those rare cases of Jewish-German “race disgrace” (Rassenschande) sent forward to the Highest Authorities.

The Swing Kids did engage in a level of sexual activity beyond that accepted in normal German society of the 1930/40-era  They tore down contemporary social conventions governing politically-correct and courteously arranged courtship.  However, we really don’t know exactly how widespread or complex their sexual practices were, because the Nazi records tilted toward propagandistic exaggeration.  However, it is fair to say that the Swing Kids were probably a precursor to the middle-class Sexual Revolution of the 1960s.

The lifestyle of the Swing Kids centered around the portable gramophone and its accompanying “must-have” set of American and English Swing records. Because the turntable and accessories could be carried, this meant that the club members could gather in many places, including public swimming pools, movie theaters, ice-cream parlors or municipal parks.  Swing Kids could even trundle the necessary stuff along while going on an outing or picnic..

Evening gatherings became a little trickier after a 1940 police ordnance was put into effect “for the protection of youth” (Polizeiverordung zum Schutz der Jugend), which prohibited anyone under 18 “to knock around” after sundown .  But the ordnance did little to stop the determined Swing Kids.  They got into many bars, cafes and concert halls by using counterfeit identity cards with falsified ages, while dressed in attire that made them look older (which Swing-approved clothing had a tendency to do, anyway).  Even young girls and subteens learned to apply makeup and dress like their older sisters, in order to get into favorite haunts. The boys took advantage of the fact that they lacked short pants, the universal sign in Germany of a male who was of Hitler Youth.age, to quickly pass through entrances before one could get a good look at them..

The Reich Ministry of Justice Report noted that the police crackdowns following the big Hamburg Swing Gathering (attended by 500-600 teens) discouraged large assemblies.of Swing Youth.  Out of necessity, German Swing Kids resorted to much smaller Swing dances, where groups of about twenty or thirty boys and girls would meet at someone‘s house or apartment.  All German youngsters had to pull air-raid guard duty in various buildings, such as churches, and the Swing Kids also took advantage of this fact to hold swing parties at those locations. The doubly irreverent practice of hosting a Swing event in a church, during wartime guard duty, provided extra pleasure in disrespecting the Authorities.

In summary, the lifestyle of the Swing Kids was in complete opposition to the perceived National Socialist concept of youth “quick and sharp as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Krupp steel (Krupp Steel Works produced German heavy weapons in both world wars).” To the extent that the Swing Kids assumed American ideals of personal freedom, relaxed living, and appreciation of the “lower races” (Swing drew on both Black and Jewish talents), they were a grave threat to the upside-down philosophy of Nazism that sought to insulate Germany from the rest of the world.  The evasion of mandatory Labor Front work by the Swing Kids heightened their danger to established Nazi Order.  Finally, the arrival of war, and its resulting siding of both United States and Britain against the German Reich, elevated the Swing Youth danger into treasonous political opponents.  The increased repression of the Swing Kids by Nazi officials drove them to express more and more anti-Nazi types of behavior that sometimes went well beyond simply provoking the Authorities.

German Swing Youth Lyrics :

Verse mocking the Hitler Youth 
(sung to the melody of ''Organ Grinder's Swing'') : 
''Kurze Haare, große Ohren, 
So war die HJ geboren! 
Lange Haare, Tangoschritt - 
Da kommt die HJ nicht mit!  Oho,oho! 
Und man hoert's an jeder Eck' - 
Die HJ muß wieder weg!'' 

"Crew-cut and big ears, 
This way the HJ (Hitler Youth) was born! 
Long hair, tango step- 
The HJ can't keep pace.  O-ho, o-ho! 
You can hear it everywhere - 
The HJ has got to go!" 

Song distributed on a handbill within schools in Winterhude: 
''Der Boy, das Girl, sie lieben Hot 
Und meiden die Meute stupider HJ. 
Geh'n sie spazieren auf leisestem Krepp, 
Erglaenzt sie am Bein, er am Jackett. 
Marschiert voran, Hot, Jazz und Swing. 
Come on boy and girl, wir gehen zum Ding. 
Zum Fest der Gerechtigkeit komm und spring. 

Und tritt General HJ einst gegen uns an 
Dann werden wir hotten Mann fuer Mann. 
Der eine am Baß, der andre am Kamm. 
Noch sind wir nicht viele genug. 
Doch einst wird es wahr, was bisher nur Spuk. 
Wir werden siegen, da gibt's keinen Muck!'' 

''The boy, the girl, both loving the 'Hot' (hot-jazz) 
And avoiding the mob of the mindless HJ (Hitler Youth). 
If they stroll on most quiet crepe, 
Her legs are shiny as well as his jacket. 
March forward, Hot, Jazz and Swing. 
Come on, boy and girl, we go to the thing. 
Come to the feast of fairness and jump. 

And if general-HJ opposed us once, 
Then we will 'hotten' man for man. 
One at the bass, the other at the comb. 
Still we aren't many enough. 
But sometime it's true, what only was apparition. 
We will win, without any question!'' 

An Additional Little Verse: 
 'Swingend wollen wir marschieren in die Zwangs-HJ 
Teddy Stauffer soll uns fuehren mit dem neuesten Hot !'' 

''Swinging we want to march into the coercive HJ 
Teddy Stauffer (Band leader) shall lead us with the latest 'Hot'!'' 

Song of Hamburg Transit Concentration camp Fuhlsbuettel — known as ''Florida'' (sung to the melody of ''Oh Joseph, Joseph''):
"Und Sonntag war'n wir in der Bauernschaenke 
bei einem  froehlichen Zusammensein. 
Der Ober brachte verschiedene Getraenke, 
doch keines war vom guten alten Wein. 
Er hat vielleicht mal neben Wein gelegen 
und etwas Faerbung abgekriegt. 
Doch alle sind sie da, bis auf die in Florida. 
Oh Joseph, Joseph, Steine klopfen, das ist wunderbar." 

''And on Sunday we were in the farmer Bar 
at a happy get-together. 
The waiter brought different drinks 
but none was of the good old wine. 
Perhaps he has lain beside a wine 
and got some coloring. 
All of us are here, except of those who are in 'Florida'. 
Oh Joseph, Joseph, crushing stones is wonderful ". 

Song about Bergedorf, one of 4 Hamburg youth detention centers (sung to the melody "Panama"):
"Bergedorf ist kein Zuchthaus, kein Sing-Sing, 
Bergedorf ist die Festung fuer den Swing. 
Bergedorf ist der Nazi stiller Ort, 
wo sie hinbringen die Kulturtraeger fuer den altenglischen Hot." 

''Bergedorf is no prison, no Sing Sing, 
Bergedorf is the fortress for the Swing. 
Bergedorf is a silent Nazi place, 
where they send the cultural scene of the old English 'Hot'! 

Rhyming Satire about Nazi SS-Thug ''Tall Paul'' (despised by Hamburg Swing Youth)  and His Gestapo Interrogation Partner ''Fox' at work in Headquarters:
"Erst bricht der Lange Paul dir alle Knochen, 
dann kommst du beim Fuchs auf allen Vieren angekrochen 
der macht aus dir Frikassee 
aus deinem Schwanz Haschee 
da pfeift dir aus dem Hinterteil 
der allerletzte Furz: Swing Heil!" 

''First the 'Tall Paul' breaks all your bones 
then you creep onto all fours to the 'Fox' 
which makes fricassee from you 
and hash from your willie 
then slips out of your bottom 
the very last fart: Swing Heil!'' 

Verse about Goebbels (who was a leading Repressor of Swing music): 
"Der kleine Josef hat gesagt, ich darf nicht singen, 
denn meine Band, die spielt ihm viel zu hot. 
Ich darf jetzt nur noch Bauernwalzer bringen, 
nach dem bekannten Wiener Walzertrott." 

''The little Josef has said I mustn't sing 
because my Band plays much too Hotly. 
I may only bring farmer waltzes now 
like the Viennese waltz trot.'' 

Satirical Verse: 
"Wir tanzen Swing bei Meier Barmbeck. 
Es ist verboten. Wir hotten nach Noten. 
Und kommt die Polizei, dann tanzen wir Tango. 
Und ist sie wieder weg, dann swingen wir den Tiger Rag." 

''We dance swing at Meier Barmbeck. 
It is forbidden. We're 'hotting' after notes. 
And if the police come, then we dance tango. 
And when they're gone, then we swing the 'Tiger Rag' again.'' 

Song based on ''Lambeth walk'' (as Churchills favorite song it was at the top of the Forbidden Song List): 
"Kennen Sie Lamberts Nachtlokal? 
Nackte Weiber kolossal 
Eine Mark und zehn, liegen oder stehn!" 

''Do you know Lambert's Night Bar? 
Naked women tremendous 
One Mark and ten, lie or stand up straight!'' 

Same Song again, but sung to ''Joseph, Joseph'': 
"Wir sind nicht Juden, sind nicht Plutokraten, 
doch die Nazis muessen trotzdem weg. 
Aus uns da macht man keine Soldaten, 
denn unsere Hymne ist der Tiger Rag." 

''We aren't Jews, aren't plutocrats 
but nevertheless the Nazis have to be removed. 
They don't make any soldiers out of us 
because our hymn is the 'Tiger Rag'.'' 

Listen to a German version of:
Download im RealPlayer-Format
Lambeth Walk (Lamberts Nachtlokal)
Listen to Bert Ambrose a.h. Orchestra:
Download im RealPlayer-Format
Joseph, Joseph


Critique of the 1993 Hollywood Pictures film “Swing Kids” :

The movie “Swing Kids” was a typically sensationalized American action film, and its version of reality was only loosely based on the facts.  The movie was not a big success in Germany, and in some cities ran for only two weeks.

The Swing dance scenes in the movie were much too spectacular, because before the war Germans simply did not know about the more advanced American moves of East Coast and West Coast Swing.  The German Swing Kids knew foxtrotting and how to jitterbug, but they were unaware of acrobatic air steps. This was easily confirmed by Swingstyle Syndicate interviews with senior citizens from Hamburg who were once Swing Kids.

Some contemporary 1930/40 movies, like “Hellzapoppin’”, were produced that showed the Lindy-Hop and other Swing step patterns.  But in Nazi Germany such films were banned. Any knowledge of Swing came from records, either purchased on the black market or obtained by soldiers serving in occupied or Axis countries with more access to foreign imports.  These records, of course, gave no clue to the actual dancing that went with them.  Only after the war did the latest American dancing styles reach Germany.

Another problem with the movie is that it politicized the Swing Kid lifestyle.  As the above discussion of German Swing Youth demonstrates, the real Swing Kids were politically quite unsophisticated.  The Nazi Authorities may have branded their movement “The Swing Youth Problem”, but it fell far short of active resistance.  The Swing Kids actually cared little for contesting official policies toward Jews or other matters.  They just wanted to have fun at a dark time in their country’s history, and avoid the war if possible.

We must remember the age of most Swing Kids was between 12 and 16 or 17,. along with younger subteen and older adolescent/young person interest.  The timeless characteristic of youth in this age category is one of experimentation and defiance of social convention.  German youngsters living in Nazi Germany were blissfully unaware that their rebel-prone nature might land them in concentration camps.  They only knew the eternal outlook of youth, “no risk, no fun”. 

For more detail about the German Swing Kids, you may want to read the English version of Michael Kater's book, Different Drummer — Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany.  Although the Swingstyle Syndicate does not endorse this book as being completely correct, it will provide a good start to learning about this phenomena in Hitler’s Germany.  We must warn you, however, that Michael Kator is wrong in his premise that European musicians could not play Swing. The Swing Syndicate believes that Germans could play and dance Swing very well, but they did it to their own unique and wonderful beat.  Swing is for everyone to enjoy!