Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Grooving With the Fuhr

Almost a year ago, the world discovered exactly what an aficionado Adolph Hitler was for the arts when 21 watercolors of his own doing were auctioned off at a London auction house for a cool $220,000 smackers. Now another find from Hitler’s past has surfaced in a Moscow attic belonging to ex-Soviet Intelligence officer Lev Besymenski.

You can just hear the collective sound of palms being rubbed together with furious anticipation by the world’s WWII history buffs and music appreciators alike.

Like his artworks, this recent discovery is of particular interest since it helps shed further light on the man behind he monster. In fact, you couldn’t ask for a more significant discovery had you found an old shoebox of schizer videos in his bunker footlocker. What is this amazing discovery you ask? Why his record collection of course!

How juicy is that?

Finally, we can answer the age-old question: what does one listen to after a long day of warmongering and exterminating undesirables? What, exactly, did Hitler like to chill out to back at his Chancellery pad?

We’d all like to automatically assume, knowing the man as we do, that he’d totally be into his Marilyn Manson, or Neil Diamond nowadays. But given that these loud, demonic, heavy metal bands weren’t even the faintest drunken glimmer in their grandfathers eye yet…what did the great Fuhr listen to that pushed him over the edge? What was the equivalent of your typical Metallica album back around the turn of the century?

You can almost hear it now: "Hey baby. How would you like to come back to my bunker and listen to some records?"

But first, let’s recap how this unusual WWII artifact was discovered in the first place.

Our saga begins on a warm mid-May afternoon in 1945 war-ravaged Berlin. Lev Besymenski, the captain of the military intelligence service of the First Belarusian Front, is given a mission: Together with two other officers, he is to inspect the Reich Chancellery -- stormed just a few days before -- including the underground bunker where Hitler stayed during the war and eventually committed suicide.

He has meticulously searched the headquarters of the Nazi regime for several hours. Suddenly the Soviet commander responsible for the building asks him what souvenir he would like to take with him.

His comrades have already helped themselves to cutlery engraved with the initials “A. H.” in a shopping spree the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Goering walked the streets of Paris only a few years earlier; a little looting game of “tit for tat” if you will. They selected leather cases containing medals and other trinkets, furniture, and tapestries. But Besymenski thinks of something else. He asks the officer to open several large iron doors for him that had been secured with special locks.

“We were faced with a strange sight,” he would write decades later: “Several rows of sturdy wooden boxes stood in each room, numbered and packed closely together.” German service staff said the boxes were packed for shipment to the Berghof, Hitler's residence in Bavaria, but the trip never took place, according to Besymenski. The boxes were filled with crockery and various household effects*.

Besymenski fills a box with souvenirs for himself and later takes it back to Moscow on a special train. Forty-six years will go by before his daughter Alexandra discovers the booty by chance.

Flash to August 1991, a pleasant summer day in the dacha settlement Nikolina-Gora close to Moscow, where the Besymenski family owns a house. The family has visitors, and steaming blinis are placed on the veranda table at lunchtime. Then it's time to relax over some borsch and caviar from the neighborhood ‘Das Dollarmart’. Besymenski sends his daughter into the attic to get badminton rackets where - what does she bump her shin into - but a box of old albums labeled “Führerhauptquartier”.

And, low and behold, we have the Fuhr’s record collection. And so onto the big question: what the fuck did histories most brutal dictator listen to in order to drown out all the evil voices going on in his head?

Well, as it turns out, where there can no doubt of the intensity for his hate-on towards the Russians and Jews; he sure loved their music.

Yep. Hitler sure loved him some Jew music all right.

It is well know that next to architecture and shitty watercolors, music was Hitler’s big passion in life…well, aside from the whole racial cleansing thing that is. So among the expected finds of classical European orchestral music were Wager’s “The Flying Dutchman,” performed by the Orchestra of the ‘Bayreuth Festspielhaus’ with Heinz Tietjen conducting, and Beethoven’s ‘Piano Sonatas No. 24 in F-sharp major’ and ‘No. 27 in E-minor’. However, stashed away in the collection were also albums by Russian composers like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, as well as many albums of popular Jewish pianists, violinists, etc. of the time.

Far out, maaaan.

But wait! How can this be? The Nazi’s considered these people “sub-humans” didn’t they?

Seems like kind of a moot point now though.

“I feel this is a sheer mockery of the millions of Slavs and Jews who had to die because of the racial ideology of the Nazis,” a stirred-up Alexandra Besymenskaya (now 53) remarks today.

Hey. That’s a bit of a harsh thing to say about someone’s record collection isn’t it? I mean, I have the odd Public Enemy hidden away in my record collection but that hardly qualifies me as an OG gangster, now does it?

So the closest thing to the Anti-Christ we’ve see in modern history liked to beat off to a little Jewish fiddle music – so what? It turned out all right in the end, didn’t it?

What really makes this discovery really interesting in my mind is recognizing that these albums are probably what Hitler used to hide under the bed to keep them secret from his mother. You know - like that stealthily concealed Robert Plant album that you prayed your mother wouldn’t find while you were off at school. Well, that was in my house anyway.

You can almost hear her now:

ADOLPH! What is that devil Jew musik I hear coming from your room!”

To which, little Adolph would reply:

“What Jew musik, mama? I’m listenink to my Beethoven like a guter junge .”


ADOLPH! Turn off that Jew musik right this instant, junger mann !”

“But, mama. All the kids are listening to Jew music these days. It’s the am kühlsten ! Don’t be such a quadrat .”

* Among the random household artifacts included a Swastika-shaped jelly mold, and curiously enough, a recipe for Baklava.