Zarah Leander, born in Sweden, dreamed about being an actor when she was young. When she applied to Swedish acting schools, she was rejected. So, she went abroad to seek work. She found work in Austria and sang outspokenly about the Nazis. In Shadow Of The Boot, she clearly stated her opposition to Adolf Hitler. She became immensely popular and studios all around wanted her. After becoming known, she received offers to work in many countries, including America’s Hollywood. However, she chose Hitler’s Germany. She went to Germany because she thought German actors had many more opportunities than others internationally.
During her growing fame in Germany, she was considered by some as overrated and by others as having an “exotic and erotic” personality. As her career blossomed, so did Hitler’s. Zarah Leander became synonymous with success. “She moved something deep in the German soul.” Leander gave little thought to the outside world as she rose to the top.
Outside, the synagogues were burning. Many movie stars and actors fled Germany. However, Zarah Leander stayed. With her competition leaving, she became even more famous. Hitler was a moviegoer and had a weakness for Leander. He worshiped her and enjoyed her deep voice and was taken by her. Although he highly regarded her films, Hitler did not appoint her as head actress. Although he was interested in her, they never talked. She wanted to keep herself out of politics and the ensuing war. An interesting anecdote is when she was asked about the origin of her name. At the time Jews were being persecuted and stars of Jewish descent became targets of the Nazis. They asked “isn’t Zarah a Jewish name?” and she replied “isn’t Joseph (the inquirer) a Jewish name?" and the matter was investigated no longer.
Actors were pressured during this time to agree with the Nazis and many went along with the Regime, including Leander. However, they declined to speak about it. However, Leander spoke to the UFA, the national film agency, to explain that her love for Germany was increasing because if Germany won the war it would be a good investment for her career.
Popular songs were important during wars to impel the soldiers to fight. Leander was to produce more songs for the front - to bring comfort to the soldiers, but her writer was in prison for being homosexual. Her films were propaganda for the war. They promoted the idea that “When the war is over, you can go home again and everything will be normal again.” Her songs were played everywhere – even in the concentration camps.
After Germany had lost, she decided to leave and head back to Sweden. However, she was no longer wanted in Sweden because she had sung for the Nazis. She did not understand why she brought anger to her people; she believed that singing was a job just like any other. She pondered about how she used Germany as a platform to boost her career. If she had not sung during the war, she may never have become a star. Zarah Leander died in 1981.
"Hitler's Women" aired on Sunday, October 28, 2001 on the History
Channel at 6:00 p.m. EST