Zarah Leander

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Zarah Leander
Zara 1931 035.jpg
Leander in 1931
Sara Stina Hedberg

(1907-03-15)15 March 1907
Died23 June 1981(1981-06-23) (aged 74)
Stockholm, Sweden
OccupationActress, singer
Years active1929–1979
Spouse(s)Nils Leander (1926–1930)
Vidar Forsell (1932–1943)
Arne Hülphers (1956–1978)

Zarah Leander (15 March 1907 – 23 June 1981) was a Swedish singer and actress whose greatest success was in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.


Early career

Leander began her career in the late 1920s, and by the mid-1930s her success in Europe, particularly in Germany and the Scandinavian countries, led to invitations to work in the United States. She was reluctant to relocate her children, and opted to remain in Europe. From 1936, she was contracted to work for the German Universum Film AG (UFA) while continuing to record songs. Leander later noted that while her films were successful, her work as a recording artist was more profitable. Involvement with the Nazi propaganda machine did not prevent her from recording in 1938 the Yiddish song "Bei Mir Bistu Shein". [1]

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Scandinavia Region in Northern Europe

Scandinavia is a region in Northern Europe, with strong historical, cultural, and linguistic ties. The term Scandinavia in local usage covers the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The majority national languages of these three, belong to the Scandinavian dialect continuum, and are mutually intelligible North Germanic languages. In English usage, Scandinavia also sometimes refers to the Scandinavian Peninsula, or to the broader region including Finland and Iceland, which is always known locally as the Nordic countries.

As a result of her controversial choice to work for the state-owned UFA when it necessarily was subordinate to the Third Reich, her films and lyrics were viewed by some as propaganda for the Nazi cause, although she took no public political position. She was strongly criticised, particularly in Sweden where she returned after her Berlin home was bombed during an air raid. Initially shunned by much of the artistic community and public, she found herself unable to resume her career after the Second World War. It was several years before she could make a comeback in Sweden, and she would remain a figure of public controversy for the rest of her life. Eventually she returned to performing throughout Europe, but was unable to equal the level of success she had previously achieved. She spent her later years in retirement in Stockholm, and died there at the age of 74.

Propaganda Form of communication intended to sway the audience through presenting only one side of the argument

Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is presented. Propaganda is often associated with material prepared by governments, but activist groups, companies, religious organizations and the media can also produce propaganda.

National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party—officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party —in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar ideas and aims.

Sweden constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund Strait. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. The capital city is Stockholm. Sweden has a total population of 10.3 million of which 2.5 million have a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi) and the highest urban concentration is in the central and southern half of the country.


She was born as Sara Stina Hedberg in Karlstad. She studied piano and violin as a small child, and sang on stage for the first time at the age of six, she initially had no intention of becoming a professional performer and led an ordinary life for several years. As a teenager she lived two years in Riga, Latvia (1922–1924), where she learned German, took up work as a secretary, married Nils Leander (1926), and had two children (1927 and 1929). However, in 1929 she was engaged, as an amateur, in a touring cabaret by the entertainer and producer Ernst Rolf and for the first time sang "Vill ni se en stjärna" ("Do You Want to See a Star?"), which soon would become her signature tune.[ citation needed ]

Karlstad Place in Värmland, Sweden

Karlstad is a city, the seat of Karlstad Municipality, the capital of Värmland County, and the largest city in the province Värmland in Sweden. The city had 61,492 inhabitants in 2015 with 90,882 inhabitants in the wider municipality in 2017, and is the 21st biggest municipality in Sweden. Karlstad has a university and a cathedral.

Riga City in Latvia

Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. Being home to 632,614 inhabitants (2019), which is a third of Latvia's population, it is large enough to be the country's primate city. It is also the largest city in the three Baltic states and is home to one tenth of the three Baltic states' combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga at the mouth of the Daugava river where it meets the Baltic Sea. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi) and lies 1–10 m above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.

Latvia Republic in Northeastern Europe

Latvia, officially the Republic of Latvia, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Since its independence, Latvia has been referred to as one of the Baltic states. It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, and Belarus to the southeast, and shares a maritime border with Sweden to the west. Latvia has 1,957,200 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi). The country has a temperate seasonal climate.

In 1930, she participated in four cabarets in the capital, Stockholm, made her first records, including a cover of Marlene Dietrich's "Falling in Love Again", and played a part in a film. However, it was as "Hanna Glavari" in Franz Lehár's operetta The Merry Widow that she had her definitive break-through (1931). By then she had divorced Nils Leander. In the following years, she expanded upon her career and made a living as an artist on stage and in film in Scandinavia. Her fame brought her proposals from the European continent and from Hollywood, where a number of Swedish actors and directors were working.

Cover version later version of a song already established with a different earlier performer

In popular music, a cover version, cover song, revival, or simply cover, is a new performance or recording by someone other than the original artist or composer of a previously recorded, commercially released song.

Marlene Dietrich German-American actress and singer

Marie Magdalene "Marlene" Dietrich was a German-American actress and singer. Throughout her long career, which spanned from the 1910s to the 1980s, she continually reinvented herself.

Falling in Love Again (Cant Help It) song performed by Christina Aguilera

"Falling in Love Again " is the English language name for a 1930 German song composed by Friedrich Hollaender as "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt". The song was originally performed, in the 1930 film Der Blaue Engel, by Marlene Dietrich, who also recorded the most famous English version, which became her anthem. Dietrich is backed by the Friedrich Hollaender Orchestra.

In the beginning of the 1930s she performed with the Swedish revue artist, producer and songwriter Karl Gerhard who was a prominent anti-Nazi. He wrote a song for Zarah Leander, "I skuggan av en stövel" ("In the shadow of a boot"), in 1934 which strongly condemned the persecution of Jews in Nazi-Germany. [2]

Karl Gerhard

Karl Emil Georg Gerhard, until 1938 Karl Emil Georg Johnson was a Swedish theater director, revue writer and actor. In 1938 he changed his surname to Gerhard and used the pseudonym Karl-Gerhard. Many of Karl Gerhard’s plays and songs are politically to the left, and during the 1930s and World War II, they contained clear anti-fascist statements.

Leander opted for an international career on the European continent. As a mother of two school-age children, she ruled out a move to America, fearing the consequences of bringing the children such a great distance and being unable to find employment. Despite the political situation, Austria and Germany were much closer to home, and Leander was already well-versed in German.[ citation needed ]

A second breakthrough, by contemporary measures her international debut, was the world premiere (1936) of Axel an der Himmelstür (Axel at the Gate of Heaven) at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, directed by Max Hansen. It was a parody of Hollywood and not the least a parody of Marlene Dietrich, who had left a Europe marked by Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. It was followed by the Austrian film Premiere, in which she played a successful cabaret star.[ citation needed ]

UFA star

Zarah Leander on the cover of Swedish weekly Se 1941 Zarah Leander Se 1941.jpg
Zarah Leander on the cover of Swedish weekly Se 1941

In 1936, she landed a contract with UFA in Berlin. She became known as a very tough negotiator, demanding influence and a high salary, half of which was to be paid in Swedish kronor to a bank in Stockholm. Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels dubbed her an "Enemy of Germany", but as a leading film star at UFA, she participated in ten films, most of them great successes. Leander neither socialised with leading party members nor took part in official Nazi Party functions. A likely apocryphal meeting with Goebbels supposedly resulted in this exchange: "Zarah... Isn't that a Jewish name?" "Oh, maybe", the actress said, "but what about Josef?" "Hmmm... yes, yes, a good answer", Goebbels reportedly replied. [3]

Many of her songs were composed by Michael Jary, with whom she had an affair, and Bruno Balz with music and lyrics respectively. In her films, Leander repeatedly played independent, beautiful, passionate and self-confident women. Leander scored the two biggest hits of her recording career—in her signature deep voice, she sang her anthems of hope and survival: "Davon geht die Welt nicht unter" ("This is not the end of the world") and "Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen" ("I know that someday a miracle will happen"). These two songs in particular are often included in contemporary documentaries as obvious examples of effective Nazi propaganda. Although no exact record sales numbers exist, it is likely that she was among Europe's best-selling recording artists in the years prior to 1945. She pointed out in later years that what made her a fortune was not her salary from UFA, but the royalties from the records she released. [4]

Return to Sweden

Her last film in Nazi Germany premiered on 3 March 1943. Her villa in Grunewald was hit in an air raid, and the increasingly desperate Nazis pressured her to apply for German citizenship. At this point she decided to retreat to Sweden, where she had bought a mansion at Lönö, not far from Stockholm. She was still contractually obligated for another film to UFA, but held up the film representatives by rejecting script after script.[ citation needed ]

Gradually she managed to land engagements on the Swedish stage. After the war she did eventually return to tour Germany and Austria, giving concerts, making new records and acting in musicals. Her comeback found an eager audience among pre-war generations who had never forgotten her. She appeared in a number of films and television shows, but she would never regain the popularity she had enjoyed before and into the first years of World War II. In 1981, after having retired from show business, she died in Stockholm of complications from a stroke.[ citation needed ]


Leander was often questioned about her years in Nazi Germany. Though she would willingly talk about her past, she strongly rejected allegations of her having had sympathy for the Nazi regime. She claimed that her position as a German film actress merely had been that of an entertainer working to please an enthusiastic audience in a difficult time.

On the other hand, in an interview recorded shortly before his death in 1996 the senior Soviet intelligence officer Pavel Sudoplatov claimed that Leander had in fact been a Soviet agent with the codename "Stina-Rose". Recruited by the Soviet Union before the outbreak of war, she was said to have refused payment for her work because she was a secret member of the Swedish Communist Party and therefore conducted the work for political reasons. [5] Leander herself denied any suggestion that she had acted as a spy for any country.


Bronze statue of Zarah Leander - Karlstads Operahouse Staty.jpg
Bronze statue of Zarah Leander Karlstads Operahouse

Leander continued to be popular in Germany for many decades after World War II. She was interviewed several times in German television before she died. In 1983 New Wave singer Nina Hagen, who had idolised Leander as a child, released the single "Zarah", based on "Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen". In 1987, two Swedish musicals were written about Zarah Leander. In 2003, a bronze statue was placed in Zarah Leander's home town Karlstad, by the Opera house of Värmland where she first began her career. After many years of discussions, the town government accepted this statue on behalf of the local Zarah Leander Society. A Zarah Leander museum is open near her mansion outside Norrköping. Every year a scholarship is given to a creative artist in her tradition. The performer Mattias Enn received the prize in 2010, the female impersonator Jörgen Mulligan in 2009, and Zarah's friend and creator of the museum Brigitte Pettersson in 2008.


Operettas and musicals

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  1. Leotaurus1975 (10 March 2008). "Zarah Leander - Bei mir bist du schön (1938)" via YouTube.
  2. Zarah Leander Biography
  3. Zarah Leander profile,; accessed 30 April 2015.
  4. Leander, Zarah. Zarah's minnen, Bonniers Publishing, Stockholm (1972)[ ISBN missing ][ page needed ]
  5. Wahllöf, Niklas (8 July 2003). "Var Zarah Leander Sovjetspion?". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Stockholm. Retrieved 16 August 2014.


General literature

[ ISBN missing ]