Friday, October 06, 2017
Born Today: Lyricist Persecuted by Nazis, Bruno Balz
German songwriter Bruno Balz was born today, October 6, in 1902. He was widely considered the greatest German lyricist of all time.
From the time he wrote the music for the first German sound film until his retirement in the 1960s, Balz was responsible for the lyrics to more than a thousand popular German hits. Much of his output was in conjunction with the composer Michael Jary; their songs helped make the singer Zarah Leander popular. His first big hit was the 1933 film Victor and Viktoria, about an aspiring singer that over for ham actor, Viktor, at a small cabaret in Berlin where he works as a female impersonator and per chance she's discovered by an agent, who thinks that she really is a man. Sound familiar?
Balz was arrested several times for homosexuality. In 1936 he spent several months in prison. In 1941 he was arrested again and after a torture of several days' duration there was also the danger of a deportation into a concentration camp. Thank to the intervention of Leander and Jary this never happened. They assured Joseph Goebbels that they would no longer be able to write and interpret the demanded optimistic songs without Bruno Balz.
He was released under an agreement that mandated that his name was no longer to appear in public. To maintain the appearance of propriety he entered a "Lavender marriage" with a woman named Selma. His film songs for Leander became anthems for homosexuals imprisoned in concentration camps.
The fall of the Nazi regime did not spell an end to the persecution of Balz, as Paragraph 175, the law against homosexuality, continued in force. Thus his name is considerably less well-known than if he had been properly credited for his lyrics.
Balz's companion was painter and actor Jürgen Draeger, who was enjoined by a clause in Balz's will from talking about their relations for 10 years following Balz's death in 1988.