Behind the Benign: Reading and Contextualizing a Photograph of Girls Playing Recorders




Gerber, Steven K.

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An unattributed black-and-white photograph in Special Collections at George Mason University Libraries shows a dozen young girls hiking in single file down a hillside while intently playing treble recorders. The annotation on the back simply states “Hitler Youth 1933.” With this information, the happy innocence of the image accrues more ominous implications. It illustrates a convergence of Carl Orff‘s and Gunild Keetman’s novel emphasis on recorder playing in German music education of the time, the immense popularity of hiking and similar outdoor activities among German youth clubs, and the calculated and sinister perversion of childhood‘s idealism, adventurousness, and camaraderie by Nazi leaders and propagandists. If the photograph‘s label is correct, these would likely be newly recruited 10- or 11-year-old girls in the Jungmädelbund (JM, or Young Girl‘s League) who have not yet passed the bravery and fitness challenge that entitled them to wear a special black neckerchief with leather knot over a white blouse (the typical uniform for JM). For the next few years they will attend twice-weekly meetings in which recreational activities and instruction in home economics will be mixed with lectures on German/Aryan racial supremacy and, especially, the girls‘ future duty to bear sons who will become Nazi soldiers. They will “graduate” to the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, League of German Girls) as older teens. This conjectural reading is problematized by the lack of provenance for the photograph (which was obtained from a dealer in music iconography who could supply no additional information). What if its identification is spurious? If so, did the unknown annotator intend to orient the viewer‘s perception toward a complex socio-political irony and thus send a cautionary message about the malleability of children?


Presented at the 2015 Conference of the Association Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale (RIdIM) held at Ohio State University, Columbus OH on November 8-10, 2015. Conference theme: Visual Manifestations of Power and Repression in Music, Dance, and Dramatic Arts. Presentation was part of Session 5: Political Agendas.


Research Subject Categories::HUMANITIES and RELIGION, Children, Photography, Music, German youth movement, Germany, Hitler Youth, Propaganda, Recorder playing