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Rock Against the Nazis

October 17, 2011 | By

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Holocaust survivors have manifested the trauma and tragedy of life under Nazism in all different ways. Some have created works of literature, moving films, or symphonies. French pop star Serge Gainsbourg went a different route–he made an album of cabaret rock music.

In 1975, Gainsbourg was already one of the most famous musicians in the world. After the success of Mel Brooks’ film The Producers (1968)–which featured a comic musical with dancing Nazis–Gainsbourg drew from his own experience running from the Nazis in World War II-era France to record Rock Around the Bunker, an album of songs about the war and the Holocaust.

The chorus of “Nazi Rock” features the song’s title repeated over and over again by pretty, high-voiced backup singers. In “Yellow Star,” Gainsbourg’s low baritone narrates the fashion statement of wearing the Jewish badge during the Holocaust. Uncharacteristically for Gainsbourg, many of these songs were recorded in English, possibly meant for a wider (American) audience. “Tata Teutonne” and “S.S. in Uruguay” are both disturbing and funny, and a cover of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” drives home the point–Gainsbourg survived, and he’s going to laugh about it if he wants.

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