Fritz Löhner-Beda

Fritz Löhner-Beda. From "Spectacles de CABARET et de JAZZ", website copyright © Claude Torres.

Fritz Löhner-Beda was born on 24 June 1883 to a Bohemian Jewish family with the name of Loewy. His father moved the family to Vienna when Fritz was young, and changed the family name to Löhner.  Unlike many of his fellow Jewish entertainers in Vienna, Löhner-Beda was proud of his Jewish heritage and critical of the trend of conversion among middle-class Jews.   But from the time of his adolescence, his greatest love was reserved for writing and the world of entertainment. He had been publishing poems and stories under the pseudonym ‘Beda’, a nickname derived from a Czech shortening of his first name Friedrich.  (Some of his work was published under the name ‘Löhner’, some under ‘Beda’, and still more under the name Löhner-Beda or Beda-Löhner).  A successful poet and essayist, he published in magazines, newspapers and collections of poetry.  He also composed many successful song lyrics and collaborated with operetta composers. 

In 1929 Löhner-Beda co-wrote the libretto for Franz Lehár’s Land des Laechelns (Land of Smiles), still one of the most performed operettas, and one that confirmed his reputation as one of most popular songwriters of his time.  Although he hoped that the success of Land des Laechelns would secure him his freedom, however, this was not to be.  Shortly after the annexation of Austria in March 1938, Löhner-Beda, who had been publicly critical of the Nazi regime, was arrested.  He was brought to Dachau, and later transferred to Buchenwald, where he co-wrote the 'Buchenwaldlied' (Buchenwald song). Not long after he arrived, the camp commander declared a contest among the prisoners to compose a camp song. There were many submissions, but it was Löhner-Beda’s text, set to music by Hermann Leopoldi, that won.  (Because both prisoners were Jewish, and thus not allowed to enter, they gave the song to a block leader, who submitted it under his own name.  In any event, the prize was never awarded).  The song was popular amongst both prisoners and SS guards.

Löhner-Beda and fellow inmate Fritz Grünbaum were also frequent performers at informal gatherings, and the former's verses and songs were frequently performed in camp shows.  In a bitter twist of fate, it was during Löhner-Beda's internment that a gala performance of Land des Laechelns was held in Vienna with prominent Nazis in attendance.  Although aware of his collaborator’s fate, Lehár remained silent.  (Despite his enormous popularity with Hitler, Lehár himself was in a precarious situation, as he was married to a Jewish woman.  Nonetheless, his abandonment of his former friend is particularly tragic; the Viennese cultural counsellor Viktor Matejka, who had known both men, believed that 'Löhner had to die because Lehár had forgotten about him'.)

Löhner-Beda was transported to Auschwitz in 1942 and died on 4 December.  Over two years after his death, however, his music rang out in triumph when American soldiers liberated Buchenwald, and the surviving prisoners sang his ‘Buchenwaldlied' for the first time as free men.

Sources

Hippen, R., 1988. Es Liegt in der Luft: Kabarett im Dritten Reich, Zürich: Pendo-Verlag.  

Kuna, M., 1993. Musik an der Grenze des Lebens: Musikerinnen und Musiker aus Böhmischen Ländern in Nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern und Gefängnissen, Frankfurt/M.: Zweitausendeins.  

Silverman, J., 2002. The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust, Syracuse University Press.