Disney has created some silly fantasies over the years, but the world of the ”swing kids” isn’t one of them. Improbable as it seems, World War II Germany actually did boast an underground counter-culture of jazz-addicted teens.
Around 1937, Hamburg was infected with a swing-dancing craze that was most likely introduced through the American movies Born to Dance and Broadway Melody. The approximately 500 Hamburg Swings — rich teens who met at exclusive schools and sports clubs — were obsessed ”with aesthetically pleasing things and people,” explains Michael H. Kater in his 1992 book, Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany. The boys wore long hair and custom-tailored suits, and carried rolled umbrellas for a British flair; the girls sported short skirts and silk stockings.
The Swings interviewed by Kater denied any political motives. For one surviving Swing, 67-year-old Gunther Koppe of Sunland, Calif., love of jazz and political inclination ”just coincided.” Without the music, ”I would have been against the Nazis,” Koppe told EW. ”And without the Nazis, I would have been for the music.” The Third Reich, however, proved more rigid: Between 1942 and 1944 as many as 70 Swings, including Koppe, were sent to concentration camps.