Kater, Michael H(ans) 1937-
KATER, Michael H(ans) 1937-
PERSONAL: Born July 4, 1937, in Zittau, Germany; son of Heinz F. (a business executive) and Annemarie (Gensichen) Kater; married Barbara Streit, July 24, 1965; children: Eva, Anja. Education: University of Toronto, B.A. (with honors), 1959, M.A., 1961; University of Heidelberg, D.Phil., 1966.
ADDRESSES: Home—134 Chartwell Rd., Oakville, Ontario L6J 3Z6, Canada. Office—Center for German and European Studies, York University, 4700 Keele St., Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada. E-mail— [email protected]
CAREER: University of Maryland, European Division, part-time lecturer, 1965-66; York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor, 1967-70, associate professor, 1970-73, professor of history, 1973-91, Distinguished Research Professor of History, 1991—, Atkinson research fellow, 1984-85. Jason A. Hannah Visiting Professor, McMaster University, 1985-86; Jason A. Hannah Visiting Professor, University of Toronto, 1997-98.
MEMBER: American Historical Association, American/Canadian Musicians' Union.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Historical Association first prize in European history, 1972; Canada Council fellow, 1973-74, and senior Killam fellow, 1978-80; Guggenheim fellow, 1976-77; fellow of Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, 1982-83; Konrad Adenauer research award, 1990-91; Jason A. Hannah medal, 1991.
Das "Ahnenerbe" der SS, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt (Stuttgart, Germany), 1974.
Studentenschaft und Rechtsradikalismus in Deutschland, 1918-1933, Hoffmann & Campe (Hamburg, Germany), 1975.
The Nazi Party: A Social Profile of Members and Leaders, 1919-1945, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1983.
Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: The product of a family involved in both music and medicine, Michael H. Kater incorporates those themes into books that explore the influence of these disciplines on Hitler's Third Reich—and vice versa. Kater's three books on the place of music in Nazi Germany paint a compelling portrait of the arts during the World War II years. In Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany, the author examines a little-known footnote of war history. Though never officially banned by the Weimar regime, American-style jazz was despised by the Third Reich as music that, as Kater quotes it in his book, "symbolized everything that was insidiously evil in a Jewish-Negro plot to undermine Germanic culture."
The government strongly discouraged Germans from playing and listening to jazz. But to a small but loyal fan base—among students in particular—the music represented freedom of thought and rebellion against totalitarianism. In emulating the lively jazz sounds and dances seen in American movies, these young adults became known as "Swing Babies." (A 1993 Disney feature film, "Swing Kids," was based on their story.) And according to Kater's research, students were not the only ones listening. In the ghettos and concentration camps, jazz musicians performed for SS officers. "Most remarkably," writes jazz expert Leonard Feather in a Los Angeles Times review of Different Drummers,
"there was the enigmatic Dr. Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, whom Kater interviews at length." A storm trooper and Nazi Party member, Schulz-Koehn was also an ardent fan of swing music. He even bartered his camera for Count Basie records at a Red Cross meeting.
In Feather's view, Different Drummers is "fascinating and horrifying, yet in a sense rewarding, since it shows the lengths to which young Germans would go to keep the faith with a music that was their common link." History Today critic Ian Kershaw likewise praised the book as an original study that is able to "refine and qualify any easy association of the jazz subculture in general, and the Hamburg Swing youth in particular, with political resistance." Notes correspondent Johann S. Buis called Different Drummers "a remarkable contribution to research on the culture of the Third Reich." The critic added, "Anyone with an interest in this unique aspect of twentieth-century jazz history will remain indebted to Kater for researching and relating this compelling story. Ultimately, jazz as a product of human creativity under the constraints of one of the most deplorable political regimes of the present century provides a valuable object lesson in the nature of humankind."
The Nazi "music bureaucracy" is the subject of Kater's 1997 book, The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich. In a Wall Street Journal review, Harvey Sachs hailed the work as "the broadest and clearest study of classical music in Hitler's Germany that has appeared to date." Providing sketches of the composers of the day, Kater offers the view that Nazi officials were hard-put to define the limits of acceptable "Aryan" art. "Banning the music of [Jewish composers] Mendelssohn, Mahler and Schoenberg was easy enough, as was removing Jewish musicians from their jobs and eventually sending them to the gas chambers," wrote Sachs. "But finer distinctions were difficult to make and often impossible to put into action."
While some composers and performers resisted Nazi influences, others worked willingly for the Third Reich. Part of the reason, according to Kater, may have been economic: The unemployment rate for musicians during the war years was unusually high and the Party created jobs that included a revamped Vienna Philharmonic. But the author shows that "proclamations of support were neither required for a career nor a guarantee of one," as Edward Rothstein noted in aNew York Times article. "Some [Nazi musicians] failed; some non-Nazis (like Wilhem Furtwanger and Richard Strauss) thrived." In a Notes review of The Twisted Muse, Jeanne M. Thompson observed, "Kater's book, meticulously researched and documented, provides a fascinating look at how music and musicians became ensnared in political ideology and at their complex responses of collaboration, resistance, and opportunism in the music world….Written in anaccessible and engaging style, this book offers an excellent introduction to the newcomer, and with its painstaking documentation and some provocative insights, it will be an important tool for future research."
Kater completed his trilogy about music in the Third Reich with Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits. This volume provides a more in-depth look at the lives of eight German composers prior to and during World War II. Perhaps not surprisingly, Kater finds abundant gray areas in the behavior of the composers under scrutiny, concluding that many of their decisions reflect a concern for professional advancement. "In a field that has only recently begun to peel away the layers of distortion and disinformation that have heretofore hindered serious research, Kater deserves lavish praise for bringing to light many new facts and providing honest and accurate interpretations of them," wrote Scott Warfield in Notes. Warfield added, "If we are ever to understand the music of mid-twentieth-century Germany, we must at least begin with the correct facts about the circumstances under which that music was produced. In Composers of the Nazi Era and its predecessors, Kater has provided a solid foundation on which such an inquiry may reliably be built." New Criterion contributor Alexander Coleman commended Kater for his "energetic scholarship and the measured tone of critical prudence and judiciousness." Coleman concluded that Composers of the Nazi Era "is, in many ways, a summa of the problems that have obsessed Kater for the past decade. Although he touches on many issues already discussed, he also offers many new insights and scholarly discoveries…. MichaelKater has given us a careful prose description of … sinister musical atavism."
In another study of professionals working during World War II, Doctors under Hitler: Professional Crisis of Medicine in the Third Reich, Kater "demonstrates that physicians were nazified 'more thoroughly and much sooner than any other profession,'" as Robert Proctor quoted him in Journal of Modern History.
Kater's research goes on to show that physicians of the time were three times as likely to declare allegiance to the Nazi Party as was the average employed man in Germany. These are among some of the many statistics the author uses in Doctors under Hitler. Indeed, observed Proctor, "quantitative indicators are clearly one of Kater's stronger suits, and there is much that is new here—as when he points out that doctors were the most heavily conscripted professional group in the Reich (apart from veterinarians), or that in 1939 life expectancy for male physicians was nine years less than average for males in the Reich."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 1976; April, 1991, Geoffrey Cocks, review of Doctors under Hitler: Professional Crisis of Medicine in the Third Reich, p. 543.
Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1992.
History Today, November, 1993, Ian Kershaw, review of Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany, p. 55.
Journal of Modern History, March, 1992, Robert Proctor, review of Doctors under Hitler, p. 165.
Library Journal, January, 1997, p. 101.
Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1992, p. 47.
Music Educators Journal, September, 2000, review of Composers of the Nazi Era, p. 72.
New Criterion, October, 2000, Alexander Coleman, review of Composers of the Nazi Era, p. 67.
New York Review of Books, May 31, 1984, Istvan Deak, review of The Nazi Party: A Social Profile of Members and Leaders, 1919-1945, p. 37.
New York Times, June 29, 1997, p. 28.
New York Times Book Review, June 29, 1997, Edward Rothstein, review of the Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich, p. 28.
Notes, March, 1994, Johann S. Buis, review of Different Drummers, p. 1010; December, 1998, Jeanne M. Thompson, review of The Twisted Muse, p. 398; December, 2000, Scott Warfield, review of Composers of the Nazi Era, p. 350.
Opera News, January 3, 1998, David J. Baker, review of The Twisted Muse, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, November 11, 1996, review of The Twisted Muse, p. 63.
Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1997, p. A20.*