Late in 1933, the Nazis monopolized collection of royalties for German musicians. The organization STAGMA became one key instrument of the persecution Jewish artists faced.
Joseph Goebbels was a key figure behind the push to radically change German cultural life and bring it in line with the racist Nazi agenda. Jews and representatives of what the Nazis dubbed "entartete Kunst" (degenerate art) were to be excluded under Adolf Hitler's dictatorship. As head of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Culture Chamber), Goebbels set out to act as the filter that "purified" creative and cultural life in the country.
In the area of music, a royalties collection agency called STAGMA came to be a key tool in that process. In early October 1933, STAGMA began its work, boosted by a comfortable monopoly granted by the Nazis. The collections agency still exists today, in altered form, under the name GEMA.
Music as a battleground
STAGMA represented the first time that a central agency collected copyright fees for German musicians in Germany. Wherever music was publicly played, a license fee was due - whether the music was heard in bars, at concerts or on the radio. STAGMA was a key revenue stream for artists and was born of two predecessor organizations: GEMA and GDT.
"In the cases of both GEMA and GDT, so-called 'purifications' had taken place," says musicologist Albrecht Dümling.
The result was a major personnel shake-up after the Nazis seized power in January, 1933. In the case of GEMA, for example, Jewish employees were fired, and Jewish members of the organization's leadership purportedly left voluntarily for the sake of the institution.
A report detailing the resignation of one Jewish chairperson contained the cynical formulation, "In doing so, he believed he was serving the interests of GEMA."
Composer Max Butting, who lost all of his responsibilities in STAGMA under the Nazis, later said he believed that many of his non-Jewish colleagues expected to benefit in their careers by excluding Jews and other persecuted artists.
Step by step exclusion
By 1933, there was no way around Goebbels' influence at STAGMA, and it brought significant drawbacks for Jewish musicians, composers and lyricists or librettists.
"Every composer had to either work with STAGMA or go hungry," wrote news magazine "Der Spiegel" in 1951.
Although the organization's charter said that "German citizens, professional German composers, German lyricists and German music publishers" had the right to enter STAGMA, the Reichsmusikkammer (Reich Music Chamber) under its president, composer Richard Strauss, established a clear restriction in 1934 on that point: "Non-Aryans are fundamentally not to be seen as suitable transmitters or overseers of German cultural goods."
Practically, this led to a ban on working for the approximately 8,000 Jewish musicians in the Reichsmusikkammer. Musical performance was limited to the other 150,000 members of the Reichsmusikkammer. Many Jews who made a living with music suddenly had no way to get by.
Despite these restrictions, Jews were initially permitted to remain nominal members of STAGMA and still collected royalties. But the cultural climate made performances of works by Jews increasingly rare.
"There were fewer performances and, as such, fewer royalties. However, they were paid out according to the rules. It was just a lot less money," explained Dümling.
More drastic measures came in 1936, when Jews were banned entirely from the Reichsmusikkammer. STAGMA also announced that its Jewish members were no longer permitted to collect royalties. Instead, they were offered inferior royalties contracts that got rid of certain privileges and led them to earn even less money, Dümling said.
When musicians then fled persecution in Germany for other countries, STAGMA also cancelled their contracts. That didn't prevent the Nazis from stealing their royalties, however. Even during the war, STAGMA continued to take in fees for over 300 artists who had left the country. They included the film composer Franz Waxmann, who sought refuge in the US. His work brought in 26,000 Reichsmarks in the period 1941/42. In comparison, a loaf of bread would have cost well under a single Reichsmark at the time.
Instead of paying the artists, STAGMA simply placed the money into state coffers with the justification that Jews in exile were no longer considered German citizens, and their earnings were considered as belonging to the state.
STAGMA reverts to GEMA
Once the war ended, the Allied Powers put STAGMA under observation and issued a ban on paying out royalties to Nazis. In 1947, the Allies said they were ready to offer STAGMA a new beginning. Since its acronym was associated by many with the Nazi regime, the institution's name was changed as well. Some of the musicians who had been driven from Germany did indeed register with the re-formed GEMA.
GEMA representatives say the organization has since undertaken a "thorough, critical and scholarly" investigation into its own dark past, adding that, "GEMA has - in part with help from emigrant organizations - searched intensively for heirs in order to pass on the royalties collected to their rightful owners."
That step can only address part of the hardship Jewish musicians faced during the Third Reich. Given the restrictions on performing their works, many of the royalties they would have earned have been irretrievably lost.