Willy Rosen "Der Text und die Musik ist von mir! Ich bin Willy, nicht Wilhelm!"
Willy Rosen his history, life and work.
Kleinkunst performers in Weimar and Nazi Germany. Schwule Musik and stars.
Site last updated: Friday May 29th 2020
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Why a site devoted to Willy Rosen the Jewish Composer, murdered in Auschwitz and others persecuted by the Nazis? Every time someone accesses this site or plays a song by Willy Rosen and others, it ensures that they are not forgotten. The aim of Nazi ideology has failed and will continue to fail. These stars will still shine.
Willy Rosen was born in Magdeburg on 18th July 1894 to Arthur and Amalie Mally Rosenbaum. He had one older sister called Lucie born the year before and one younger sister, Edith who took the stage name Maerker, her mother's maiden name. (Sources such as Geni also inlude an un-named child - possibly dying at or shortly after birth.)
Willy attended "das König-Wilhelm-Gymnasium" in Magdeburg. He was then sent by his father as an apprentice at Konfektionsfirma Kleider in Berlin (Karin Ploog - Als die Noten laufen lernten..., Geschichte und Geschichten der U-Musik bis 1945 - Erster Teil ). He completed his apprenticeship successfully. Willy continued to develop his interest in Music. Willy was drafted into the army in 1915 and served in WW1 on the Russian Front. He published his first piece of music in 1915, ( Ich möchte so gern Soldaten haben). Like many others he was wounded. Whilst convalescing he played piano and gave performances to other troops. After the war Willy Rosen returned to Berlin and to his old job. According to the Berlin address and phone books, in 1919 he lived at Pankstrasse 39 Apartment 4 as a "Schurzen". By 1929, the Berlin Adressbuch showed he had moved, as does The Jewish Addressbook for 1931, to Cicero Strasse 55, in Halensee. The 1932 publication lists Rosen as a Komponist, rather than working in the clothing industry. This was his Berlin address right up to 1939.
In the evenings he played piano at various bars and clubs, such as Die Spinne and Die Rakete. Rosen founded the Rosen Kapelle a small band. In 1924 he was involved in the founding of "Kabarett der Komiker" by Paul Morgan, Kurt Robitschek and Max Hansen. The first production was "Quo Vadis" for which Rosen wrote the music. It was a new style and parodied not only the film but also Hitler's Putsch. It ran for over 300 performances. It received rave reviews from Hermann Neisse but did not endear Rosen to the Nazis. He wrote music for others such as Harry Woldau, Max Hansen, Curt Bois and Paul O'Montis. Will Meisel published some of his music. He rose to be a well renowned Cabaret Star and composer of Schlager. A whirlwind of appearances ensued, but he still found time to put on concerts for children. In 1923 he had married Elsbeth Hoffmann. (They were divorced in 1940, she agreed under duress from the Gestapo.)
In 1927, he appeared at the invitation of Magdeburg Burgermeister, Hermann Beims with great success, on the occasion of the German Theater Exhibition in his hometown. He won the Goldene Geige im Deutschen Schlagerwettbewerb, twice.
On 15th September 1931 he officially adopted his stage name "Rosen". He had always been Willy, never Wilhelm. His middle name was Julius but hardly ever used. Some sites and publications use Wilhelm or William but it clearly states on the birth register -"Willy".
Rosen collaborated with many other lyricists and composers. He completed over 600 compositions and made 75 personal recordings. He appeared in 7 "Spielfilms" and was involved in a total of 21 films, writing words or music, between 1926 and 1934. His music was sung and played by many famous artists of the 1920's and 1930's.
Today he is virtually unknown even though his songs are still sung, by the likes of Max Raabe, Henry de Winter & The Bratislava Hot Serenaders and Schmattes Schlager & Schongsongs, Semer Ensemble, The Grammophonics The Ballaststoff Orchester and even Haudegen or were parodied by Günter Neumann. Some of his compositions are performed without attribution to him or wrongly attributed to others by modern media to, such as, Max Ehrlich. Willy was forced to disappear from German culture step by step after 1933. Rosen went to Holland with a little group of Prominenten but opposition from Dutch Music Unions forced them away. Rosen was still recording clandestinely, in Synagogue cellars, in 1935 for Lukraphon. Recording studios such as Odeon, had forsaken him. He was able to perform in the Jewish Theatre or Kulturbund but nowhere else in Germany.
He left Germany, visiting various countries including Austria and Switzerland. He applied for residency in Switzerland but it was refused, as was Joseph Schmidt. Willy eventually found refuge in Holland. Rosen put on Revues in Scheveningen, a seaside town in Holland. Producing these and writing the songs . He was later joined by Max Ehrlich who had stayed on in Berlin. Ehrlich had invited Willy back to Berlin, on several occasions to perform in Ehrlich's revues. Shows in Holland starred the "Prominenten", Jewish performers from Germany and Holland, such as Siegfried Arno, Oskar Karlweis and Camilla Spira, in 50 Revues from 1936 to 1941. There is photographic evidence recording the visit of Max Schmeling's visit to the Prominenten. He knew Willy and the other Prominenten through his wife Anny Ondra. Schmeling had also appeared in films himself. Other noted people in the audience in late July 1939 at a performance of Tempo! Tempo! were Maurice Chevalier and Richard Tauber. Realising that both were in the audience changes were made to the programme. Ehrlich did his impersonation of Tauber and not doubt Rosen performed the song "If I were Richard Tauber".
The Revues came to an end in May 1942, a little over a year after the Nazis invaded Holland and Jews were then interned in Westerbork a Nazi transit later concentration camp. Willy married Olga Krauskopf in 1942. Until September 1944 Willy along with Ziegler and Ehrlich and a multitiude of artisitic talent put on the "Best Cabaret in Europe". The then Kamp Kommandant, encouraged these performances, allowing props and costumes to be sourced. Etty Hillesum records in her diary, that Willy Rosen had to perform his songs for the Kommandant to approve. ("He sang his heart out." for Gemmeker, as his name had been put on the list for transportation. ) Nazi officials including Adolf Eichmann would visit and sit on the front row, with the audience that was due to be "sent east" the following day, sitting behind.
Willy Rosen was not popular with everyone at the Westerbork Camp. Some objected to his privileged position and his recruitment of German Jews for the Revues. (By order of the Kommandant, the shows were to be performed in German. The first shows had even included German Staff. Gemmeker lived in a world apart.) Etty Hillesum wrote to Han Wegerif in 1943 - "There is more and more movement now along the asphalt path beside the train. Men from the “Flying Column” in brown overalls are bringing the luggage up on wheelbarrows. Among them I spot two of the commandant’s court jesters: the comedian Max Ehrlich, and the songwriter Willy Rosen, who looks like death warmed up. And over there is another court jester: Erich Ziegler, the commandant’s favorite pianist. Legend has it that he is so accomplished that he can play Beethoven’s Ninth as a jazz number, which is certainly saying something ..." There was resentment that Revue Performers were often exempt from transport, but this was not always true. Many performers went east and disappeared from the Programmes. Rosen had been on the list once, singing to convince Gemmeker to take him off the list. Sadly this meant that someone else went in his stead. It is true that Rosen and Ehrlich were amongst the last to be transported. Ziegler was one of the very few from "The Buhne", not to have been sent east. When lists were read out for transport, those selected cried. Those not selected sang and danced. A few volunteered instead of others. The camp doctor, managed to persuade a family to be "spared", only to find that his name was included in their stead.
Over 40 Revues, were performed from 1942 to 1944 when the day came that Willy and wife Olga Maria were transported to Terezin (Theresienstadt) on the 4th September 1944*** as numbers 576 and 577 on Transport xxiv/7, with Max Ehrlich and many others, including Johnny and Jones. The Commandant Gemmeker, came to see the train off, as he usually did, waving them "adieu", maintaining he never knew what lay ahead for them. Gemmeker had given Rosen a note for the Kommandant at Terezin, promising better rooms for the troop. 10 days later the transports ended, even though the camp was not liberated until 12th April 1945.
The train meandered through Nazi occupied Europe, passing through Magdeburg, arriving at Theresienstadt on the 6th September. After a brief "stop over" at Terezin, Willy and Olga were separated and he went on to Auschwitz Birkenau in Nazi occupied Poland on Transport El on 29th September 1944, with Max Ehrlich, Leo Kok and Johnny and Jones. They arrived at Ramp 3, inside Auschwitz Birkenau, in plain view of all the other prisoners. He was gassed with Zyklon B, on 30th September 1944, immediately after arrival with Max Ehrlich. Yad Vashem records that the train reached its destination on the 30th September. Others quote October 1st as the murder date. Olga followed him to Auschwitz on Transport En as number 87 on October 4th 1944. She is recorded in the Biographisches Lexikon der Theaterkünstler, as dying on 15th October 1944 although Yad Vashem have her dying in Auschwitz on 15th March 1945. The camp had been liberated in January, so may mean she died on a "Death March".
Rosen, a missing star, amongst a galaxy, because he was Jewish. His music was banned outright or played as folk songs with source unknown or even attributed to others. Yet Willy Rosen had songs published by friends, under their names to belie Goebell's' claim that "German Kultur" was Aryan.
A street is named after Willy Rosen in Magdeburg. But there is little else to commemorate Willy Rosen, in a city that watched as his mother was deported on 2nd December 1942 to her death in Theresienstadt, on 21st March 1943, with 69 other people, only one of which would survive to the end of the war. There is little to commemorate Willy Rosen in Berlin, his adopted city. He is remembered better in Holland. The University of Hamburg has some research on Rosen and lists most of his compositions. A complete list can be found on this site for downloading. Although married twice there were not any children. Perhaps a blessing for they would have suffered the same fate as Willy? His sister Lucie had emigrated to South America, settling in Sao Paulo, having married Rudolf Herzberg (Geni). Their daughter, Hannelore married Kurt Albert Bernstein, in 1943. Family descendants are still alive. As of yet, nothing is known of his younger sister, who escaped to Cambridge in England and was not interned. She worked as a domestic servant and met with the Rabbi from Magdeburg. After the war Edith, returned to Berlin and Opera. Nothing is known of the circumstances of her death.
Why did Willy Rosen not escape? His sisters did! Funds had been raised by Kurt Robitschek in the USA. Visas for Cuba were finalised but, like many others, he left it too late. The unthinkable happened, Germany had invaded Holland and when the USA entered the war Visas for Cuba were cancelled. Had he not been divorced from Elsbeth he might have been spared as a mixed marriage.
Many at the camp objected to the favoured position that Rosen and the others held in the eyes of Gemmeker. He deferred their transport east until just about last, as th Allies had landed in France and were approaching. Others he sent without a thought. Upset Gemmeker or his Secretary and an inmate could find themsleves on the next train going East, for no reason other than you didn't doff your hat quick enough or your son, broke a window. 50 extra because a little boy tried to hide. He had 120 sick patients carried from the hospital and put on the trains, 23rd January 1943 and February 8th 1944. He sent 48 women classed as suitable for medical experiments on 24th August 1943. Gemmeker even sent trains off without food for the journey and a baby that was born that morning went on November 6th 1942. He even sent babies without food, 29th January 1943, with 2 British citizens, whose papers he refused to accept. On 23rd October 1943, rations for 1,500 people were drawn for 14days, yet the prisoners got a piece of bread. Konrad Albert Gemmeker the Gentleman Kommandant was responsible for sending 77 transports east, which carried 79,800 men women, children and babies to the east. Of those, Gemmeker is responsible for the deaths of 77,716 men, women, children and babies and untold suffering.
Everyone including Etty Hillesum worked. If you worked and were useful, your day for transportation was delayed, until you were no longer needed. The Theater Group were important to Gemmeker. More so than many others. No doubt Rosen and Ehrlich played this to the full, walking a knife edge for two years, trying to avoid upsetting Gemmeker which would lead to the deportation, that was sure to follow if they did. By 1944 everyone knew what was happening, even Gemmeker, who claimed he never knew. Each train would have a guard, under the command of a Leutnant. Many of these officers made this trip ona regular basis, from Westerbork all the way through to Auschwitz, where they saw what was happening. In waiting for the train to depart, Gemmeker never had a conversation with any of these officers, to ask, what happened at the other end of the line? All across Europe people were "going East" but never retaining contact with friends or family. Ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers knew and were involved. If Gemmeker were alive to day and claimed ignorance, he would be derided with disbelief. Gemmeker played the gentleman, but with what is known today, that behaviour would not have saved him from greater retribution. He complained that cattle trucks were used for transportation, asking for carriages so that it would be easier to persuade the deportees to board. When told "there was a war on", he had seats fitted to the trucks. Hetty Hillesum saw through his charade. Every inmate used whatever they had to avoid transportation. Rosen and the others, used talents that others didn't have, to satisfy one man's desire to have his own personal cabaret, his own little Jewish Auschwitz destined Cabaret.
*** September 4th was the day after Anne Frank had been sent to Auschwitz.
The word Auschwitz, on this site refers to the Nazi built and run Concentration camp in Nazi occupied Poland. An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, of whom at least 1.1 million died. Around 90 percent of those were Jews; approximately one in six Jews killed in the Holocaust died at the camp. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah's Witnesses, and tens of thousands of others of diverse nationalities, including an unknown number of homosexuals. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labour, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
A few of Rosen's songs today are deemed, by some to be politically incorrect. Use of such material is historical and I make no apology for its use but stress that outdated perceptions are not my own.
Father - Arthur Rosenbaum 1863-1939
Mother - Amalie Mally Rosenbaum (Maerker) 24.11.1872. Deported 02.12.1942 on Transport XX/3 Number 157 Died 21.03.43 at Terezin
Sister - Lucie Herzberg (Rosenbaum) 15.07.1893. Emigrated to Sao Paulo, Brazil 1939 Married to Rudolf Herzberg 1920
Willy Julius Rosen (Rosenbaum) 18.07.1894. to 30.09.1944 Murdered Auschwitz
Wife - Elsbeth Hoffmann 1893 (Married to Willy 1923-1940)
Wife - Olga Maria Krauskopf 1905 - 1944 Born Charlottenburg 27 September 1905 (Married to Willy 1942 - 1944) Murdered Auschwitz 15.10.1944)
Sibling - Unnamed child: c 14.09.1895
Sister - Edith Henriette (Maerker) 1896 - ???? Opera Singer (Escaped to England . Returned to Berlin in 1947 and lived with Willy's first wife Elsbeth. Worked at Komische Oper Berlin as Stage Director.)
Niece - Hannelore Herzberg Daughter of Lucie Born 1924 Married Kurt Albert Bernstein 1943 (one child?)
Aeschlimann Hans Alfonso Beltran
Amberg Charles Arcany
Badt Rudolf Balz Bruno
Bibo Günter Bloch Theodor
Bludau Blum H
Lew-Brown Buchholz K
Conrad Cowler Jim
de Wijze Louis Dimde Charles W
Etlinger Evans O A
Felice S Julia Feline Jean
Ferdl Weiss Forster Gerhard
Fries Fröhlich Herbert
Gabriel Herbert Galdieri
Hauch Michael Henderson Ray
Hennig H F
Heye Max Hoffman Horst
Hofmann Gerhard Jaeger
Jary Michael Jerome
Kerdy Dick Klabunde Alfred
Klupsch Siegfried Koch Ekehard
Kummer Lange Arthur
Lengsfelder Hans Lengsfelder Joachim
Lindemann Fred & Otto Lion Marcel
Loebel Richard Rillo Lübbe Kurt
Melborn Fritz Mueller Menhert Mattias
Menne Mieke Mercier Rene
Neubach Ernst Nikolas Paul
Rauch Franz Raven Carol
Reisfeld Bert Reiter Fritz
Rey Louis Rido
Schall Leo Schaub Werner B
Schmidt-Gettner Willy Schneider Hans
Senger Harry Sigmund Alexander
Winkler Gerhard Winterfeld Edi
Die teure Frau
Die zärtlichen Verwandten
Du kannst ruhig "Du" zu mir sagen”
Du siehst ja aus wie ein Mann, mein Schatz
Eine schöne weisse Chrysantheme
Finden Sie, daß Konstanze sich richtig verhält?
Fridolin, ach Fridolin
Hausfrauenparade I und II
Husaren Heraus (Das Liebesregiment)
Ich fahre heute Nacht zu meiner Gnäd'gen
Ich hab eine eigene kleine Wohnung
Im Gasthof zur goldenen Schnecke
Ja die Berliner Mädchen
Jede kleine Frau braucht hin und wieder einen Kuß
Kennst du das Gefühl, wenn man verliebt ist?
Komm, gib mal einen aus, Emil
Liebling komm doch nach Tahiti
Man vergißt seine Sorgen beim Charleston
Moritz macht sein Glück
Muß das sein?
Treppenwitze von Wilhelm Bendow und Paul Morgan
Was hast du mit der Adelheid bloß vorgehabt
Was nützen mir die schönsten Nelken?
Was will der Mann da, auf der Veranda
Weißt Du noch, wie ich Deinen roten Mund geküßt?
Wenn du einmal dein Herz verschenkst
Wenn du mich liebst, ist immer Frühling
Wenn ich den Text nicht weiter kann
Wenn ein süßes Mädel träumt
Wenn meine Frau das erfährt
Zurück zur Natur
Files containing detailed information about Willy Rosen and others
YouTube is a wonderful source for Schlager Music of the 1920s and 1930s as well as that of Willy Rosen!
An accurate biography of Willy Rosen, composer with notes and links to Songs. Links to Weimar Kabarett, Kleinkunst and Schlager Writers and Performers. Music and the Holocaust. Non profit web site aimed at preserving the memory of Willy Rosen and other persecuted Jewish Stars of screeen and stage. Max Ehrlich, Erich Ziegler, Hermann Feiner, Otto Wallburg, Franz Engel, Kurt Gerron, Siegfried Arno, Oscar Denes, Oskar Karlweis, Dora Paulsen,
Auschwitz II - Terrain of the Former Birkenau Camp, 3-5 Plac KS.J.Skarbka, Oświęcim, Małopolskie 32-600, Poland
09:00 – 17:00