You Haven't Heard the Worst Cover of 'Silent Night' Till You Check Out the Nazi Version from 1940

Over the last two hundreds years, the classic Christmas carol 'Silent Night' - which turns 200 today - has seen it's fair share of dubious covers. For every timeless rendition by the likes of Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé, there's a heap of schlocky renditions from Christina Aguilera to Afroman. But while Aguilera milks every single note she can, and Afroman takes way too many liberties with the original lyrics, neither went so far as to insert Adolf Hitler into the carol.

That's why the Nazi version of 'Silent Night' is by far the worst version that has ever existed. And now, thanks to the efforts of the 'Silent Night Association' - an international group dedicated to preserving the carol's history and legacy - we now have a copy of the worst version of 'Silent Night' ever created.

The 1940 rendition from Germany was a product of the Nazi Party's tireless efforts to redefine every aspect of German culture to suit the agenda of National Socialism. During the Third Reich, "all institutions were concerned with reinterpreting Christmas in the name of National Socialism," according to Esther Gajek -  Chair of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Regensburg. So, of course, the Nazis were eager to turn classic carols like 'Silent Night' into Nazi propaganda. 

"This was the first attempt to directly infiltrate the living rooms of German families at Christmas and enforce National Socialist ideologies," added Gajek, who not only reprinted the lyrics to the Nazi version of 'Silent Night' but also included an English translation: 

Silent night, holy night!
All are sleeping, alone and awake
Only the chancellor [Hitler] faithfully alert,
Keeps watch of Germany's prosperity well,
Always mindful of us.

Silent night, holy night!
All are sleeping, alone and awake.
Adolf Hitler is Germany's fate,
Lead us to greatness, fame and fortune,
Give us Germans the power.

That translation, of course, doesn't capture the rhythm of the original, but it does give us a clear (and unsettling) idea of what was included in the Nazi carol.

Communists had a Christmas carol too 

The Nazis weren't the only political party to turn 'Silent Night' into propaganda. In the 1960s, communist agitators in Germany wrote parodies of carols to satirize Christmas as a holiday for empty consumerism and economic exploitation. And 'Silent Night' was not too sacred for parodist Dieter Süverkrüp to use in skewering capitalism with verses like:

Silent night, holy night!
Christmas tree switched on.
And a sweet little song sung.
And a glass of eggnog drunk!
And children beaten
till they are handsomely devout.

And

Cheap night, hurried night!
Instalment plans made easy
by the Angels' Alleluia.
They belong to the advertising budget.
Because our Father in heaven 
is president of the corporation. 

So even the tawdriest of pop-culture covers of 'Silent Night' look downright respectable compared to these horrendous versions.

For more information on the carol's history and legacy, check out the Silent Night Association's new book 'Silent Night: A Companion to the Song' edited by Thomas Hochradner and Michael Neureiter. This collection of scholarly essays looks at the historical events and cultural influences that gave us the carol, as well as the song's development from a local tradition to the most popular Christmas carol in the world.

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