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Hör Zarah Leander auf Deezer
While many of Europe's big stars fled to Hollywood in the 1930s during the rise of the Nazis, Swedish diva Zarah Leander stayed in Europe and gained notoriety as a result of working for Joseph Goebbels' propaganda Nazi movie studio and was said to be one of Hitler's favourite performers. Later speculation suggested she had a secret life as a spy and was sharing German secrets with the Russians, but she remained a controversial figure, criticised by many for profiting handsomely from the Nazi regime.
She was born in the Swedish city of Karlstad and started performing at the age of six, before cutting her teeth in touring cabaret and vaudeville shows in the late 1920s. Her profile grew when she starred in the operetta 'The Merry Widow' and, later, the 1936 theatre production 'Axel an der Himmelstur', and her reputation soon spread across Europe and to Hollywood, where she was seen as a potential star to follow in the footsteps of Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
With her young family in mind, she instead opted to sign a deal with the German production company UFA and starred in ten propaganda films as she became the highest paid actress in Europe at the time. Playing tough, passionate characters, she was known for her icy-cool and smokey, rasping singing voice and her signature songs 'This Is Not the End of the World' and 'I Know That Some Day a Miracle Will Come' were universally liked as spirited anthems of defiance.
A tough negotiator who was once described by Joseph Goebbels as "an enemy of the people" due to her financial demands, she ending up fleeing Germany in 1943 and returned to Sweden. Despite her critics and the controversy surrounding her, she revived her career in the 1950s and '60s with theatre, television and occasional film work in Europe and even returned to perform in Germany, where she was warmly received. Her femme fatale style later influenced German singers Nico and Nina Hagen, who released a single called 'Zarah' as a tribute. She died in 1981,aged 74, after suffering a stroke.