Nazi-era Marching Song Lyrics…

One of the perennial questions we are asked here at Tomahawk Films, (and another such welcome letter winged its way in to us over the Christmas break), is: “why do we not include a full English translation sheet with each of our German Soldier Song CDs..?”

….and though it is something we have often considered down the years, (and as Tomahawk’s producer is one I still keep coming back to periodically!), there are two main reasons that stop us undertaking this additional work… and unfortunately the first rather dull answer is purely one of economics:

For the last 26 years of renovating & re-mastering Nazi-era music, (first on cassette & from 1999 on CD), we have been forced to increase our product prices to our much valued customers on just 2 occasions, (then only as a result of postage increases, and not at all in the last 8 years), as we strive to do all we can to hold down the price of everything in The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive … a little painful when everything we need here at Tomahawk for our production work is continuing to rise remorselessly….

Though one of our chief aims, (apart from trying hard to produce good quality audio & visual German archival product), is to keep prices at a sensible & stable level, Tomahawk’s bills have again seen further rises recently: from recording time at Dubmaster Studios to factory replication of the CDs, from the cost of cover artwork design & printing to increases in the cost of packaging our products..

Then there’s the Royal Mail, whose latest upswing in 2012 was the biggest single price hike in the company’s history, particularly in Overseas shipping to Europe and the rest of the World..!

The only way we can put any sort of gloss on this is to tell ourselves: “we couldn’t drive or fly our packages to their destinations for the cost of the stamps we put on our precious orders..!”

However, every price rise Tomahawk has been faced with, we have stoically opted keep both our UK prices post-included whilst also taking every increase in our production costs ‘on the chin’ and simply swallow them, rather than increase the overall retail price of our products… but each one very slowly and steadily chips away at our overall profit!

Unfortunately, on top of these myriad price rises Tomahawk faces, (and have you noticed how nothing ever actually comes down these days?), if we then opted to commission our German linguist to translate every song into English and then design & print small flyers for each CD and then add in those additional costs, that is yet another cost that Tomahawk would have to bear whilst still strenuously making every effort to keep our end prices to you, the collector & enthusiast, static & stable..!

Though Tomahawk Films did not enter this field of archival endeavour with the main aim of making money, (personally I would have become a merchant-banker or a lawyer if money had been my goal, though my family would have probably disowned me!), we do have to show a small profit, if only to keep the taxman happy! So sadly though a wonderful idea, and very good of  our customers to suggest it from time-to-time, the stark fact is that, for the moment, we still feel that adding English translations to each of our Third Reich/Nazi-era Musik CD packages continues to be a commercial non-starter.

The other main reason is simply because of the integrity of the songs: .many wonderful Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS marching songs, allied to some equally lovely civilian sentimental songs we produce, don’t actually scan quite as well in English as they do in German and we feel that many would end up having a literal translation… and I would personally feel uncomfortable taking these often very beautiful German songs and messing about with them as I think they are just so beautifully enigmatic in their original native tongue…

However, the good news for those that would like some literal translations is that I have done just that with several very important songs in the history of the Third Reich which have a special story to tell, at various points throughout my book The Military Music and Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45.

Many years ago when the question of German song lyrics & their English versions came up and I first considered commissioning such translations, I finally settled on a plan for writing a small book that contained  just the original German lyrics to the favourite songs from the Third Reich…

But then, as I laid out a basic skeleton for the little book I actually started to ponder upon many other questions that had often come to me whilst producing our material, such as:  where did this wonderful music originally come from? who were the soldier-musicians that played the songs? how did they fare in the war? what was their musical & military training like? what of their instruments & their uniforms? what were the meanings behind these soldier songs & stirring marching music? what of the composers, the singers, the conductors? what indeed of the German recording & radio industry? how did it begin and then ultimately all end in May 1945? was there life for the Soldier Song in post-war Germany?

The questions started coming thick & fast..in fact the more I started to think about the subject matter, the more questions I suddenly started to ask myself..!

Yes, we had been successfully producing & re-mastering this terrific archival music for over 25 years, but yet despite being fascinated by it and absolutely loving what we were producing, we had no real insight into those who originally wrote, performed or listened to it during the Third Reich…and so after a few intense weeks of thinking about this whole subject matter much more deeply than I had to date,  my ‘book skeleton’ based originally around 70-odd sets of German song lyrics had suddenly stretched out to some 20 odd chapters into a complete and somewhat comprehensive reference book..!

So began a long, intense but enjoyable 6 years of in-depth research period in which I looked at and documented every aspect that I could uncover relating to the story of Third Reich Military Music and the Soldier Musicians behind it…and on this journey I also studied some of the more important songs in the history of the Third Reich…and both transcribed and then translated those particular & special lyrics as a part of my personal telling of this quite amazing story, (something kindly remarked upon by the famous UK military author Brian L Davis in his later review of my finished book)

The songs specifically researched & translated include: Lili Marleen, the Deutschlandlied,  Ich hatt einen Kameraden, the Horst Wessel Lied, the Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht favourite ‘Gute Nacht Mutter’, the hugely popular  Panzer Lied..and both the former East German National Anthem and the West German National Anthem in the latter chapters looking at post-war German military music and musicians from 1948 right up to the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Finally to round off this utterly fascinating and totally absorbing story, I included that original chapter containing the German lyrics to 71 of the most famous and beloved Wehrmacht & Waffen-SS marching songs as sung throughout the Third Reich, for those collectors that wanted to be able to sing along to the Tomahawk Film’s CDs they had already kindly bought from us.

Not quite the full list of English translations that some of our terrific customers have often enquired after, but judging by the fabulous reactions to my book from Third Reich collectors & Nazi-era music enthusiasts around the globe, this 100,000-word book, (also containing over 1,100 unique colour & black & white photos) has hit the right note, if you will excuse the pun, and hopefully sets Third Reich military & civilian music and the ever attendant & evocative German Soldier Song into some sort of context whilst also hopefully adding something more to the knowledge of our shared hobby and to the overall enjoyment & understanding of this rare and historical branch of musical history…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

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