Soldier Songs in the Third Reich…

As I soon came to discover when producing Tomahawk’s comprehensive & very varied catalogue of original WW-II Two German military & civilian music,  including the Military Music of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45, nothing in life is ever really new, for many of the so-called classic Nazi party songs & tunes adopted by the Sturmabteilung, Hitler Youth, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Heer, Afrika Korps and so on, were in many cases, simply old Imperial German marching songs or classic German folk songs adopted and adapted with much military pride or fanatical fervour by the Third Reich.

Many traditional soldier songs, from Als die Goldene Abendsonne & Ein Heller und ein Batzen, to pre-WW-1 One songs like Lippe Detmold, & Strassburg O’ Strassburg date as far as the 1700s rule of Friedrich the Great. In fact Wenn alle untreu werden, the official anthem of the SS, dates right back to 1568.

However, under the aegis of the Third Reich, many of these traditional Prusso-German military songs & tunes were now adopted by individual military units and regiments as their own official corps songs; as such, they were sometimes known either by their original historical name or, more commonly, as the song of the particular unit that had adopted it.

For example, ‘Ritter der Nordsee’ was adopted by the Kriegsmarine and became known officially as the Lied der E-Boots (or Song of the E-Boats), whilst the traditional ‘Argonnerwald’ became the Song of the Pionierkorps. Elsewhere, the Luftwaffe’s flak crews adopted ‘Leb Wohl, Irene’ as their own, ‘Es War ein Edelweiss’ became known as the Lied der Gebirgsjäger (Mountain Troops), and ‘Rot Scheint die Sonne’ became the favourite and stunningly evocative tune of Hermann Goering’s paratroopers and henceforth known as the Lied der Fallschirmjäger.

The creation of new and stirring songs to accompany the battle campaigns were also encouraged by the Reich; as such the great German marching song composers of the time, Prof. Herms Niel, Norbert Schultze and Hermann Löns were to flourish through the writing of such stirring songs as Wir fahren gegen Engelland (for the planned assault of mainland Britain), Das Frankreichlied (to accompany the German assault on France), and Vorwärts nach Osten (to eulogise Hitler’s eastern campaign against Stalin’s Russia).

In some cases, new politically inspired words were simply set to old & well-known German melodies, such as the new Hitler Youth march, ‘Durch deutsches Land marschieren wir’, penned by Herbert Hammer, which was dropped onto the tune of the old World War One favourite, ‘Argonnerlied’! 

However, despite Germany’s awesome strength as a military nation and the undoubted prowess of its individual fighting men, the actual subject matter and contents of quite a large number of the newer marching & folk songs penned, with the full encouragement of the Third Reich leadership, were surprisingly gentle and non-militaristic.

Many more tunes now spoke longingly of dearly loved and much missed mothers & girl friends (the names of Gerda, Ursula, Rosemarie, Monika & Annemarie being extremely popular with songwriters and soldiers alike!), and of the varied  regions of the soldiers’ beautiful German homeland, with many fond references to the nation’s abundance of mountains & heathlands, flowers & trees, rivers & oceans, towns and hamlets!

The re-vitalised German film industry, now flourishing under the patronage of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, was to also introduce a number of well-known Third Reich military songs, including ‘Soldaten sind immer Soldaten’ from the film ‘Der Westwall’ and the very popular naval tune, ‘Wenn das Schifferklavier an Bord ertönt’, which was written especially for the film ‘Das Wunschkonzert’ (the movie story of the German Armed Forces radio request show Wunschkonzert fuer die Wehrmacht), before being enthusiastically taken up by the German military and civilian audiences alike.

Strangely, many of the new marching songs, although written by many differing lyricists, appeared to share many common words, sentiments and even choruses, so making it not uncommon to come across songs bearing exactly the same main title, with often only the sub-titles distinguishing them upon first glance..!

In addition, this sudden re-emergence of German songwriters & composers in the 1930s and early 40s, from both the ranks of the professional civilian musician and the trained soldier from the armed forces, also gave rise to more than one version of a song actually staking its claim to be the official Korpslieder for a particular unit, which caused confusion!

This resulted in differing lyrics & arrangements appearing across a range of official military song-books under the same title, as in the case of both the U-Boot Lied and the Lied der Afrika Korps, where at least 2 different songs claim to be the ‘official’ D.A.K. anthem, whilst there were 8 separate songs devoted to the U-Boot arm in the Kriegsmarine song-book Blaujacken-Lieder’..! 

         Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

The Music of Prof. Herms Niel…

During the 12 years in which the Third Reich, or Nazi-era, officially existed, military & civilian music was very much allowed to come to the fore of German consciousness under the paternal guidance of Adolf Hitler… and was particularly encouraged and overseen by his arch propagandist, Reichsminister Joseph Goebbels who had, early on, realised the very positive and uplifting effect that such music could have on a people…

Thus not only did Lili Marleen composer & musical genius Norbert Schultze, emanating from the civilian composer ranks, flourish in this highly encouraging atmosphere ultimately created, (so composing ‘Bomben auf Engeland’and some 25 other German classics such as ‘Wir fliegen gegen Engeland’, ‘Panzer rollen in Afrika vor’and Zwei Panzergrenadiere’), but from the military sphere came an even more prolific writer & composer of military marches & evocative soldier songs: Prof. Herms Niel.

As an eventual Musikmeister with the Reichsarbeitsdienst (German Labour Service), he was born Hermann Nielebock on April 17th 1888 in the small Brandenburg village of the same name and, on leaving school as a young man, he served his musical apprenticeship in the small band of the town of Gethin between 1902 and 1906.  In 1906 he then joined the Imperial German army, and was enlisted as a trombonist in the band of the First Infantry Guard Regiment (1. Garderegiment zu Fuss) at Potsdam, eventually seeing service throughout  the whole of the First World War as an acting sergeant and band-leader, before being finally demobbed, after war’s end, in 1919.

In the very tough years that followed the end of the Great War, Herms Niel managed to earned a living as a civilian band-master and composer until the dawning of the Third Reich, whereupon he immediately joined the fledgling Sturm Abteilung in 1934 as a troop-leader, before receiving his promotion to band-leader of the Reichsarbeitsdienst training establishment which had been established at Potsdam and when his work as a composer of many famous Third Reich soldier songs really took off…

In 1941 he was awarded the academic title of Professor of Music, and throughout the Second World War his musical credits and composition output was completely unmatched and very soon he became Nazi Germany’s best loved composer of military marching songs, remembered for creating some of the classic, and indeed most famous and widely known tunes of all, including: Hannelore, Engelandlied, Es ist so schön, Soldat zu sein, Edelweis, Das Frankreichlied, Jawoll, das stimmt, Jawoll and the Kriegsmarine’s Heut stechen wir ins blaue Meer and the Luftwaffe’s soaring anthemFallschirmjägerlied…

In addition to his obvious prowess as a world-renowned composer, one little known fact was that Herms Niel also invented and devised a fanfare trumpet. Known as the ‘Herms-Niel-Doppelfanfare’ in E & B Flat, it was manufactured in 1938 by Ernst Hess Nachf., a famous accordion factory & musical instrument dealership in the heart of Germany’s musical instrument manufacturing region of Klingenthal.

However it is his for his most prodigious military musical output that he will be forever remembered by legions of very grateful military music enthusiasts the whole world over.

To this end Tomahawk Films were again in action in Germany once again several years back seeking out and acquiring as many of his original & most stirring compositions on pre-war schellack 78rpm records as we and our contacts over there on the continent could find…

Having then let archival audio-engineer Simon ‘Woody’ Wood loose in the Dubmaster studio for a further session of his superbly skilful schellack restoration and renovation, we were delighted to be able to add another evocative & stirring Third Reich ‘soldier song’ CD collection to the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive.

Simply entitled: Musik von Herms Niel, this very stirring CD collection features 15 of his most famous compostions & best-loved soldier songs including Gerda-Ursula-Marie, Marsch des Gebirgsjaeger, Matrosenlied & Es geht um’s Vaterland, all of which are performed, under his musical direction, by the professional Third Reich Labour Service musicians of his Reichsmusikzug des RAD….  and course no self respecting Herms Niel collection would be complete without the military music enthusiasts’ most famous & most oft requested WW-II German marching & soldier song of all time… Erika..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013