The Horst Wessel Song…

The most important and instantly recognisable song in the history of Nazi Germany, and a call-to-arms second only to that of the German National Anthem, ‘Die Fahne Hoch!’ (later more commonly known as the Horst Wessel Song), was to become synonymous with the Third Reich… though the somewhat seedy and tawdry history that lay behind it was hardly the stuff of heroic Wagnerian legend!

However it is one of the most commonly sought-after songs from The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive, either by III Reich music collectors or television documentary producers needing original and authentic sound-tracks for their Nazi-era documentaries, and which we are happy to supply either from our CD: The Military Music of Hitler’s Leibstandarte-SSor from our album  Lieder der Sturmabteilung und Hitlerjugend which each contain a superb and differing vocal version of this stirring track..

But the story actually began way back in Berlin of the late 1920s, a city that was swiftly turning into an arena for running street battles between the fledgling Nazi Sturm Abteilung and the Communists of the Red Front (Rotfrontkämpferbund). This played into the hands of Josef Goebbels, the newly appointed Gauleiter of the Nazi Party, who was successful in attracting new converts to the cause by portraying his SA bully-boys as the victims of unprovoked and vicious attacks by Communist supporters in his written articles for the Berlin newspaper ‘Der Angriff’ (The Attack).

One of those recruits was Horst Wessel, the 19 year-old law student, son of an eminent Berlin preacher, who, following his father’s death in 1926, turned his back on a comfortable, middle-class background, joined the SA and set about living out his life amongst the poor & working classes of the strongly Communist Friedrichshain district of Berlin. As talented an orator as his mentor, Goebbels, Horst Wessel’s political career took off, and he was soon promoted Sturmführer of SA-Sturm 5; then one night in 1929, whilst returning home from leading his men in yet another clash on the streets of Berlin with the Red Front, he saw a young girl, 18 year old Erna Jaenicke, being assaulted and rushed to her aid.

Despite it transpiring that Erna was actually a Berlin prostitute, it was love at first sight for them both, and she soon gave up her profession for Horst, left her pimp, and the pair of them moved in together, lodging with a 30 year-old widow of a former member of the Rotfrontkämpferbund, Elisabeth Saln. However the couple clashed with widow Saln over late rent payments, and to such an extent that she eventually decided to evict them, with the help of her late husband’s Red Front comrades; so it was that on the evening of January 14th, 1930, twelve men turned up at their lodgings at Grosse Frankfurter Strasse 62.

An unsuspecting Horst Wessel opened the door to be confronted by the group which included, by sheer chance, the figure of Erna’s former pimp, 32 year-old Albrecht Hohler who, on seeing his lost source of income sitting in the flat, flew into a rage, pulled out a pistol and shot Horst in the mouth. Refusing the summoned medical help, because the doctor was a Jew, Horst was transferred to hospital in a critical state. This was the chance to create the Nazi martyr Goebbels had sought and Der Angriff’ printed daily bulletins of the failing health of the young Nazi, elevating him to the status of saint by referring to him as a ‘Socialist Christ’!

Joseph Goebbels was helped in his ‘canonisation’ of the ailing SA Sturmführer by the fact that Horst Wessel, in addition to being a powerful orator, was also a poet having written ‘Raise high the Flag’ (Die Fahne Hoch), which Goebbels now had set to the melody of an old traditional German marching song:

Raise high the flag, close the ranks,

the SA marches with a calm, determined step.

Comrades shot by the Red Front

and reactionaries are marching in spirit with us in our ranks.

The streets clear for the brown battalions.

The streets clear for the storm-troopers.

The Swastikas sparkle with hope for millions.

The day of freedom and bread is breaking.

The attack signal will sound for the last time.

We are ready for the fight.

Soon Hitler’s flags will wave over every street.

The misery will soon be over.

Just the rallying cry that Goebbels needed to promote the cause, and he ordered that it now be sung as a part of the regular programme of Nazi rituals; meanwhile Horst himself had contracted blood-poisoning as a result of his terrible wounds, deteriorated rapidly and died on February 23rd 1930, whereupon Goebbels commented:

‘his spirit has risen in order to live on in all of us. He is marching in our ranks…’

At his funeral the cortege, (stoned by Communist on-lookers), was escorted by S.A. storm-troopers and as the S.A. roll call was read out by the graveside, at the mention of Horst Wessel’s name, the entire escort came together to loudly reply ‘here’!

A Nazi martyr had been born and Horst Wessel’s place in the pantheon of Third Reich folk-lore was assured, with some 250 biographies & and plays eventually being written about him.

In addition town squares all over Germany were re-named in his honour so ensuring that his song: Die Fahne Hoch’ would eventually become the internationally famous Nazi anthem, inextricably linked forever with The Thousand Year Reich…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013