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

 

Songs of the Waffen-SS Veterans…

During my career as a producer with Tomahawk Films I have been blessed to receive much help & generous support for my on-going work with the German Soldier Song, not least of which was from the Waffen-SS Old Comrades association in Germany, a very proud organisation unashamed of both its musical inheritance and tradition of being widely regarded as the finest fighting soldiers the world has ever seen.

Sadly it is no longer as once was and despite there being no specific German military musical veterans associations in place today there were, when I last specifically checked, just 33 surviving musicians from the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler‘which was quite some number, given their ages…

Obviously a number have passed away since I began my work and studies including, at the end of last year, their spiritual leader Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer, but of the remainder who are still with us, some are still able to meet up each year to relive the old days when they served as bandsmen in the Hitler’s elite SS-Bodyguard Division. In fact a number of former SS-LAH bandsmen went on to have post-war musical careers in West German theatres and orchestras, though none of them play today, for as late SS-Musikmeister Gustav Weissenborn remarked to me during our time together in Germany, “their teeth are now like the stars, they come out at night…!”

HIAG, the official German umbrella organisation of the Waffen-SS Veterans Association, though no longer active, very much strove to keep the musical aspect of their short military history alive and back in 1975 their SS Veteran’s Soldatenchor in Minden, comprising former soldiers with the elite Waffen-SS units ‘Das Reich’, ‘Germania’, ‘Wiking’ ‘Der Führer’, ‘Totenkopf’, ‘Deutschland’,Hitlerjugend’ and the SS-Leibstandarte’ Adolf Hitler’, all under the driving leadership of Willy Casselmann, set about recording on tape some of their most favourite Waffen-SS Marschlieder in their true, unaccompanied fashion.

During the research for my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45, Willy kindly shared their story with me:

‘At the age of 76 I have been chairman of the Minden HIAG Association for some 45 years, and as much as my age permits, I manage to hold & keep all the comrades drawn from former Waffen-SS units (and many now in their eighties) together. In addition, and along with the late editor of the German Munin publishing house, I was the main driving force behind the making of our record  ‘Lieder die wir einst sangen’ (Songs we used to sing).

Over the years, and with the help of amateur choir-masters, we rediscovered our love for military songs and at the end of almost every monthly meeting of our Waffen-SS Old Comrades Association there would be an informal sing-song, and again whenever we met up in the beer hall. However, it took us a while to gather up all of our courage before we were able perform our songs for the entertainment of other old soldiers’ associations!

It took many hours of practice, discipline and hard work before we were able to raise our singing to a recordable quality, but we did and then found ourselves gathered in a small room above a beer-hall in Minden to record some of our favourite old songs. Mind you, the function room above the beer hall had a creaking floor, so no-one was allowed to move their feet during the recording; we were also very nervous and our amateur choir-master present had some difficulty in getting the fifty veterans present under control!

However, we were very fortunate that we had with us on that day, along with our Munin editor, a musical expert in the shape of SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Bunge, who was not only the former Chor-und Musikmeister with the elite Waffen-SS regiment ‘Deutschland’, but had written the Munin-published book ‘Musik in der Waffen-SS’. He took charge of the session; all went smoothly and everybody was very happy with the end recording, which we released on a limited record run under the title ‘Lieder  die wir einst sangen…”

Sadly Fritz Bunge died shortly after that famous recording session in the room above the beer-cellar, but several choir members, despite their great age, are still singing just as lustily today!

That original recording was to lay untouched for many years until 1998 when, by chance I unearthed an old copy and, re-naming it ‘Die Waffen-SS Alte Kameraden Singen!, was able to have it digitally re-mastered by the legendary Simon ‘Woody’ Wood up at Dubmaster Studios and released, by kind permission of Willy Casselmann and the SS-Veteran’s Soldatenchor Minden, first as a 14 track cassette and thence onto to CD through an exclusive arrangement with the Tomahawk Films World War Two German Archive.

This then led to a second Veteran’s recording that Tomahawk Films were additionally granted exclusive rights to. Released under the title: Soldatenlieder und Hornsignale der Waffen-SS it featured more superb acapella choir recordings interspersed with original Waffen-SS bugle calls performed by former SS-Hornist Arthur Schulte.

In addition, following the SS-Veteran Soldatenchor’s local success with their recording venture,  Willy Casselmann and his Minden comrades placed an advert in the Waffen-SS Association’s in-house magazine ‘Der Freiwillige’ (The Volunteer), appealing for readers and fellow old comrades to send in any German Marschlieder lyric & music scores they might still have in their possession.

Their plea was well received, and from the numerous replies received, the HIAG Association was able, through their publishing company, Munin Verlag of Osnabrück, to compile, print and publish their own individual and very personal song-book (also entitled ‘Lieder, die wir einst Sangen’, after their record title), a copy of which I was given during my book research and which, Tomahawk Films were given kind permission to re-print in 2000.

Interestingly the preface written by Karl Cerff  read: ” The collected songs of a nation are an expression of its attitude to life. The Germans are amongst the most song-loving of peoples and their treasure of songs is varied, widely known and sung wherever German people live.

The soldier’s song plays an important role within these songs as it represents a part of the soldier’s life. It recalls memories of comradeship, of home and family, of a soldier’s love and a soldier’s death. Those who have been in the armed forces themselves will particularly know the strength of a soldier’s song. Such a song had the power to raise a whole company after a great action and enable them to renew their efforts. Ex-servicemen will also remember many a day in the barracks, in the quarters, in the field or on exercise, that was brightened by both sad and cheerful songs.

Of equal importance as the soldier’s song is the folk song. It reflects the soul of our people, it is part of traditional lore & the beauty of the German mother tongue resonates from its verses & melodies: natural cheerfulness or pensive earnestness, joy of life or deep sorrow. They all find expression in folk songs as the feelings of a people from the same way of life.

Even if the hardship of the past decades has dampened the joy of singing, we are encouraged by a re-awakened longing, which in print one only dares to refer to as nostalgia, to publish this small collection of songs that we once sang.The collection is incomplete and worth completing.

We would like to thank all our comrades and friends for their co-operation and we hope that the Songbook will give some pleasure and that it will become indispensable at old comrades’ meetings, at celebrations, on hikes, even at gatherings of friends or families. Let song become a bridge between generations..!”

Looking through it, all the old classics were there: ‘Im Feldquartier’, ‘Deutschlandlied’, ‘Lebe wohl du kleine Monika,’ ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’, ‘Ich hatt’ einem Kameraden’, ‘Wenn alle untreu werden’, ‘Im Grünen Wald’, ‘Es ist so schön, Soldat zu’ sein’, ‘Drei Lillien’, ‘Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss’ and ‘Jawoll das stimmt’ (which appears under a different name as ‘Nordsee’).

Certainly the former members of the Waffen-SSand indeed those  of Germany’s equally famous Afrikakorps need no encouragement before bursting unselfconsciously into song at any given opportunity. But the question often arises in my mind: what happens when the last of the World War Two German veterans are no longer with us to carry on this fine military musical tradition..?

                    Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013