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HIAG, the official German umbrella organisation of the Waffen-SS Veterans Association, though no longer active, very much strove to keep the musical aspect of their short military history alive and back in 1975 their SS Veteran’s Soldatenchor in Minden, comprising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

German Music in The Movies – Pt 1

Great to see the superb 2002 WW-II Prisoner-of-War Hollywood movie Hart’s War, (starring Bruce Willis & Colin Farrel), getting another welcome airing on the BBC last night.. and so giving Tomahawk another equally welcome double-credit as the archive supplying the main German musik tracks to the film, the Deutschlandlied and the Horst Wessel Lied as performed by the Musikkorps of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitlerand taken from our album of the same name…

Both the Horst Wessel Lied, (often known as the alternative Nazi National Anthem), and the ‘true’ German National Anthem, were both supplied to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Los Angeles on disc, where both tracks were then beautifully re-worked by MGM’s audio department and dubbed into the sound-track to appear as if coming directly from loud-speakers of the POW camp that Bruce Willis’ character found himself in… and it was most interesting to hear how the movie’s dubbing team were able to suppress and alter our original high quality re-mastered recordings to give that very ‘tinny’ effect of schellack 78rpm records playing on a wind-up record player via an old 1940s metal loudspeaker over a large area…great work!

Actually in addition to the marketing of our CDs & DVDs to collectors & enthusiasts around the world, as a full-time professional German Archive, Tomahawk is now regularly involved in helping, advising & supplying our original music to similar movie & television production companies for use on their documentary & movie soundtracks and latterly, the incredibly moving and thought-provoking 2008 Disney-Miramax, Mark Herman-directed movie ‘Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ (US spelling), also contacted us for help with their soundtrack..

The movie is based on the isuperb 2006 novel ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ as penned by Irish author John Boyne and which was recently required reading on the history syllabus in schools & colleges here in the UK; and we were contracted to supply two of our tracks, (the Horst Wessel Lied which is actually now one of the most popular tracks for producers, again due to that ‘alternative’ Nazi National Anthem tag), as performed by the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’ as performed by the Musikkorps des Infanterie Regiments Grossdeutschland’ and which can be found on our Third Reich Favourites CD.

In fact this past weekend has been a good ‘un in terms of television credits for Tomahawk, thanks also to the airing on the History Channel of the US New Animal Production’s excellent 2-part series Third Reich – The Rise and The Fall… which was first shown in the US and if you have not yet caught it here over in the UK, then you are in for an absolute treat… I certainly enjoyed oit very much indeed!

I must admit that it has been quite a long while, (despite my 40-odd years of working with, and viewing, archival footage) since I last saw so much original German newsreel footage in a single production such as The Rise and The Fall for, sadly these days, many documentaries are now produced on a very limited budget; allied to that, some network bosses seemingly say to their staff: “go out and make me a documentary on such & such” as if they were heading to the supermarket to merely buy groceries. Sadly I have experienced this at first-hand, having been on the receiving end of a regional TV ‘producer’, (deputed to make such a film at a time of a major WW-II anniversary),  who was sent to me to pick my brains..(free of charge..natch! ).

Unfortunately one of the direct results of these ‘docs on a budget’ is that, unable to afford trained film researchers any more, many WW-II or Third Reich documentaries simply include the same old, (and in many cases very tired), German newsreel footage and you get the impression that the unfortunate individual ordered to find the required footage just sticks his or her head into the Archive to grab the cans or tapes nearest the door on an: ‘oh, that’ll do.. the audience won’t notice”..basis!

Thus it is that often these days, no matter what you watch you will just keep seeing the same old recycled footage coming around time and again..! Makes you wonder why people bother to keep producing such docs in the first place when they have nothing new to add to a debate, nor nothing new to illustrate that debate with…. especially given that most tv audiences for such WW-II documentaries are highly knowledgeable & incredibly well-informed and usually know far more about the subject than most producers do… and will have your legs off at the knees if you make a mistake, especially if it is an unfortunate ‘schoolboy howler’..!

To be fair, I know that original ‘unseen’ footage is becoming ever harder to uncover, which is why the new genre of ‘re-enactors’ being filmed in documentaries is now gaining currency, and though not my favourite production trick I’ll admit, the recent superb Channel 5 series on ‘Heroes of the Skies’ accomplished this with great aplomb, to make a most enjoyable run of programmes.

But this lack of new footage was one of the main reasons Tomahawk Films actively ceased being a WW-II Documentary distributor some 20-odd years ago because every single programme we were being offered increasingly included much the same footage as the previous one, (whatever the WW-II topic being addressed), and we felt we could no longer offer collectors & enthusiasts such a range of apparently ’differing’ documentaries if most were now simply containing the same duplicated footage, time after time.. as that was just not the honourable thing to do..!

However with this superb The Rise and The Fall two-parter by the American New Animal team, they really went the whole hog and not only are their production values quite superb but so much of that I saw in terms of Third Reich archival footage is/was actually new to my eyes. Such a genuine treat and this made it equally exciting for us to see so much our archival music, (12 German tracks supplied in total), being purchased for use on the soundtrack, including a welcome airing for several evocative & spine-tingling tracks from our ever popular Third Reich German Christmas Carols CD..

I was also pleasantly surprised by the producer’s attitude to the doc’s archival music needs in that they also opted for differing tracks from the norm and so also include are lovely dance tracks from our CD ‘Komm mit nach Madeira’:  as performed by Hitler’s favourite band conductor the Hungarian, Barnabas von Géczy, (1897-1971), along with several further emotive tracks from my favourite singer, Ms Lale Andersen as supplied from our Wie einst Lili Marleen CD…

Part one of Third Reich -The Rise has just aired on the Military Channel so I shall now be scanning the TV listings to see when Part Two -The Fall is due to air… hopefully another two hours-worth of really exciting, much unseen & certainly thought-provoking original film footage… and with the appearance of yet more German/Nazi-era period music from the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive... result!!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012