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HIAG, the official German umbrella organisation of the Waffen-SS Veterans Association, though no longer active, very much strove to keep the musical aspect of their short military history alive and back in 1975 their SS Veteran’s Soldatenchor in Minden, comprising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

Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS Hubert Meyer…

It was with great sadness that Tomahawk Films recently learned of the passing of Obersturmbannführer der ehemalingen Waffen-SS 1.Generalstabsoffizier der 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” Hubert Meyer at his home in Germany on November 16th of last year…

Born in Berlin in 1913 and a highly decorated & twice wounded combat officer who, after training at the SS Officer School at Bad Tölz in Bavaria, served with great distinction in Poland, France, Holland, the Balkans & Russia, (where he won the Cross in Gold to his previously awarded EK.1), the then SS-Hauptsturmführer Meyer held senior rank with both the elite Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’ and 12.SS-Panzerdivision Hitlerjugend’.

After continued exemplary leadership in the field, a newly promoted SS-Sturmbannführer Meyer attended the General Staff Officer course at the Wehrmacht’s War Academy and after graduating, was appointed Senior Staff Officer of the newly formed 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’, taking temporary command in 1944 following the capture of Kurt Meyer.

After relinquishing command to Fritz Kraemer later in ’44, Meyer resumed his role as Ia of 12.SS-Panzerdivision‘Hitlerjugend’ and was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer, (Lt Col), remaining on the Divisional staff throughout the remainder of the war, finally surrendering to the Americans with the rest of his Division on May 8th 1945.

Post-war, Herr Meyer lived quietly & studiously near Cologne, West Germany where, in addition to becoming a much respected senior representative and official spokesman of the Association of Veterans of the Waffen-SS, (HIAG), he also became a concise & passionate ‘keeper of historical knowledge, ultimately writing the definitive 2-Volume history of the 12.SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” that was published in English only as recently as 1994.

In the later part of his life, Herr Meyer, was a most wonderful friend to, and great supporter of, Tomahawk Films and our archival work devoted to the traditional German soldier song and through his ever enthusiastic help & encouraging word, we were granted the exclusive rights to re-master & re-produce both of our SS-Veteran Soldatenchor Minden’s post-war recording sessions, (through his kind introductions to choir-master Willy Casselmann, also formerly of the Leibstandarte-SS ‘Adolf Hitler’), and so allow Tomahawk the proud opportunity of raising some modest sums by way of royalties from these two CDs to donate to HIAG for the support of needy Waffen-SS veterans and their families.

In a further much appreciated gesture that was so in keeping with the generous spirit of the former officer we knew, Herr Meyer later kindly suggested that Tomahawk Films should be allowed to keep all future royalties from these two Soldatenchor Minden recordings, the better to help with our ongoing study and promotion of much loved German military music…and this we will gladly and most sincerely continue to do in his memory!

Very importantly to Tomahawk’s work, it was also former Leibstandarte-SS and 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend officer Hubert Meyer that very kindly sought out and so generously made all of the necessary introductions and presentation of bona fides to a former important comrade of his from the musical arms of both the Leibstandarte-SS ’Adolf Hitler’ & 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’ that subsequently allowed me to travel to Bad Kreuznach  in Western Germany during the writing of my book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45.

With a planned chapter hoping to document the life & times of a German Military Musikmeister I was able to meet the retired musician & band leader, former SS-Hauptscharführer Gustav Weissenborn… and not just any Musikmeister, but in Herr Weissenborn I was meeting & interviewing the musical second-in-command to the legendary Hermann Mueller-John of the world famous Musikkorps Leibstandarte-SS ’Adolf Hitler’, before taking musical command, in his own right, of the military band of 12.SS-Panzerdivision ‘Hitlerjugend’.

In interviewing Herr Weissenborn in his beautiful home town on the banks of the Name river, I was also meeting a senior Waffen-SS musician who had both served in, and led, two of the greatest military bands in the world.. and the only two out of three elite Third Reich Musikkorps that still performed their musical duties right up until April 1945, just a month before war’s final end in May 1945.

Herr Meyer’s wonderful help & involvement in our work was something quite out of the ordinary and in fact every military researcher’s dream and I simply could not have imagined my book being the complete or finished work it eventually was, (nor indeed where Tomahawk might be today), were it not for his terrific stamp of approval upon what my little company & I were trying to achieve.

I am therefore personally moved when I say that, in Herr Meyer, Tomahawk Films could not have had a more supportive former serving senior Third Reich-era German officer when it came to the study, production and hopefully the on-going preservation of WW-II German military music and its ever attendant & evocative ‘Soldier Song’ and we shall miss his hugely encouraging letters and Christmas cards greatly.

So with great sadness at the news of the passing of this highly respected & most honourable of military men we would very much like to extend our sincerest & deepest condolences to his immediate family who have, just as generously, offered Tomahawk Films their unstinting and most generous help & support in relation to our labours in the field of this evocative and exciting of military music. 

Hubert Meyer was a most dignified and very proud former combat soldier who was revered & respected by his men in equal measure, even more so when, post-war, he headed up that highly regarded German welfare organisation, HIAG, in order to look after the well-being of so many former soldiers of the Waffen-SS and their families…

These were wonderful ex-combat veterans who proudly served their country but which, in turn, cruelly and unjustly denigrated them and the incredible service & sacrifice they freely gave for that country they loved so unconditionally, and I know his sad passing will be mourned by many in Germany and here in the United Kingdom…

                     Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013