Facts and Things that passed
- Lili Marleen
Vor der Kaserne vor dem großen Tor
Stand eine Laterne. Und steht sie noch davor
So woll'n wir uns da wiederseh'n
Bei der Laterne woll'n wir steh'n
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.
Uns're beiden Schatten sah'n wie einer aus
Daß wir so lieb uns hatten. Das sah man gleich daraus
Und alle Leute soll'n es seh'n
Wenn wir bei der Laterne steh'n
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.
Schon rief der Posten: Sie bliesen Zapfenstreich
Es kann drei Tage kosten! - Kam'rad, Ich komm ja gleich
Da sagten wir auf Wiederseh'n
Wie gerne würd' ich mit dir geh'n
Mit dir, Lili Marleen.
Deine Schritte kennt sie. Deinen Zieren Gang
Alle Abend brennt sie. Mich vergaß sie lang
Und sollte mir ein Leid gescheh'n
Wer wird bei der Laterne steh'n
Mit dir, Lili Marleen?
Aus dem stillen Raume
Aus der Erde Grund
Hebt mich wie im Traume dein verliebter Mund
Wenn sich die späten Nebel dreh'n
Werd' ich bei der Laterne steh'n
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.
-- Hans Leip/Norbert Schultze/Lale Andersen
In the dark days of Christmas, when the family comes together for a delightful Christmas diner, it is customary with us to make quizzes for one another. The same last Christmas, and while looking for nice questions on the internet, I stumbled over the following one: Which German soldier's song became very popular during the Second World War much against the will of the Nazi regime? No one with us knew the answer, but of course you can guess it right now from the text above. It is the song 'Lili Marleen'.
When seeing an old war movie in my younger years, something of the story about this song was already revealed to me. But when browsing the internet a little further it became clear to me how remarkable this story actually is. Here is a reproduction of it from various internet sources.
In 1915, a young soldier in the First World War, Hans Leip, wrote a poem expressing his agony caused by being separated from his girlfriend named Lili. On sentry duty at night, he occasionally received a friendly wave from a nurse going off duty. Her name was Marleen.
In 1937, when the threat of another war was stretching out over Europe, Leip released his full collection of poems, which included 'The Song of a Young Sentry'. He hoped that the people who had not lived through the First World War might be alerted to the anguish and horrors of wars especially for young soldiers sent into battle.
At that time, the German composer Norbert Schultze was intrigued by the mood of Leip's poems. He wrote a melody for the young sentry poem, which after some modifications became the song Lili Marleen. A successful singer, Lale Andersen, was asked for recording the song just before the outbreak of the Second World War. With only 700 copies sold in those days the song was not exactly a raging success.
Then it appeared that Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda of the Nazi regime, hated the song for not showing 'the right German military spirit' and for being anti-war, hence 'close to treason'. When Lale Andersen also appeared to have a relationship with a Swiss Jew, the song was formally forbidden and both Andersen and Schultze were charged with 'moral sabotage' and placed under arrest.
By 1941, the Germans were broadcasting to their troops in North Africa from a radio station in Belgrade. When the station was shelled, most of its records were destroyed and the station had no music to play. In the remnants, the station's military director, Karl-Heinz Reintgen, found a dusty box with a few records that had survived. One of those was Lili Marleen. And since they had little else to play, Lili Marleen was broadcast.
This became a turning point. Both the German troops and non-military people asked for the recording over and over again, in particular Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika Korps, who apparently liked the song very much. And so Goebbels was forced to lift his ban on the song and pretend that the Nazis welcomed it. Andersen and Schultze were released and sent around Germany to perform the song. Soon enough the song also crossed enemy lines and became a favorite with the Eighth Army, who sang it with its original German words, soon followed by the American troops. An English version of the song was produced and recorded by Anne Shelton, and the BBC made it popular in all of England. By 1943, Marlene Dietrich was singing the song throughout Europe, and continued to sing it for the rest of her career, as did Vera Lynn. Eventually, Lale Andersen was awarded a gold disc for over one million sales.
Hans Leip, Lale Andersen, and Norbert Schultze all survived the war. Hans Leip died in 1983, and Norbert Schultze in 2002. When Lale Andersen was asked in 1972, shortly before she died, if she could explain the popularity of Lili Marleen, she replied, "Can the wind explain why it became a storm?"
When I read this story, I was struck by its resemblance to the tale by Gandalf about the Ring in Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings'. In the first part he concludes his account to Frodo about the history of the Ring with the following words:
"There was more than one power at work, Frodo. The ring was trying to get back to its master. It had slipped from Isildur' hand and betrayed him; then when a chance came it caught poor Déagol, and he was murdered; and after that Gollum, and it had devoured him.... ....So now, when its master was awake once more and sending out his dark thoughts from Mirkwood, it abandoned Gollum. Only to be picked up by the most unlikely person imaginable: Bilbo from the Shire. Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought."
It seems to me that the story about 'Lili Marleen' can be seen as an equivalent of this story from 'The Lord of the Rings' in the real world. It's a story built out of true facts. About things that passed, but need not to be forgotten.
- Peter Alons, February 2017