The song you are now hearing is the original 1938 German recording of Lili Marlene, perhaps the most famous war song to come out of Germany.
Simple though it is, it
ranks among the greatest of its kind. It is being sung by Lale Andersen, the
woman who recorded it for the very first time and who made it famous.
The personal, somber side of war found voice in Lili Marlene. The song, which tells a tale of love, separation, and
longing, touched a nerve in soldiers on both
sides of the conflict in the Second World War. This is the
story of how that happened.
the story of lili marlene
A young German soldier named Hans Leip is usually given credit for
originating the song. There are many nostalgic tales about how the song came
to be. One alleges that Leip wrote it in a fit of longing for his sweetheart
back home in Germany while on a train to the Russian Front. According to
this story, he had just been released from a hospital after seeing her and
was still recovering from wounds.
Actually, Leip never saw combat. He was 21-years old in 1915 when he composed the poem while killing time in a
military hospital for a debilitating knee injury. He was discharged from the
army soon after. He was not a songwriter or a musician
and he did not write the song—he wrote the poem on which the song is based.
the poem dropped
out of sight and was not even published until 1937. It
did not become a song until just prior to WWII.
Even the name of the work is part of its legend. The grocer's daughter whose first name graces the title is the source of
inspiration. The origin of the second name, Marlene, however, is unclear.
According to those close to the story, it may have been
that of a friend's girlfriend or it may have been the name of a nurse who
waved at him as she disappeared in fog while he was on sentry duty.
- There are a number of English translations. Below is a sampling of The
original English lyrics.
- As you read, listen again as Lale Andersen sings a
portion of the
first version of Lili
Marlene: click here:
|Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,
Darling I remember the way you used to wait, 'Twas there that you
whispered tenderly, That you loved me, You'd always be, My Lili of The
lamplight, My own Lili Marlene.
Time would come for roll call, Time for us to
part, Darling I'd caress you and press you to my heart, And there 'neath
that far off lantern light, I'd hold you tight, We'd kiss "good-night,"
My Lili of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene.
Orders came for sailing somewhere over there,
All confined to barracks was more than I could bear; I knew you were
waiting in the street, I heard your feet, But could not meet, My Lili of
the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene.
Resting in a billet just behind the line, Even
tho' we're parted your lips are close to mine; You wait where that
lantern softly gleams, Your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams, My Lili
of the lamplight, My own Lili Marlene.
The song was soon banned in Germany. The heartache it recounted seemed a
harbinger of hard times to come; it was bad for morale; it was an offense to national pride and
went counter to the high
tide of wartime enthusiasm. Nazi's considered the song "soft," antithetical
to the bellicose spirit proper for war.
Something happened in August of 1941 that changed everything. The Germans,
who had recently occupied Yugoslavia, set up a radio station in Belgrade to broadcast war news and propaganda to the Afrika
Corps, who were fighting under Rommel in North Africa. As a favor to an Afrika Corps officer who liked the
tune, the station aired the Lale Anderson version.
Foot solders could tell the real thing when they heard it. The song sent
a message so straight, so poignant, it couldn't be silenced. Herr General Rommel liked it,
too, and asked the radio station to make it a regular part of their
programming. It became the signature of the newscast and was played every
night at signoff.
The song was heard up by the British Eighth Army fighting
in Africa under "Monty" to defeat Rommel and his Afrika Corps. Quickly it became one of their favorite
songs, too, even though they heard it in the German language of their
adversaries. theyliked it for the same reasons—soldiers
and soldering are fundamentally the same everywhere and at all times.
Suddenly there had to be an English language version. According to the legend,
a British song publisher named J. J. Phillips reprimanded a group of British
soldiers for singing the verses in German and not in their native English.
It was unpatriotic. One irate soldier shouted back,
"Why don't you write us some English words?" Phillips and a British
songwriter Tommie Connor soon had an answer.
During the remaining years of WWII, Lili Marlene
was sung in military hospitals and blasted over
loudspeakers. It promoted the transmission of propaganda messages sent
across the frontlines in both directions. It was sung and played over and
over to build morale on both sides.
In 1944, Anne Shelton recorded an English language version that soon
became a hit record that swept through the Allied countries. Vera Lynn sang
it over the BBC to the Allied troops. Then the British Eighth Army adopted
the song. It had become one of the most important songs of World War II.
Marlene Dietrich became identified with the song in the
U.S. For three years she featured the song in public appearances in
North-Africa, Sicily, Italy, in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, and England, and
sang it on the radio.
An American-made RCA recording was cut by an anonymous
chorus in June, 1944. It rose to number 13 on the charts that year. It hit the US
charts again in 1968, the German charts again in 1981, and the Japanese
charts in 1986.
The song has been translated into more than 48 languages,
including French, Russian and Italian and Hebrew. Marshall Tito, dictator in Yugoslavia, is said to have greatly enjoyed it.
Lili Marlene is probably the most popular war song
ever composed. Its theme is universal. Why is it so popular? Lale Anderson
offered a cryptic answer: "Can the wind explain why it became a storm?"