Horst-Wessel-Lied

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The Horst-Wessel-Lied (pronounced [hɔʁst ˈvɛsl̩ liːt]; "Horst Wessel Song"), also known by its opening words, Die Fahne hoch ("The Flag on High"), was the anthem of the Nazi Party from 1930 to 1945. From 1933 to 1945 the Nazis made it a co-national anthem of Germany, along with the first stanza of the Deutschlandlied.[1]

The lyrics were written in 1929 by Horst Wessel, commander of the Storm Division (SA) in the Friedrichshain district of Berlin. Wessel was ostensibly murdered by Albrecht Höhler, a Communist party member, in February 1930, and Joseph Goebbels made him a martyr of the Nazi movement. The song was first performed at Wessel's funeral, and was thereafter extensively used at party functions as well as being sung by the SA during street parades.

When Adolf Hitler became chancellor three years later, the Horst-Wessel-Lied was recognised as a national symbol by a law on May 19, 1933. The following year a regulation required the right arm raised in a "Hitler salute" when the (identical) first and fourth verses were sung. Nazi leaders can be seen singing the Horst-Wessel-Lied at the finale of Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 film Triumph of the Will.

With the end of the Nazi regime in May 1945, the Horst-Wessel-Lied was banned, and the lyrics and tune are now illegal in Germany and Austria except for educational purposes. In early 2011, this resulted in a Lower Saxony State Police investigation of Amazon.com and Apple Inc. for offering the song for sale on their websites. Both Apple and Amazon complied with the government's request and deleted the song from their offerings.[2]

Lyrics[edit]

The words to the Horst-Wessel-Lied were published in September 1929 in the Nazi Party's Berlin newspaper, Der Angriff. They were attributed to "Der Unbekannte SA-Mann" ("the Unknown SA-Man"[citation needed]):

German original English translation
Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
Die Straße frei den braunen Batallionen.
Die Straße frei dem Sturmabteilungsmann!
Es schau'n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen.
Der Tag für Freiheit und für Brot bricht an!
Es schau'n aufs Hakenkreuz voll Hoffnung schon Millionen.
Der Tag für Freiheit und für Brot bricht an!
Zum letzten Mal wird Sturmalarm geblasen!
Zum Kampfe steh'n wir alle schon bereit!
Schon flattern Hitlerfahnen über allen Straßen.
Die Knechtschaft dauert nur noch kurze Zeit!
Schon flattern Hitlerfahnen über allen Straßen.
Die Knechtschaft dauert nur noch kurze Zeit!
Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
Kam'raden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries
March in spirit within our ranks.
Clear the streets for the brown battalions,
Clear the streets for the storm division!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!
For the last time, the call to arms is sounded!
For the fight, we all stand prepared!
Already Hitler's banners fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now!
Soon Hitler's banners will fly over all streets.
The time of bondage will last but a little while now.
The flag on high! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA march with quiet, steady step.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.
Comrades shot by the Red Front and reactionaries,
March in spirit within our ranks.

The Rotfront, or "Red Front," was the Rotfrontkämpferbund, the paramilitary organization of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA, also known as the "brown shirts") and the Communist Red Front fought each other in violent street confrontations, which grew into almost open warfare after 1930. The "reactionaries" were the conservative political parties and the liberal democratic German government of the Weimar Republic period, which made several unsuccessful attempts to suppress the SA. The "servitude" refers to the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, in which the victorious powers imposed huge reparations on Germany, stripped her of her colonies in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Ocean, some of which were mandated to the United States and the Empire of Japan, and gave parts of Germany to Belgium, Denmark, France, Poland, and Lithuania.

The line "Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen" is technically ambiguous. It could either mean Kameraden, die von Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen wurden ("Our comrades who were shot dead by the Red Front and Reactionaries") or Kameraden, welche die Erschießung von Rotfront und Reaktion durchführten ("Our comrades who have shot the Red Front and Reactionaries dead"). In spite of this obvious syntactic problem, which was mentioned by Victor Klemperer in his LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii, the line was never changed. The following line Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit. ("March in spirit within our ranks.") however indicates that the aforementioned comrades are deceased, advocating the first interpretation.

Some changes were made to the lyrics after Wessel's death:

Stanza 1, line 2 SA marschiert mit mutig-festem Schritt     The storm battalion march with bold, firm step.
  SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt     The stormtroopers march with calm, firm step
 
Stanza 3, line 1 Zum letzten Mal wird nun Appell geblasen!     The call is sounded for the last time!
  Zum letzten Mal wird Sturmalarm geblasen!     The last sound to charge is blown!
 
Stanza 3, line 3 Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen über Barrikaden     Soon Hitler's banners will flutter above the barricades
  Schon/ bald flattern Hitler-Fahnen über allen Straßen     Already (Soon) Hitler's banners will flutter above all streets

The dropping of the reference to "barricades" reflected the Nazi Party's desire in the period 1930-33 to be seen as a constitutional political party aiming at taking power by legal means rather than as a revolutionary party.

After Wessel's death, new stanzas were added, composed in his honour. These were frequently sung by the SA, but did not become part of the official lyrics used on party or state occasions.

Sei mir gegrüßt, Du starbst den Tod der Ehre!
Horst Wessel fiel, doch tausend neu erstehen
Es braust das Fahnenlied voran dem braunen Heere
SA bereit, den Weg ihm nachzugehen
Die Fahnen senkt vor Toten, die noch leben
Es schwört SA, die Hand zur Faust geballt
Einst kommt der Tag, da gibts Vergeltung, kein Vergeben
wenn Heil und Sieg durchs Vaterland erschallt.
Receive our salute; you died an honorable death!
Horst Wessel fell, but thousands newly arise
The anthem roars ahead of the brown army
The storm-divisions are ready to follow his path.
The flags are lowered before the dead who still live
The storm-division swears, his hand clenched into a fist,
That the day will come for revenge, no forgiveness,
When Heil and Sieg will ring through the fatherland.

Melody[edit]

After Wessel's death, he was officially credited with having composed the music, as well as having written the lyrics, for the Horst-Wessel-Lied. Between 1930 and 1933, however, German critics disputed this, pointing out that the melody had a long prior history. How Great Thou Art is a well known hymn with a similar tune for example. Criticism of Horst Wessel as author became unthinkable after 1933, when the Nazi Party took control of Germany and criticism would likely be met with severe punishment.

The most likely immediate source for the melody was a song popular in the German Imperial Navy during World War I, which Wessel would no doubt have heard being sung by Navy veterans in the Berlin of the 1920s. The song was known either by its opening line as Vorbei, vorbei, sind all die schönen Stunden, or as the Königsberg-Lied, after the German cruiser Königsberg, which is mentioned in one version of the song's lyrics. The opening stanza of the song is:

Vorbei, vorbei sind all die schönen Stunden
die wir verlebt am schönen Ostseestrand
Wir hatten uns, ja uns so schön zusamm'n gefunden
es war für uns der allerschönste Ort.
Gone, gone are all the happy hours
that we spent on the beautiful Baltic shore.
Things were so beautiful between us all
and it was for us the finest place of all.

Another German song, Der Abenteurer (The Adventurer), begins:

Ich lebte einst im deutschen Vaterlande
Bei goldner Freiheit achtzehn Jahr dahin.
Da zog die Neubegierde mich zum Strande,
Und ich bestieg ein Schiff mit frohem Sinn.
Once I lived in the German fatherland
In golden freedom for eighteen years.
Then curiosity lured me to the beach
And I boarded a ship in cheerfulness.

In 1936, a German music critic, Alfred Weidemann, published an article in which he identified the melody of a song composed in 1865 by Peter Cornelius as the "Urmelodie" (source-melody).[3] According to Weidemann, Cornelius described the tune as a "Viennese folk tune". This appeared to him to be the ultimate origin of the melody of the Horst-Wessel-Lied.[4]

Far-right use outside Germany[edit]

During the 1930s and '40s, the Horst-Wessel-Lied was adapted by fascist groups in other European countries. One of the marching songs of the British Union of Fascists was set to the same tune, and its lyrics were to some extent modelled on the Horst-Wessel-Lied, though appealing to British Fascism. Its opening stanza was:

Comrades, the voices of the dead battalions,
Of those who fell, that Britain might be great,
Join in our song, for they still march in spirit with us,
And urge us on, to gain the fascist state!

In Spain, the Falange fascist movement sang to the same tune:

Por el honor, la Patria y la justicia,
luchamos hoy en este amanecer.
Y si la muerte llega y nos acaricia,
¡Arriba España! Diremos al caer.
For honor, Fatherland, and justice,
we fight today in this dawn,
And if death comes and embraces us,
Onwards Spain! We shall say in falling.

(Note that this was a Traditional Falange march, and not a march of the original Falange. It was sung by some of the volunteers of the 250th division, the División Azul, after the death of José Antonio Primo de Rivera)

In Vichy France the fascists of the radical Milice sang:

Nous châtierons les juifs et les marxistes,
Nous vengerons nos frères tués par eux,
Afin que l'idéal national-socialiste
Puisse être un jour fier et victorieux
We shall smite the Jews and the Marxists,
We shall avenge our brothers killed by them,
So that the National Socialist ideal
Should one day be proud and victorious

In modern Greece, the extreme right-wing party of Golden Dawn uses the Horst-Wessel-Lied with Greek lyrics[5] in its gatherings or events, such as the occasional, public distribution of food "to Greeks only",[6] while its leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, often uses the song's key stanzas (e.g. "The flags on high!") in his speeches.[7]

Parodies[edit]

Before 1933, the German Communists and the Social Democrats sang parodies of the Horst-Wessel-Lied during their street battles with the SA. Some versions simply changed the political character of the song:

Die Fahne hoch, die Reihen fest geschlossen
Rotfront marschiert mit eisenfestem Schritt
Genossen, die vom Stahlhelm Hakenkreuz erschossen
Marschier'n im Geist in uns'ren Reihen mit.
The flag high! The ranks tightly closed!
Red Front marches with iron-firm pace.
Comrades, shot dead by the Steel Helmet Swastika
March in spirit in our ranks.

The Stahlhelm, or "Steel Helmet," was a nationalist veterans' organisation closely aligned with the German National People's Party.

Others substituted completely new lyrics:

Ernst Thälmann ruft uns auf die Barrikaden!
Bauer, steh auf! Erheb dich, Arbeitsmann
Gewehre nehmt! Gewehre gut und scharf geladen!
Tragt rote Fahnen hoch im Kampf voran!
Ernst Thälmann calls us to the barricades
Farmer arise, workman lift yourself up
To arms! Load the guns well with live ammunition
Carry high red flags onward into the fight

Ernst Thälmann was the KPD leader.

These versions were banned once the Nazis came to power and the Communist and Social Democratic parties suppressed, but during the years of the Third Reich the song was parodied in underground versions, poking fun at the corruption of the Nazi elite. There are similarities between different texts as underground authors developed them with variations. Below are several versions.

Die Preise hoch, die Läden dicht geschlossen
Die Not marschiert und wir marschieren mit
Frick, Joseph Goebbels, Schirach, Himmler und Genossen
Die hungern auch doch nur im Geiste mit
The prices high, the shops tightly closed
poverty marches and we march with it
Frick, Joseph Goebbels, Schirach, Himmler and their comrades
they go hungry as well, but only in spirit
Die Preise hoch die Läden fest geschlossen
Die Not marschiert mit ruhig-festem Schritt.
Es hungern nur die kleinen Volksgenossen,
Die Großen hungern nur im Geiste mit.
The prices high, the shops are tightly closed
Poverty marches with a quiet, firm step.
Only the little folk are hungry
The bigwigs hunger only in spirit.


Wilhelm Frick was the Interior Minister, Baldur von Schirach was the Hitler Youth leader and Heinrich Himmler was head of the SS and police.

Another version was

Die Preise hoch,
Die Schnauze fest geschlossen,
Hunger marschiert
In ruhig festem Schritt
Hitler und Göbbels
Unsre beiden Volksgenossen,
Hungern im Geist
Mit uns Proleten mit.
Prices are high,
Snouts are firmly closed
Hunger marches,
In a firm steady step,
Hitler and Göbbels,
Our two comerades,
Starve in spirit,
With us from the proletariat.
Im Arbeitsamt
Wird SOS geblasen,
Zum Stempeln stehn
Wir alle Mann bereit.
Statt Brot und Arbeit
Gibt der Führer uns nur Phrasen,
Und wer was sagt,
Lebt nur noch kurze Zeit.
In the Unemployment benefits office,
SOS is sounded,
All we men stand prepared,
To register as unemployed,
Instead of bread and work
The Führer gives us just phrases,
Anyone who says anything,
Lives but a little while.
Die Straße stinkt
Nach braunen Batallionen,
Ein Pöstchen winkt
Dem Sturmabteilungsmann.
Vielleicht verdient als Bonze,
Morgen er Millionen,
Doch das geht uns
'Nen braunen Scheißdreck an!
The street stinks,
From the brown battalions,
A cush job winks
At the Stormtrooper,
Perhaps he's a fat cat,
Who will get millions tomorrow,
But that just means,
Brown fetid dirt to us.

[8]

In the first year of Nazi rule, radical elements of the SA sang their own parody of the song, reflecting their disappointment that the socialist element of National Socialism had not been realised:[9]

Die Preise hoch, Kartelle fest geschlossen
Das Kapital marschiert mit leisem Schritt.
Die Börsianer sind nun Parteigenossen
Und für das Kapital sorgt nun Herr Schmitt.
The prices high, the cartels are tightly closed
Capital marches with a quiet step.
The stockbrokers are now party comrades
And capital is now protected by Herr Schmitt.

Kurt Schmitt was Economics Minister between 1933 and 1935.

Following the dismemberment and division of the Reich into occupation zones at the end of the World War II, with the eastern provinces annexed by Poland and the USSR and their millions of inhabitants driven from their homes into what remained of Germany, a version of 'Die Preise hoch' became popular in the Soviet zone, targeting Communist functionaries:[10]

Die Preise hoch die Läden fest geschlossen
Die Not marschiert mit ruhig-festem Schritt.
Es hungern nur die kleinen Volksgenossen,
Die Großen hungern nur im Geiste mit.
The prices high, the shops are tightly closed
Poverty marches with a quiet, firm step.
Only the little folk are hungry
The bigwigs hunger only in spirit.

The most famous parody was composed by Oliver Wallace to a similar melody and titled Der Fuehrer's Face for the 1942 Donald Duck cartoon of the same name. It was the first hit record for Spike Jones.

Popular culture[edit]

The melody of the song was used various times in the Wolfenstein series of video games, which feature an Allied agent infiltrating Nazi German installations.

The song "Avenge Dresden" of Creativitist, white power, anti-communist band RAHOWA quotes the Horst-Wessel-Lied melody in a guitar solo between the chorus and the bridge.

It is also sung by folk singer Ian Read on the song "Brown Book' recorded by Death In June. Because of this, their same-titled 1987 album is banned from sale in Germany.

In the Anime "Hellsing: Ultimate" and in the Manga, the main antagonist, known only as "The Major" sings this song while on their zeppelin before/while attacking London. This is not taken out of the English Dub and is sang in German in both English and Japanese language versions. He encourages the rest of "The Millennium Organization" (the Nazi group that serve as the main antagonists in the manga and in "Hellsing: Ultimate", though they are cut from the original Hellsing anime) to join in, and most do not.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

This entry draws significantly on the scholarly article by George Boderick, "The Horst-Wessel-Lied: A Reappraisal," International Folklore Review Vol. 10 (1995): 100-127, available online here.[11]

  1. ^ Geisler, p.71.
  2. ^ Hannoversche Allgemeine - LKA ermittelt gegen Apple und Amazon, 3. February 2011
  3. ^ "Wer hat denn eigentlich wen erschossen?", neue musikzeitung, 11/98 - 47th year
  4. ^ Alfred Weidemann: Ein Vorläufer des Horst-Wessel-Liedes? In: Die Musik 28, 1936, S. 911f. Zitiert nach Wulf 1989, S. 270. Die Musik was published in Switzerland. Articles departing from the Nazi doctrine that Horst Wessel had originated both the lyrics and the tune could not be published in Nazi Germany.
  5. ^ "Golden Dawn plays Nazi anthem at food handout", DawnOfTheGreeks website, 25 July 2013
  6. ^ "Golden Dawn moves food handout following police ban", Eleftherotypia, 24 July 2013
  7. ^ "Anniversary for Imia or for Hitler's ascent?", Zougla.gr, 31 January 2013 (in Greek)
  8. ^ "Die preise hoch" ("The prices high") lyrics from the MusicaNet website
  9. ^ Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (Allen Lane 2006), 71
  10. ^ Namark, N, The Russians In Germany - a history of the Soviet occupation 1945 - 1949
  11. ^ "Das Horst-Wessel-Lied: A Reappraisal", full text

External links[edit]