Number One With a 3rd Reich Bullet
The Saga (or Song) of A Young Sentry (Lied eines jungen Wachtpostens)
Way back in 1938 in Germany when the world was teetering on the brink of an epic conflict a song would emerge that captured the imagination of troops wearing the uniforms of both the Allies and the Axis.
I came across the story of this song while reading a great account of World War II in a book of reprinted newspapers articles by John Steinbeck “Once There Was A War” published in 1958. His account, written in 1943, provides a slightly different account from those assembled many years after the war but – is a fascinating tale told from John’s assignment in England accompanying the Allied Troops.
But backing up a bit, first there was a young poet serving in the German military during World War I. In his seldom-idle time in 1915 he would scratch out the words to a poem which translated to “The Girl Under the Lantern”. Many years after that War – 1937 in fact – Leip’s poem found it’s way into publication in Germany now titled “The Song Of A Young Soldier On Watch”.
Leip expanded the poem from three to five verses. Then, in 1938, German film music composer Norbert Schultze would set the verse to music in 1939 and would give it the title “Lili Marlene”. According to Schultze, The tune was composed to serve as a radio commercial for toothpaste!
Schultze became entrenched within Hitler’s 3rd Reich when he was enlisted by propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels to compose ‘inspiring’ tunes for the Reich and the military in particular, one of these being “Bomben auf Engeland” or “Bombs On England”. In later years Schultze would make attempts at making amends by having all royalties from his 3rd Reich compositions going to the German Red Cross.
Steinbeck’s account credits Madame Goering – second wife of the powerful Nazi leader Hermann Goering – with favoring the song and having it played often at Nazi banquets and on the air.
Somewhere in Germany a military broadcaster began signing off each night from his program using the tune – which featured the voice of German actress and singer Lale Andersen. Andersen had met Norbert and after the jingle began picking up momentum, especially when German commander Erwin Rommel admired the song and encouraged it’s broadcast. And so Andersen entered a proper recording studio to complete a full length vinyl release. The requests from the German soldiers began pouring in from all over the fighting fronts and bases.
Before long, the Allies – especially Great Britain and the U.S. became infatuated with “Lili Marlene” In 1994 British song writer Tommie Connor would add English lyrics and the song would again be recorded – Connor was known for his holiday classic “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”. At first, the Allied Command was not keen on allowing a German song to find popularity among the troops – So finally it was agreed that some twist in the lyrics deriding the German’s would be an acceptable alternative.
Although Lale Andersen never graced any of our nation’s pop charts, “Lili Marlene” was – according to many sources – John Steinbeck among them – the most popular and most successful song during World War II – both the armed forces for both sides latching onto the tune. It sold a million copies (and probably many more over time).
Lale did manage to meet Norbert Schultze after doing the radio commercial. She would be awarded a gold disc for her efforts after the war ended. The Nazi regime did not approve of the song and actually banned her from singing it for nearly a year mostly based on the Jewish acquaintances she made in show business. Like Schultze, Lale did a small amount of propaganda recording on behalf of the Nazi’s during the War – and appeared in a very minor role in one Nazi-sponsored motion picture (below).
The song did find it’s way onto the U.S. Pop Charts in 1944 by super recording star Perry Como who took it to number 13. It was released by the Andrews Sisters as “The Wedding Of Lili Marlene”. Bing Crosby, Ken Griffin and several others would also give it a go.
World-wide it was probably most successful by the French singer Marlene Dietrich. As far as her native Germany – Dietrich was an activist and in the events leading up to Hitler’s reign of terror help fund Jewish Germans in their escape attempts from Germany. In 1939 she renounced her German citizenship and moved to the U.S. – working to raise war bond – one of the first celebrities to do so.
She also took to the War front to entertain Allied troops. It was only natural that her rendition of “Lily Marlene” would become a huge success with the men of the armed forces.
Schultze passed away in 2002 – Lala Andersen (birth name Elisabeth Carolotta Helena Berta Bunnengerg) passed in 1972 after battling cancer. Hans Leip died in June of 1983.
Lili Marlene Selected Discography
Various renditions and a few spin offs presented here – Some releases credit Mack David for the song – as he provided English lyrics – Tommie Connor wrote English lyrics titled “Lily of the Lamplight” and yet a third translation was provided by Theodore Stephanidies – a Greek doctor (and many other things) and a soldier in the British Army.
Perry Como – Victor 1592 – August, 1944 – Number 13 Hit Parade
Les Brown Orchestra – V-Disc 305 – November, 1944
Marlene Dietrich – Decca Personality Series 23456 – November, 1945
Greta Keller – RCA Victor 4004 – January, 1946
Shorty Thompson – Ace 3 – 1946
Shorty was from Denver, Colorado the father of Wayne Thompson who composed and recorded as Wayne Carson – composer of many hits including “The Letter”
Ken Griffin – Broadcast 416 – 1946
Herb Kern and Tom Memoli – Tempo 920 – 1947
Bing Crosby – Decca 24508 – November, 1948
The Ferko String Band – Palda 111 – 1948
The Andrew Sisters – Decca 24705 – August, 1949
Homer & Jethro with June Carter – RCA Victor Special Purpose Series 42 – November, 1949
Marlene Dietrich – Decca 23456 – 1950
Franz Gottschalk – Tempo 4720 – 1950
Schroeder’s Playboys – Western Jubilee 701 – 1951
Hildegarde – Decca 2052 – 1953
The Mulcays – Trans-World – July, 1956
Hank Locklin – RCA Victor 4221 – 1959
The Radio Rascals – Linden – Year Unknown
The Radio Rascals were: Red Hughes – Bass, Art Vipond – Guitar, George Tate – Violin, Bob Dressler – Accordion; vocals by Red Hughes and the McLelland Sisters.
The Folkrafters – Folkraft 1414 – Year Unknown
Andy Rose – Coral 62308 – March, 1962
Al Martino – Capitol 2158 – April, 1968
Bill Mooney and His Cactus Twisters – Imperial 6145 – Year Unknown
Gaylord Carter – Mac Gregor 3105 – 1968
Freddy – SSS International 782 – October, 1969