Peat Bog Soldiers (song)

Peat Bog Soldiers is one of Europe's best-known protest songs. It exists in countless European languages, became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War; was a symbol of resistance during the Second World War; and is popular with the Peace movement today. What makes it perhaps so poignant is the knowledge that is was written, composed and first performed in a Nazi concentration camp by the prisoners themselves.

Background

This song was written by prisoners [ [http://www.holocaust-education.de/index.php?site=pr_import_A005&lp=en "Holocaust Education" website] ] in Nazi moorland labour camps in Lower Saxony, Germany. The "Emslandlager" [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Esterwegen.html Jewish Virtual Library] ] ("Emsland camps") - as they were known - were for political opponents of the Third Reich, located outside of Börgermoor, now part of the commune Surwold, not far from Papenburg.

By 1933, one camp, Börgermoor, held about 5,000 Socialist and Communist internees. They were banned from singing political songs so they wrote and composed their own. The words were written by Johann Esser (a miner) and Wolfgang Langhoff (an actor); the music was composed by Rudi Goguel and was later adapted by Hanns Eisler and Ernst Busch [ [http://www.holocaust-education.de/index.php?site=pr_import_A005&lp=en Holocaust Education website] ] .

It was first performed at a "Zircus Konzentrazani" ("concentration camp concert") on 28 August 1933 at Börgermoor camp. Here is Rudi Goguel's description of it [Original text: fr icon "Le Chant des déportés] :cquote
The sixteen singers, mostly members of the Solinger workers choir, marched in holding spades over the shoulders of their green police uniforms (our prison uniforms at the time). I led the march, in blue overalls, with the handle of a broken spade for a conductor's baton. We sang and by the end of the second verse nearly all of the thousands of prisoners present gave voice to the chorus. With each verse, the chorus became more beautiful and, by the end, the SS - who had turned up with their officers – were also singing, apparently because they too thought themselves "peat bog soldiers".

The song has a slow simple melody, reflecting a soldier's march, and is deliberately repetitive, echoing and telling of the daily grind of hard labour in harsh conditions. It was popular with German refugees in London in the Thirties and was used as a marching song by the German volunteers of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. It was soon picked up by other nationalities and it appears in almost all the collected anthologies of Spanish Civil War songs.

The "short" (three-verse) lyrics

Langhoff and Esser's original song [:de: "Die Moorsoldaten"] runs to six verses, plus refrains (see below). For performance - and, therefore, for most translation - shorter lyrics are used. These omit verses two, three and four of the original.

The full version

For completeness, here is the full six-verse German version, together with a literal English translation.

References

Further reading
* Hanns Eisler, "Bericht über die Entstehung eines Arbeiterliedes.", in "Musik und Politik", Schriften 1924-1948, (Ed. Günter Meyer, Munich, 1973, p. 274-280)
* Wolfgang Langhoff, "Die Moorsoldaten. 13 Monate Konzentrationslager" (New edition, 1995)
* fr icon "Wiki: Le Chant des déportés
* de icon "Wiki: Die Moorsoldaten"

Recordings
*en icon [http://www.hannieschaft.nl/sound/Moorsoldaten.mp3 Peat Bogs Soldiers (Paul Robeson) - mp3 file]
*de icon [http://viadrina.euv-frankfurt-o.de/~juso-hsg/lieder/mp3/moor.mp3 Die Moorsoldaten (Hannes Wader) - mp3 file]
*fr icon [http://deljehier.free.fr/telechargements/le_chant_des_marais.mp3 Le chant des marais (Choral version) - mp3 file]
*de icon [http://diz-emslandlager.de/ Die Moorsoldaten Thirty versions from Emsland Concentration Camp Archive]
*en icon [http://www.radiogoethe.org/audio/peatbog.mp3 broadcast about the "Moorsoldaten Lied"] on Radio Goethe by Arndt Peltner (38'32" mp3, 35MB)

* Pete Seeger - "Songs of The Spanish Civil War: Vol 1" (2006)
* Paul Robeson - "Songs of Free Men" (1942)
* The Dubliners - "Revolution" (1970)
* Laurie Lewis - "Spain in My Heart" (2003)
* Theodore Bikel - "From Bondage to Freedom" (1973)
* Ernst Busch - "Spanien 1936-1939"
* Chad Mitchell Trio - "Violets of Dawn" (1966)
* Jamie O'Reilly & Michael Smith - "Pasiones: Songs of the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939"
* Hein & Oss Kröher
* Perry Friedman
* Pi de la Serra
* Hannes Wader - "Hannes Wader singt Arbeiterlieder"

Footnotes


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