Heroic Hymns

Archaeology is something that ends up on a museum shelf. In contrast, history is a living part of the human organism. It lies dormant until the smell of death trips an alarm. Take a look at various early/mid-20th century German, Polish, and Russian marching hymns “then” (with partial lyrics), along with a contemporary performance “now.”

Germany

THEN: Horst Wessel Lied was the national anthem of Germany from 1933 to 1945. Its writer Horst Wessel was marked for death by Communists over his Weimar-era street fights, his face and address featured on posters with slogans “strike the fascists wherever you find them.”

Raise the flag! The ranks tightly closed!
The SA marches with calm, steady step
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 stormtroopers
Millions are looking upon the swastika full of hope,
The day of freedom and of bread dawns!

NOW: “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the People) came to prominence during 1989 protests against East German government. Now Germany stands at the threshold of heroic possibilities. They have a lot to lose by speaking up and taking to the streets under their present government, but even more to lose by remaining silent.

You’re up there, you cowardly figures
Paid by the enemy, mocked by the people
But once more there will be justice
The people will try you, God’s mercy upon you!

We have been silent for too long
Were much too quiet
After decades of silence
It’s time once more to take the streets!


Poland

THEN: The March of the First Brigade. It was an anthem of the Polish Legions formed during World War I by Józef Piłsudski and is an emblem of the early-20th century struggle for independence.

The Legions — a soldier’s melody
The Legions — a sacrificial pyre
The Legions — a soldier’s gall
The Legions — a dead man’s fate

REFRAIN:
We, the First Brigade, a team of riflemen
We’ve thrown down the gauntlet
And our lives to the bonfire!

They cried that we had gone stark mad
Not believing us, that there’s a way!
Bereft of all, we’ve shed blood
With our dear leader at our side!

For the sake of posterity,
We’ll devote the rest of our days,
To sow honor ‘mid duplicity
Heedless both to blame and praise.

NOW: Written in 1908, Rota (The Oath) became popular across partitioned Poland, its lyrics defiant of the forced Germanization of children of the time. In the video below, it is played and sang during the November 2016 Independence Day march in Warsaw.

We won’t forsake our fathers’ land
We won’t let our speech be buried
We are the Polish nation
From the royal line of Piast
We won’t let the enemy oppress us

So help us God!
So help us God!


Russia

THEN: USSR National Anthem. Composed in 1930, it replaced “The Internationale” as the national anthem to boost the morale of Soviet forces during WWII.

Unbreakable union of freeborn Republics
Great Russia has welded forever to stand
Created in struggle by will of the people
The united and mighty, our Soviet Union!

REFRAIN:
Be glorified our Soviet fatherland, united and free
Built by the people’s mighty hand (in 1944 version)
Fortress, in brotherhood strong
The party of Lenin, the strength of the people

To Communism’s triumph lead us on!

Through tempests the sunlight of freedom shined
And the great Lenin lighted us the way
He raised the people to the righteous cause

Inspired us to labor and to valorous deed.

NOW: As performed by Russian armed forces during the 2016 Victory Day parade, presided over by Vladimir Putin.

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4 thoughts on “Heroic Hymns

  1. Soviet WW2 music is incredibly catchy – not just the Soviet national anthem, but “Slavianka” and “Let’s Go!” are also pretty epic.

    The WW2-era anthem is great, much better than the bland “Internationale” (which is very Continental European and un-Russian). It’s gtandiose and emotionally melancholic and martial-sounding at the same time – it’s so good that Putin’s Russia brought it back as the national anthem.

  2. Pingback: Heroic Hymns | Reaction Times

  3. PA,

    I’m German, and I’ve been reading you on and off for about a year now. Taking this article of yours as a cue, I want to take the opportunity to say thanks for the spirit of brotherhood with which you, as a Polish-born American, repeatedly now have looked at things German, and presented them in a fresh and, likely, often unusual light to an American audience.

  4. Thumbhead: Yes, the USSR anthem is powerful musically, “grandiose, melancholic and martial-sounding” is a good description. It has a sense of Destiny.

    Herzog: thank you very much for your comment. Truly appreciated.

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