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English: Horst Wessel Song
Disc with Horst-Wessel-Lied

anthem of  Nazi Germany
Also known asDie Fahne hoch (English: The flag on high)
LyricsHorst Wessel, 1929
MusicHorst-Wessel, 1929
Adopted1930 (as NSDAP party anthem)
1933 (as German unofficial anthem)
Audio sample

The Horst-Wessel-Lied ("Horst Wessel Song"), also known as Die Fahne hoch ("The flag on high", from its opening line), was the anthem of the Nazi Party from 1930 to 1945. From 1933 to 1945 it was also part of Germany's national anthem.

History[change | change source]

The words of the song were composed in 1929 by Horst Wessel, a Nazi activist and local commander of the Nazi militia, the Sturmabteilung, in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain. Wessel was assassinated by a Communist activist in January 1930, and the propaganda apparatus of Berlin Gauleiter Dr Joseph Goebbels made him the leading martyr of the Nazi Movement. The song became the official Song of Consecration (Weihelied) for the Nazi Party, and was much used at party functions and sung by the SA during street parades.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Horst-Wessel-Lied was made a national symbol by a law issued on May 19, 1933. Nazi Germany thus had a double anthem, consisting of the first verse of the Deutschlandlied followed by the Horst Wessel-Lied. A regulation attached to a printed version of the Horst Wessel-Lied in 1934 required the right arm to be raised in a "Hitler salute" when the first and fourth verses were sung.

With the fall of the Nazi regime in 1945, the Horst-Wessel-Lied was banned, and both the lyrics and the tune remain illegal in Germany and Austria to this day except for educational and scholarly uses (under sections 86 and 86a of the Strafgesetzbuch).

Lyrics[change | change source]

The lyrics of the Horst-Wessel-Lied were published in the Berlin Nazi newspaper, Der Angriff, in September 1929, attributed to "Der Unbekannte SA-Mann" ("the Unknown SA-Man"), as follows:

German original English translation of a later version
1. Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.
Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
2. 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!
3. Zum letzten Mal wird nun Sturmalarm geblasen!
Zum Kampfe steh'n wir alle schon bereit!
Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen über alle Strassen.
Die Knechtschaft dauert nur noch kurze Zeit!
4. Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig-festem Schritt.
Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschier'n im Geist in unser'n Reihen mit.
1. Flag high, ranks closed,
The S.A. marches with silent solid steps.
Comrades shot by the red front and reaction
March in spirit with us in our ranks.
2. The street free for the brown battalions,
The street free for the Storm Troopers.
Millions, full of hope, look up at the swastika;
The day breaks for freedom and for bread.
3. For the last time the call will now be blown;
For the struggle now we all stand ready.
Soon will fly Hitler-flags over every street;
Slavery will last only a short time longer
4. Flag high, ranks closed,
The S.A. marches with silent solid steps.
Comrades shot by the red front and reaction
March in spirit with us in our ranks.

The "Rotfront" ("Red Front") was a reference to the Rotfrontkämpferbund, a communist militia tied to the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). It was common for Nazis' Sturmabteilung and Communists' Redfront to attack each other in violent street fights, which eventually grew into full-scale battles after 1930. "Reaction" was a reference to the conservative parties and the liberal democratic German state of the Weimar Republic period, which made several unsuccessful attempts to ban the SA. "Servitude" means what the Nazis saw as Germany's "servitude" to the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which imposed huge reparations on Germany and deprived her of her colonies and territory along her eastern border.

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

Stanza 1, line 2 SA marschiert mit mutig-festem Schritt     SA marches with bold, firm pace
  SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt     SA marches with calm, firm pace
Stanza 3, line 1 Zum letzten Mal wird nun Appell geblasen!     For the last time the roll call now is sounded
  Zum letzten Mal wird Sturmalarm geblasen!     For the last time the storm-call is sounded
Stanza 3, line 3 Bald flattern Hitlerfahnen über Barrikaden     Soon Hitler-flags will fly over barricades
  Bald flattern Hitler-Fahnen über allen Straßen     Soon Hitler-flags will fly over every street

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.

The line "Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen" is bad German, but it was never amended.

After Wessel's death, new stanzas were 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.
Be saluted, you died the death of honour!
Horst Wessel fell, but a thousand new [men] arise.
The banner-song blasts forth before the Brown Army,
SA prepared to follow him in the path.
Lower the flags before the dead who still live.
The SA vows, with its hand clenched in a fist,
Once the day comes, there will be requital, no forgiveness,
when Heil and Sieg ring out throughout the Fatherland.

Melody[change | change source]

Horst Wessel used this melody for his songs; the harmonisation is one of the common ones; it was added later. In Germany, the tune is illegal, even without words.

After Wessel's death, he was officially credited with having composed the melody as well as having written the lyrics. Between 1930 and 1933, however, German critics disputed this claim, pointing out that the melody had a long prior history. Such criticism became impossible after 1933.

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 light 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 the Weimar composer Peter Cornelius as the "Urmelodie" (source-melody). 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.[1]

(listen) According to Weidemann, this is one of the original tunes of the song

The musical score is much more complex than the text of the song; given its characteristics, it could easily be sung even by people without much singing practice, and be played by amateur bands. Often, fanfares were used to give a more military touch to the tune.[2]

(listen) Fanfares introducing the Horst-Wessel-Lied in a version played by an SA ensemble

See also the Wikipedia article on Carl Boberg (1859-1940), particularly the note on similarities and dissimilarities between "Horst Wessel Lied" and the Swedish tune O STORE GUD (widely sung as "How Great Thou Art").

Other uses[change | change source]

During the 1930s and '40s the Horst-Wessel-Lied was adapted for use by fascist groups in other European countries. The anthem 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, but appealing to British nationalism rather than German nationalism. 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 honour, Fatherland, and justice,
we fight today in the dawn,
And if death comes and embraces us,
Long live Spain! we shall say in falling.

While 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

Parodies[change | change source]

Between 1930 and 1933 the German Communists and Social Democrats sang various parodies of the Horst-Wessel-Lied during their street battles with the SA. Some simply changed the political character of the song, such as:

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

The Stahlhelm was a veterans' organisation closely aligned with the Nazis.

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 of course banned once the Nazis came to power and the Communist and Social Democratic parties repressed. But during the years of the Third Reich the song was parodied in various underground versions, most of them poking fun at the corruption of the Nazi elite. One version ran:

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 Comrades
they go hungry as well, but only in spirit

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

In the first year of the Nazi regime 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:[3]

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 1933-35.

References[change | change source]

This article is largely based on George Boderick, "The Horst-Wessel-Lied: A Reappraisal," International Folklore Review Vol. 10 (1995): 100-127, available online here Archived 2014-08-08 at the Wayback Machine

  1. Alfred Weidemann: Ein Vorläufer des Horst-Wessel-Liedes? In: Die Musik 28, 1936, S. 911f. Zitiert nach Wulf 1989, S. 270.
  2. "MP3 with a fanfare introduction,at www.eri.ca". Archived from the original on 2007-03-06. Retrieved 2008-08-12.
  3. Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (Allen Lane 2006), 71

Other websites[change | change source]