Lili Marleen and a Two Sided War

I couldn’t quite tell you what this Axis-Allied Second World War song meant to me throughout my childhood. While it might seem to the unlearned ear that this is some German propaganda song, it’s actually far from that. It was a tune that inspired and brought hope to both sides of the war, and was actually banned by German propaganda minister Goebbels on Radio Belgrade until popular appeal brought it back. As Allied and Axis troops both marched through Europe, Lili Marleen reminded them of the women they left behind and gave them hope for the future. It’s about a girl waiting under a lantern for her lover to return from war, and is deeply touching.

Lale Andersen

The song was originally recorded by German singer Lale Andersen under the title, “Das Mädchen unter der Laterne,” which is based off of the first World War poem Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht. She recorded the song after she met Norbert Schultz, who had composed the music for the tune.

The link I have provided you with shows a much peppier, war-time, gun-ho version that was recorded after Goebbels banned it from the radio. The original tune was much sadder and slower, along the lines of a ballad. Goebbels allowed it back onto the propaganda-sodden radio so long as it promoted war support rather than lament.

Lale Andersen attempted suicide, but failed. She was allowed to perform again after the song Lili Marleen was brought back to the radio, but she could not perform Lili Marleen, despite its soaring popularity.

Belgrade Map
Because of its popularity, Lili Marleen was played at the end of each Radio Belgrade broadcast. The German-controlled Serbia had Allied forces close enough to hear its radio, and Lili Marleen became a song that was popular on both sides of the front. Both Allied and Axis troops reminisced about their sweethearts. Let me take an excerpt from Wikipedia on the matter:

Many Allied soldiers made a point of listening to it at the end of the day. For example, in his memoir Eastern Approaches, Fitzroy Maclean describes the song’s effect in the spring of 1942 during the Western Desert Campaign: “Husky, sensuous, nostalgic, sugar-sweet, her voice seemed to reach out to you, as she lingered over the catchy tune, the sickly sentimental words. Belgrade…The continent of Europe seemed a long way away. I wondered when I would see it again and what it would be like by the time we got there.”

Lili Marleen

The next year, parachuted into the Yugoslav guerrilla war, Maclean wrote: “Sometimes at night, before going to sleep, we would turn on our receiving set and listen to Radio Belgrade. For months now, the flower of the Afrika Korps had been languishing behind the barbed wire of Allied prison camps. But still, punctually at ten o’clock, came Lale Andersen singing their special song, with the same unvarying, heart-rending sweetness that we knew so well from the desert. […] Belgrade was still remote. But, now that we ourselves were in Yugoslavia, it had acquired a new significance for us. It had become our ultimate goal, which Lili Marlene and her nostalgic little tune seemed somehow to symbolise. ‘When we get to Belgrade…’ we would say. And then we would switch off the wireless a little guiltily, for the Partisans, we knew, were shocked at the strange pleasure we got from listening to the singing of the German woman who was queening it in their capital.”[4]

Marlene Dietrich

So now you know how much of an impact this song had on Europe, though you may never have heard it before in your life. Perhaps it rang through the corners of your history classroom, or perhaps you turned it off when you heard it come on some weird Pandora station. The song was also recorded by Marlene Dietrich as a way of demoralising enemy soldiers. A film and music icon and an avid anti-Nazi immigrant to the United States, Marlene Dietrich helped to popularise the song back in the States.

I’ve included a verse from the song to help you understand the nature of the translation.

Deine Schritte kennt sie,                    It knows your footsteps,
Deinen zieren Gang.                    Your beautiful walk.
Alle Abend brennt sie,                    It burns every evening,
Doch mich vergaß sie lang.                    Although it forgot me long ago.
Und sollte mir ein Leid gescheh’n,                    And if a mishap should befall me,
Wer wird bei der Laterne steh’n,                    Who will stand by the lamppost,
Mit dir, Lili Marleen!                    With you, Lili Marleen?

-A.
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Aslan and the Oedipus Complex: A Theatrical Review of “Freud’s Last Session”

Walking out of that theatre, I was welling with utter silence. I wondered with whom I agreed more: the disillusioned Jew or the dogmatic Englishman. My first guess would be the one my culture believes to be inherently the most correct, which is determined by our modern value of logic. Freud, of course. How could anyone accept the existence of a God when it cannot be proven? When it is impractical, impossible, unsound? How could anyone promote the illogical?

Freud's Last Session

But I knew that wasn’t true. As lonely, vast, impersonal, and uncaring the universe is, it is easy to disbelieve. But that doesn’t mean it’s true. Here’s the overview of the hour-and-a-half play. Freud, a notable psychologist writes C. S. Lewis, a converted Oxford professor with a knack for fairy tales, to his London flat on the eve of the second World War. They debate many things, but, mostly, the existence of a God. They argue in a world before the Holocaust, before the hydrogen bomb, before Bay of Pigs, a man on the moon, the Internet, Woodstock. Theirs is a world with no Beatles, no contact lenses, microwaves, or wireless phones. Yet that doesn’t mean they don’t know the Devil. C. S. Lewis fought in the Great War, and speaks of the horrors of the battlefield.

To give you an understanding of the trauma he felt, I’ll include an excerpt from a popular WWI poem.

C. S. Lewis

Dulce Et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen


In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Lewis’ world is one where best mates explode ingloriously mere metres away. While he taught at Oxford, his generation is, quite literally, Lost. It is from his generation that comes the 1920s literature in Paris. From one of his best friends, J. R. R. Tolkien, is borne the Lord of the Rings. He is a man ravaged by war, yet he finds peace in Catholicism, despite being an atheist for much of his young adulthood.

Freud was a clinical man and the father of psychology. Born in the 1850s, the majority of his life had no motor cars. He would die before Hitler fell. As a Jew, his people had suffered some of the worst prejudice of any. Their God is a cruel and unforgiving Old Testament God. Freud publicized the idea that much of our mind’s work happens without our conscious input. He also believed sexual (and romantic) interest originated in society disallowing young children to shag their parents of the opposing sex and blamed almost all mental ailments on sexual repression. In fact, much of his work involved sexual repression. (His wife must have been horrid in bed.) He also did cocaine, relatively common for his time.

Sigmund Freud

So who is right? The delusional post-trauma author or Narnia, or the tortured, perverted doctor? Does a God truly exist? Can we take everything in the Bible to be true? And, if not – why was it written? In the end, does it matter if there is a man in the sky? Religion has reigned for hundreds – thousands of years. Now, depending on your location, science does. Perhaps this is just another faith, a system of beliefs.

However, I question whether it matters if Jesus is a man, a lion, or even real. Whether Allah is any different from Osiris. Because if it moves us, during our painful, short time on Earth, isn’t that enough? When we live our lives on a slow march towards death, we fight a war of our own. Whether we find solace in priests or analytic papers is nonconsequential. And, afterall, both Freud and Lewis are dead now. But neither can tell us who was right in the end.

Freud's Last Session

But I should probably talk about the actual play at some point. Let me say this: you won’t get any answers there. Or any true battles between these two very assertive men. Lewis and Freud’s interactions are almost hindered by how real they are. As soon as true, uncontrolled, cacophonous chaos lurches on stage, Freud is pulled back by his illness. Lewis cannot berate a man on the edge of death and Freud cannot truly raise his voice. Thus, we are left, as always, with a dissatisfying stalemate.

Any attempt to try to reconcile two sides of this particular coin always ends the same way: answerless.

At the end of the day, they don’t live in two different worlds. Although the audience sees two different points of view, the small, dark theatre reminds us that in fact, both Lewis and Freud are living in the same world. And they are arguing two different ways or living – surviving, even, in that one world.

Freud invents his method, explaining the mind and reality in terms of the infant science of psychology, mainly through the vehicle of the unconscious. Lewis turns to religion. Both of these are attempts to answer all of the questions we truly cannot answer.

Where do we come from? Where do we go?

So, perhaps, they do not live in different worlds, but exist on the same stage. One insists there isn’t an audience, one insists there isn’t a stage.

Poem Courtesy Of: http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Dulce.html

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