In 1915, a German soldier, at his post, wrote a poem about a lady he saw,at a distance, standing by a street lamp. Music was put to the words in 1938. No one was impressed.Finally,a singer name of Lale Andersen was persuaded to record.
It was seldom played.
A radio station in Belgrade, in 1941, was short on tunes, so one night this song was broadcast to the German troops within its range.
Then it was every night. Listened to by soldiers on both sides. Propaganda Minister Joseph
Goebbels tried to stop it [ not military enough]. He even had the singer and composer arrested. General Erwin Rommel checked in with his opinion, saying he wanted the song played. So Goebbels had to retract.
Millions of records sold.It was played throughout
the European theater.
Imagine this. During the day, German and Allied troops tried to kill each other. When darkness fell, both sides retired to their bunkers or trenches and listened to Lili Marlene. So the love song played and soldiers fought to the
death.Military casualties,two million Allied and four milIion Axis soldiers, before it was over.
Several artists recorded Lili, but the most well known was Marlene Dietrich.
Written in German, the lyrics were soon translated to English.
Simple words,simple tune.What was the appeal?
Let me tell you. This story is about lonely men and sex. Men suffering physical and mental stress,men who knew tomorrow could be their last day.
See these words:
'I'd caress you and press you
to my heart
And there 'neath that far off lantern light
I'd hold you tight
We'd kiss good-night
My Lili of the lamplight
My own Lili Marlene.'
To a man, the soldiers were desperate for the companionship and intimate
touch. Sex trumps fighting for your life, anytime.Each man must have felt that the words were for him. Deitrich's voice, deep and throaty, soft and tender,inticing, intimate; I think, pierced to every soldier's heart.Tough men, hard men, yes.But I know that
tears must have come to their eyes.Each man longed to survive another day, then hear those words one more time.
Who was "Lili Marlene"? We know that a schoolteacher, Hans Leip,who had been conscripted into the German Army, wrote the poem in 1915.The
name, Lili Marlene,was a synthesis of "Lili" and "Marlene", two women of his acquaintance.
The song says.."And there "neath that far off lantern light"...
In the home town of Lale Andersen, the first to sing Lili Marlene, there is a statue outside
her memorial.An attractive lady, short skirt,low cut blouse,high heels, leans against a lamp post: the sculptor's perception of what Hans Leip saw and what inspired him to write the poem.
You know what I think? I think Hans was writing about a prostitute.And
I know another thing. Every last man who listened to the song and heard,
"I'd caress you and press you to my heart.."
would have given anything for that experience.