Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts

Concentration Camp Songs

 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Early choral arrangement of Soldiers of the Moor.
Early choral arrangement of Soldiers of the Moor.
— From Wolfgang Langhoff, Die Moorsoldaten, Zürich, 1935.
Former prisoner Jean Kralik’s drawing depicting forced labor by “soldiers of the moor.”
Former prisoner Jean Kralik’s drawing depicting forced labor by “soldiers of the moor.”
— From Wolfgang Langhoff, Die Moorsoldaten, Zürich, 1935.
The Soldiers of the Moor
(Die Moorsoldaten)

Börgermoor concentration camp, western Germany, August 1933

Lyrics by: Johann Esser and Wolfgang Langhoff

Music by: Rudi Goguel

Language: German

 

Perform by Ernst Busch and the Choir of the XI International Brigade

The 5,000 inmates of the Börgermoor concentration camp, mostly political prisoners, labored in the wetlands near the Dutch border, extracting peat (a fossil fuel) from the marshy soil. To add to their ordeal, Nazi guards would force the prisoners to sing cheerful songs during their two-hour march to and from the moor. A group of prisoners retaliated by writing a song that truthfully reflected the workers' situation. Introduced in August 1933, The Soldiers of the Moor, with its catchy melody and evocative lyrics, became an immediate hit among camp inmates. The camp guards also enjoyed the song, failing to grasp its coded reference to the downfall of the National Socialist regime.

Disseminated outside the camp by relocated prisoners, and outside the country by refugees, The Soldiers of the Moor stood as an international emblem of spiritual resistance to Nazi oppression. The song has been translated into several languages. In English, it is usually known as The Peat Bog Soldiers.

The prominent singer and stage actor Ernst Busch, a political refugee from Nazi Germany, brought the song with him when he fought with the antifascist International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. He recorded this arrangement by fellow political exile Hanns Eisler in Barcelona in 1937.

Recording Source:

Discos de las Brigadas Internacionales Espana; reissued Music Room International Series/Keynote Records, New York, 1940/USHMM.

Related Links:

Concentration Camps 1933–1939 (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Information about The Peat Bog Soldiers (in Learning From History, German site in English)

Educational activities based on The Peat Bog Soldiers (in Learning From History, German site in English)

Further Reading/Listening:

Hanns Eisler. “The Birth of a Worker’s Song.” In Hanns Eisler: A Rebel in Music/Selected Writings, ed. Manfred Grabs. Berlin: Seven Seas Books, 1976.

Pete Seeger and Ernst Busch. Sound recording. Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 1: Songs of the Lincoln Brigade, Six Songs for Democracy. Smithsonian Folkways F-5436 (1961).

 

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