Full Price Books 01/03/2013 History

For many people (and in many countries) Lili Marlene was a universal symbol of peace, although it has to be said that a lot of folk objected to such wishful thinking or contemplated it with ironic distance. John Steinbeck, for example, dismissed it as being perhaps “the only contribution to the world by the Nazis.” Whatever, the song became a social phenomenon that not even the German propaganda machine was able to control. Unlike traditional wartime compositions, Lili Marlene is about the harshness of the conflict and about saying farewell to one’s nearest and dearest with no promise of future peace and happiness: its lyrics are redolent of love and death, but not of the ardour of battle or the frisson of victory. A Nazi composer set a poem born of the trenches of the First World War to music, and a German woman enamoured of a Jew provided the voice that would make those verses famous. Broadcast just before 10 o’clock each night by a military radio station, Lili Marlene united and gave hope to the distraught and persecuted of all Europe: its melancholy tune was even heard at the threshold of the gas chambers. The world was cruelly divided into two irreconcilable camps, but Lili Marlene travelled across all the frontiers and hostilities, moving within an ambiguity that flouted norms and disciplines: it was a product of the Third Reich sung by English and American soldiers, too. And if, when the war was over, British veterans listened to Marlene Dietrich with tears in their eyes, she was booed in Poland for singing it in German. How Lili Marlene, the most famous German song of all time, was able to retain its innocence and to cradle an era of horror in its ethereal beauty is still a mystery. A mystery this book tries to shed light on.History