Definitions

peat bog

Peat Bog Soldiers (song)

Peat Bog Soldiers is one of Europe's best-known protest songs. It exists in countless European languages, became a Republican anthem during the Spanish Civil War; was a symbol of resistance during the Second World War; and is popular with the Peace movement today. What makes it perhaps so poignant is the knowledge that is was written, composed and first performed in a Nazi concentration camp by the prisoners themselves.

Background

This song was written by prisoners in Nazi moorland labour camps in Lower Saxony, Germany. The Emslandlager ("Emsland camps") - as they were known - were for political opponents of the Third Reich, located outside of Börgermoor, now part of the commune Surwold, not far from Papenburg.

By 1933, one camp, Börgermoor, held about 5,000 Socialist and Communist internees. They were banned from singing political songs so they wrote and composed their own. The words were written by Johann Esser (a miner) and Wolfgang Langhoff (an actor); the music was composed by Rudi Goguel and was later adapted by Hanns Eisler and Ernst Busch.

It was first performed at a Zircus Konzentrazani ("concentration camp concert") on 28 August 1933 at Börgermoor camp. Here is Rudi Goguel's description of it:

The sixteen singers, mostly members of the Solinger workers choir, marched in holding spades over the shoulders of their green police uniforms (our prison uniforms at the time). I led the march, in blue overalls, with the handle of a broken spade for a conductor's baton. We sang and by the end of the second verse nearly all of the thousands of prisoners present gave voice to the chorus. With each verse, the chorus became more beautiful and, by the end, the SS - who had turned up with their officers – were also singing, apparently because they too thought themselves "peat bog soldiers".

The song has a slow simple melody, reflecting a soldier's march, and is deliberately repetitive, echoing and telling of the daily grind of hard labour in harsh conditions. It was popular with German refugees in London in the Thirties and was used as a marching song by the German volunteers of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. It was soon picked up by other nationalities and it appears in almost all the collected anthologies of Spanish Civil War songs.

The "short" (three-verse) lyrics

Langhoff and Esser's original song runs to six verses, plus refrains (see below). For performance - and, therefore, for most translation - shorter lyrics are used. These omit verses two, three and four of the original.

Die Moorsoldaten

Wohin auch das Auge blicket.
Moor und Heide nur ringsum.
Vogelsang uns nicht erquicket.
Eichen stehen kahl und krum.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.
Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.

Auf und nieder geh´n die Posten,
keiner, keiner kann hindurch.
Flucht wird nur das Leben kosten,
vierfach ist umzäunt die Burg.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.
Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.

Doch für uns gibt es kein Klagen,
ewig kann nicht Winter sein,
einmal werden froh wir sagen:
Heimat du bist wieder mein.

Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten
nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor.
Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten
nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor

Peat Bog Soldiers

Far and wide as the eye can wander,
Heath and bog are everywhere.
Not a bird sings out to cheer us.
Oaks are standing gaunt and bare.

We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.
We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.

Up and down the guards are marching,
No one, no one can get through.
Flight would mean a sure death facing,
Guns and barbed wire block our view.

We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.
We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.

But for us there is no complaining,
Winter will in time be past.
One day we shall rise rejoicing.
Homeland, dear, you're mine at last.

No more the peat bog soldiers
Will march with our spades to the moor.
No more the peat bog soldiers
Will march with our spades to the moor.
Los Soldados del Pantano

Todo cuanto el ojo abarca
está muerto no hay amor
Ni un pájaro nos alegra
Los robles desnudos nos dan temor.

Soldados del pantano
las palas en la mano.
Soldados del pantano
las palas en la mano.

Nos vigila la guardia dura
¿Quién podría escapar?
Huir es la muerte segura
si disparan es para matar.

Soldados del pantano
las palas en la mano.
Soldados del pantano
las palas en la mano.

De nada nos sirven los lamentos
El invierno pronto pasará
Llegará el día que gritemos contentos
Por fin la patria nuestra será.

Ya no habrá más soldados
sufriendo en el pantano.
Ya no habrá más soldados
sufriendo en el pantano.

The full version

For completeness, here is the full six-verse German version, together with a literal English translation.


Die Moorsoldaten

Wohin auch das Auge blicket.
Moor und Heide nur ringsum.
Vogelsang uns nicht erquicket.
Eichen stehen kahl und krumm.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.
Wir sind die Moorsoldaten
und ziehen mit dem Spaten ins Moor.

Hier in dieser öden Heide
ist das Lager aufgebaut,
wo wir fern von jeder Freude
hinter Stacheldraht verstaut.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten etc

Morgens ziehen die Kolonnen
in das Moor zur Arbeit hin.
Graben bei dem Brand der Sonne,
doch zur Heimat steht der Sinn.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten etc

Heimwärts, heimwärts jeder sehnet,
zu den Eltern, Weib und Kind.
Manche Brust ein Seufzer dehnet,
weil wir hier gefangen sind.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten etc

Auf und nieder geh´n die Posten,
keiner, keiner kann hindurch.
Flucht wird nur das Leben kosten,
vierfach ist umzäunt die Burg.

Wir sind die Moorsoldaten etc

Doch für uns gibt es kein Klagen,
ewig kann nicht Winter sein,
einmal werden froh wir sagen:
Heimat du bist wieder mein.

Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten
nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor.
Dann zieh´n die Moorsoldaten
nicht mehr mit dem Spaten ins Moor
'Literal translation

Everywhere you watch
Bog and marshes all around
The chirping of the birds does not please us
Oaks are standing bare and crooked

We are the bog soldiers
And we move with the spade; into the bog
We are Bog soldiers
And we move with the spade; into the bog

Here inside this barren marshland
Is built up the camp.
Where we are far off every joy
Are locked up behind barbed wire.

We are the bog soldiers etc

In the morning all of us
Go to work in the bog.
Digging under the searing sun,
But our mind is at home.

We are the bog soldiers etc

Homeward, homeward we are yearning
to the parents, wife and children,
some chests are widened with a sigh,
because we are locked up here.

We are the bog soldiers etc

Up and down the guards are walking
Nobody, nobody can get away.
Escape will cost your life
Four times the castle is secured.

We are the bog soldiers etc

In spite of all we won't complain,
It can't be an endless winter.
One day we'll happily say
That our home belongs to us again.

Then the bog soldiers will never take
Their spades to the bog again.
Then the bog soldiers will never take
Their spades to the bog again.

References

Further reading

Recordings

Footnotes

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