"Lied der Moorsoldaten" or "Peat Bog Soldiers" was created by 3 prisoners in 1933 in Börgermoor, one of the first concentration camps established in Nazi-Germany.
Contrary to popular belief, the song’s creation was neither spontaneous nor collective. Rather, as Rudi Goguel says, it was a ‘conscious protest song of the resistance against their oppressors.’ The lyrics were written by the proletarian poet Johannes Esser, a miner from the Ruhr. The actor and director Wolfgang Langhoff then rewrote some of the passages and added to the refrain. Finally, the sales clerk Rudi Goguel composed the melody.
Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
About two weeks after the composition was finished, the song was premiered on 27 August 1933 as part of the "Zirkus Konzentrazani"
Below a copy of "Wir Sind Die Moorsoldaten" made by Hanns Kralik in the KZ Börgermoor 1933.
After his release Günter Daus brought this copy outside the camp (archive of Documentation and Information Center Emslandlager in Papenburg, Germany, estate Günter Daus)
The composer Hanns Eisler was introduced to the "Lied der Moorsoldaten" during a stay in London. He was making records in a studio with Ernst Busch, a fellow exile and singer of proletarian songs. ‘In January 1935,’ writes Busch,
a man brought us this song to London. This man said that he had somehow managed to get out of Börgermoor. He gave us the lyrics and tried to sing the melody for us as it had been sung by the concentration camp prisoners.
However, as it later turned out, the man in question was not a former ‘moor soldier’, but a German police informant. He had to sing the song over and over again, but it was never quite right, so Eisler picked out a melody himself on the piano.
Hanns Eisler's new arrangement of the song was clearly adapted from "Horch, Kind, horch, wie der Sturmwind weht" (a lullaby of the Thirty Years' War ) (although this song is about a 17th century war the lyrics were written in 1917 by Ricarda Huch and melody added during the Jugendbewegung (Youth Movement) in Germany.
Listen here to a version by Wofgang Roth from 1960
Early German Ballads, Vol. 1: 1280-1619 | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings
Of course "Lied der Moorsoldaten" became world famous in the version by Hanns Eisler. His arrangement became so popular that it was even able to overtake Rudi Goguel’s original in many of the Nazi camps. For Goguel the song developed outside of Germany into a ‘fight and protest song of a public character.’ Eisler’s version made its official debut at the first International Worker’s Music Olympics in 1935 in Strasburg, where it was sung by Ernst Busch. Eisler himself brought his arrangement of this song to America, where he gave a benefit concert for the victims of Nazi crimes in the same year. Busch bears much of the credit for the international popularity of Eisler’s version. He traveled in 1935 from the Netherlands to the Soviet Union, where he made the first recordings of this song.
(o) Ernst Busch (1936)
Recorded in Moscow in 1936.
Released on the Gramplasttrest label
text on the label:
Песня болотных солдат
джаз оркестр и хор
Song bog soldiers (=Lied der Moorsoldaten)
obr.G.Eyslera (=arr. H. Eisler)
Jazz Orchestra and Chorus
The same master was also released on the SovSong label
Ernst Busch also took it to Spain, where it became part in the song repertory of the International Brigades during the Civil War (1936–1939). In 1938 Busch published the songbook and album “Canciones de las Brigadas Internacionales”, which was recorded in 1937, at the front line of the Spanish Civil War, in the Odeon Studio in Barcelona, among them "Das Lied der Moorsoldaten" in a shortened version – presented by Ernst Busch and the choir of the XI. brigade (this was a brigade of German volunteers)
Here's the songbook:
Here's the original album with six songs on three 78's:
The same recordings were released by the Keynote label (album # K 101) in the USA in 1940 as "6 Songs For Democracy". (Discos de las Brigadas Internacionales Espana; reissued Music Room International Series/Keynote Records, New York, 1940.)
One of the records bore a sticker reading "The defective impression of this record is due to interruptions of electric energy during an air-raid."
Liner notes for this album by Erich Weinert:
Whenever, in the history of the world, freedom has arisen against unfreedom, justice against injustice, the spirit of the people’s uprising has been most clearly and splendidly reflected in its songs, which grew upon the soil of righteous indignation. They were written by the poets who sided with the people; and where there were no such poets the people wrote them themselves.
Innumerable songs arose during the war of the Spanish people against its enemies. And Spanish was not their only language; for the soldiers of the International Brigades contributed songs, in their own languages, which lived and became popular songs with the Spaniards.
In this album Ernst Busch has recorded some of the best and most popular songs of the 11th International Brigade, making the recordings under the most difficult circumstances. These records could not be made during times of peace. How often did the recording or manufacture have to be interrupted because Franco’s bombs were crashing down on Barcelona or the supply of electricity cut off!
But that lends these songs a peculiar charm. For they were created in the midst of the battle, on the firing line, as it were. We trust that they will again awaken, in the outside world, some of the fighting spirit, this fire, out of which they were born.
Paul Robeson also wrote an introduction for this album:
Here are the songs recorded during heavy bombardment, by men who were themselves fighting for the “Rights of Man”.
Valiant and heroic was the part played by the International Brigade in the glorious struggle of the Spanish Republic. I was there in the course of that struggle and my faith in man—in the eventual attaining of his freedom—was strengthened a thousand fold. This album helps sustain that faith. It’s a necessity.
July 4, 1940 Paul Robeson
July 4, 1940 Paul Robeson
It was only during the Spanish Civil War that this song became internationally known. From that point on, it could be heard in even more languages. According to Goguel, the song quickly grew ‘into a symbol of the international solidarity against fascism.’ As ‘Le Chant des Marais’ it was popular in France, not only in the résistance. The African American singer Paul Robeson, who likewise sang for the international brigades, made the song popular in the US as the ‘Song of the Peat Bog Soldiers.’
(c) Paul Robeson 1942
Lawrence Brown: piano.
Recorded on January 30, 1942
Released on the album "Songs of Free Men" (Columbia Masterworks M-534)
Wrongly spelled as "Peet-Bog Soldiers'
("Moorsoldaten" song from a German Concentration Camp)
Sung in English and German -Arr. Eisler-
Paul Robeson - Songs Of Free Men (Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Album) | Discogs
The French Foreign Legion use the French version of the song, "Le Chant Des Marais", as one of its marching songs, the sombre tone and timing matching the 88 paces per minute distinctive of the Legion.
(c) Mouloudji (as "Le Chant des Marais")
(c) Pete Seeger (1961) (as "Peat Bog Soldiers")
On the album "Gazette Vol. 2"
(c) Ian Campbell Folk Group (1962) (as "Peat Bog Soldiers")
On the album "Songs of Protest"
(c) Mitchell Trio (1965) (as "Peat Bog Soldiers")
On the album "Violets of Dawn"
(c) Dubliners (1970) (as "Peat Bog Soldiers")
On the album "Revolution"
(c) RUM (1975) (as "De Moorsoldaten")
On the album "RUM 3"
(c) Liederjan 1976 (as "Die Moorsoldaten")
On the album "Live aus der Fabrik".
(c) Hannes Wader (1977) (as "Die Moorsoldaten")
On the album "Hannes Wader singt Arbeiterlieder"
(c) Sjeu (2007) (as "De Veensoldaten")
On the album "Straat-Zang-Theater"
More versions here: