Lili Mar­lene: The Sol­diers’ Song of World War II

Liel Lei­bovitz and Matthew Miller
  • Review
By – January 10, 2012
This decid­ed­ly spe­cif­ic work tells the sto­ry of how a sin­gle Ger­man song emerged from obscu­ri­ty to become the most famous one of World War II. This song was not a like­ly choice to touch so many sol­diers and civil­ians, hav­ing begun as a sentry’s poem dur­ing World War I and then flopped mis­er­ably when it was first record­ed by cabaret singer Lale Ander­sen in 1938. Almost by acci­dent, the song aired on Germany’s Radio Bel­grade ear­ly in World War II, and it quick­ly assumed a life of its own — sol­diers on both sides of the lines in North Africa would infor­mal­ly hon­or a cease­fire when the song was played every night at 9:57 p.m. Ulti­mate­ly its devo­tees would include many Allied sol­diers (includ­ing Gen. Dwight Eisen­how­er) who were so moved by the long­ing for home, love, and nor­mal­cy they heard in Andersen’s voice that it didn’t mat­ter whether they could under­stand the words. Long­ing, after all, is an emo­tion that eas­i­ly cross­es bor­ders. 

This fas­ci­nat­ing book is rich in anec­dotes, cap­tur­ing a sense of how this sim­ple song improb­a­bly came to mean so much to so many. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, end notes, index, photographs.
David Cohen is a senior edi­tor at Politi­co. He has been in the jour­nal­ism busi­ness since 1985 and wrote the book Rugged and Endur­ing: The Eagles, The Browns and 5 Years of Foot­ball. He resides in Rockville, MD.; his wife, Deb­o­rah Bod­in Cohen, writes Jew­ish children’s books.

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