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.