Cover of an edition of ‘Der Landser’ entitled ‘Jagdkommando Ris TA’
The song Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden is the traditional lament played at the funeral of fallen members of the German armed forces.
Written in 1809 by the poet Ludwig Uhland, it does not carry the connotation of Nazism in the manner of the Horst Wessel Song. It did form part of the musical ceremonies of the funerals of figures who served the Third Reich. Ranging from those whose legacies are now shrouded in revulsion such as Reinhard Heydrich to those who are viewed in a favourable light like Erwin Rommel, it is characterised as non-sectarian and non-ideological.
The Bundeswehr has kept up the tradition and on anniversaries of the 20th of July anti-Hitler plot, it is played in tribute to General Ludwig Beck, General Friedrich Olbricht, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Lieutenant Werner Haeften and other officers who lost their lives and were not accorded the rites of a Christian burial and the honour of a military funeral.
Sixteen years after Uhland’s text, the composer Friedrich Silcher set it to music which was based on the tune of a Swiss folk song.
Ich hatt’ einen Kamaraden,
Einen bessern findst di nicht.
Die Trommel schlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite
|: In gleichem Schritt und Tritt. :|
Eine Kugel kam geflogen:
Gilt sie mir oder gilt sie dir?
Ihn hat es weggerissen,
Er liegt vor meinen Fussen
|: Als war’s ein Stuck von mir:|
Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad’.
“Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben
|: Mein guter Kamerad!” :|
In battle he was my comrade
None better I have had.
The drum called us to fight,
He walked on my side,
|: In step, through good and bad. :|
A bullet flew towards us,
For him or meant for me?
His life from mine it tore,
At my feet a piece of gore,
|: As if a part of me. :|
His hand reached up to hold mine.
I must re-load my gun.
“My friend, I cannot ease your pain,
In the eternal life we’ll meet again,
|: And walk once more as one. “:|
© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)
Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England