That's How the NSB Sang

During WWII, German marching songs were heard in the streets of cities throughout occupied Europe. The Dutch national socialists were also eager to make themselves heard musically. They developed their own repertoire of battle songs with which to charm the public.

"This is how the NSB sang" (source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)
"This is how the NSB sang" (source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)
The importance of songs in the Third Reich was unparalleled. Songs served to communicate the nationalist-socialist ideology in simplified form. From the very start of Hitler’s brown-shirt revolution, Nazis saw their battle songs as a particularly valuable propaga nda tool. The battle song pointed the way to the new faith. "We sang", wrote Günter Grass in his book Beim Häuten der Zwiebel, "as if singing would make the Reich greater and greater." 

"Believe in what you sing, and you shall be victorious"
The same applied to the song repertoire of the Dutch National-Socialist Movement (NSB). According to its founder and leader Mussert, a vigorous song tradition was part and parcel of the creation of the ‘new fascist mankind’. The tradition began with the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, which was sung to conclude every meeting up until the very end. Through the familiar Dutch song repertoire, the NSB’s own repertoire of battle songs gradually took shape. In the Netherlands, too, the sense of community had to be fostered through songs. Under the slogan of "Believe in what you sing, and you shall be victorious!", Mussert’s black shirt brigades sang awake the Dutch nation. The themes were frequently similar to those of the Nazi battle songs: against democracy, against communism, for the nation and fatherland, and of course for the Leader. Typical Dutch themes were the longing for ‘Dietschland’, references to the glorious 17th century historyof the Netherlands, and the acknowledgement of the Royal House of Orange. No German would sing about such matters.

Political Texts Predominate
The pre-war songs contained barely any anti-Semitic texts. Jews would sometimes be targeted after May 1940, but overall the NSB songs did not engage in hate themes against the Jews. Apparently, anti-Semitism was not a suitable source of inspiration for the lyricists. Anti-Semitic sentiments were more commonly voiced in the NSB press and publications.

Mussert Creates Song Tradition
The establishment of music corps and song choirs within the movement demonstrated the NSB’s commitment to song. In early 1938, the Netherlands counted eight full NSB choirs. ln Amsterdam and The Hague, these choirs consisted of eighty members. The"Houzee, songs for the NSB" (source: collectio Gerard Groeneveld)
"Houzee, songs for the NSB" (source: collectio Gerard Groeneveld)
movement’s Afdeeling Vorming [Personal Development Unit] ensured that its members continued to engage with song and that rehearsals were held frequently. Unlike in Germany, in the Netherlands there was no deep-rooted song tradition to fall back on, so that Mussert’s followers had to overcome quite a bit of timidity. NSB publications such as Volk en Vaderland, Het Nationale Dagblad, Vorming, De Stormmeeuw and later De Zwarte Soldaat contributed to the effort, often reporting on the importance of singing and publishing song texts with music scores.

Massive Gatherings to Sing Battle Songs
The annual gatherings offered an opportunity for the NSB movement to prove their musical worth. At the RAI in Amsterdam and later at the Goudsberg in Lunteren, the NSB battle songs were sung by huge crowds. These were the prime song manifestations of the NSB. For many of Mussert’s followers, these events made an overwhelming impression. Here, they truly felt deeply connected to one another. Thousands of NSB members and sympathizers reveled in the flag waving and relished the collectively sung songs. The flame thus lit was strong enough to continue burning in their hearts for the whole following year.  

The NSB Lyricists
The lyrics and melodies for the songs were composed by a number of dedicated Mussert associates, some of whom had a professional music background. One of the best known among them was Melchert Schuurman from Alkmaar. He was responsible for a whole range of popular battle songs, and with his unbridled enthusiasm he contributed more than any other to the song propaganda within the movement. Some of his songs were Zwarthemdenlied, Vrijheid en recht, Zwart-Rood Banier! and Mussertman. Another figure was Piet Heins, who often worked with Jaap van Kersbergen to write and compose songs for the WA [Weerbaarheidsafdeling, the NSB’s defense militia]. Heins also put music to The WA marches on! by Frans Bankman, and other compositions include Daar ging een scheepje, Voorwaarts, Stormsoldaat, Dietschland ontwaakt! and the Oostlandlied. Both Schuurman and Heins volunteered for, respectively, the Dutch Volunteer Legion and the German Waffen-SS. Here, too, they continued their musical work, writing several soldier’s songs. They continued to work on song within the NSB until the end.  "To 'Eastern country' we will go..." (Source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)
"To 'Eastern country' we will go..." (Source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)

Singing on the Way to the Eastern Front
From May 1940 onwards, the NSB and its WA unit in particular were a prominent presence on the streets, singing their songs. More than before, the movement sought to win over the Dutch population through song. This had been virtually impossible before the war, due to the prohibition on wearing uniforms and the law concerning militias. Other formations such as Jeugdstorm, Nederlandsche Arbeidsdienst en the Dutch SS also took to the streets to sing their songs. New songs were created, the NSB published gramophone records and song bundles, and there were the heavily attended song gatherings. When, in October 1941, thousands of Dutch volunteers marched off to the Eastern front they did so while singing the especially composed Oostlandlied. A lot of hard work was also put into organizing a national song fest to be held annually in Amsterdam, with the purpose of promoting song. The aim was to get the whole nation singing.

Song Content Changes During the War
The movement’s song culture flourished as never before. For a moment it seemed as if a new age was indeed dawning. But as the war dragged on, the much sung-about 'Dietsche ideal' did not come any closer to realization. The predicted Gouden Rijk ["Golden State"] failed to materialize. The enemy in the east, south and west turned out to be greater in number and more determined than the Wehrmacht had anticipated. The population in the Netherlands started turning against the NSB and its collaborative politics. The unity of the people, so sought after by the NSB, seemed further away than ever. The national song fest on Amsterdam"Song of the Legion Soldiers" (source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)
"Song of the Legion Soldiers" (source: collection Gerard Groeneveld)
’s Dam square was not much of success. The organization was subsequently beset by such financial and organizational problems that the event was not repeated. From that point on, battle songs sang of being brave, fulfilling one’s duty, allegiance to the leader and fatherland, and about the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life. As a Jeugdstorm song of early 1944 ran, "Though today we stand as lads/Tomorrow we march as soldiers". The NSB youth had definitively shed its boy scout image and was now to be sacrificed in a full-out war effort.

The Singing Revolution Falls Silent
After Dolle Dinsdag ["Mad Tuesday"], everything collapsed. Countless NSB members fled head over heels to Germany. As the songs faltered and faded away, euphoria gave way to disenchantment. There was no more room for banners, disciplined marches, or rousing battle songs. The promise of a better future had not been fulfilled. The singing revolution fell silent.

Six decades later, little remains of the songs once sung with so much fervor. Fragments linger on as vague memories only. Old soldier’s songs could still be heard at veteran reunions, though sounding shakier each year. The Bundeswehr was so fond of the Panzerlied sung by Hitler’s tank soldiers that this still made the 1991 songbook of the German military. Lili Marleen can still be heard on the airwaves once in a while, and neo-Nazis will undoubtedly still affirm their solidarity with beer and ‘brown-shirt songs’. But these are exceptions. The NSB song culture has been relegated to history, for good.

Lyrics Das Lied der Deutschen
Lyrics Die Fahne hoch

Author: Gerard Groeneveld