One day we shall rise rejoicing: Songs from the Prison Camp

Peat Bog Soldiers

Far and wide as the eye can wander,
Heath and bog are everywhere.
Not a bird sings out to cheer us.
Oaks are standing gaunt and bare.

We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.
We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.

Up and down the guards are marching,
No one, no one can get through.
Flight would mean a sure death facing,
Guns and barbed wire block our view.

We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.
We are the peat bog soldiers,
Marching with our spades to the moor.

But for us there is no complaining,
Winter will in time be past.
One day we shall rise rejoicing.
Homeland, dear, you’re mine at last.

No more the peat bog soldiers
Will march with our spades to the moor.
No more the peat bog soldiers
Will march with our spades to the moor.


Piesn Obozowa: The Camp Song

Separated from the world by barbed wire,
We’re rounded up from everywhere
The longing woven into our hearts,
Throbs like a ringing bell.

You with the striped rag on your back,
Could you forget who you are—and where?
They stitched a number to your breast,
A red triangle and the letter “P”.

And your shaved head reminds you,
Of your burden of sins unknown,
And you yearn for the day
When your will and your purpose return.

Neither stars nor sun bring you happiness,
Neither day nor night yields joy.
You stand and wait, dressed in stripes and shaved bare;
With thousands of others like you.

The words of this song are stained with our blood,
Within them are sorrow and grief,
Yet your camp song will carry beyond these barbed wires
To a distant place unknown to you.

Yet your camp song will carry beyond these barbed wires
To a distant place unknown to you.


The ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ was written, already in 1933, by prisoners in a moor land labour camp in Lower Saxony in Germany. The camp, Börgermoor, held around 5,000 socialist and communist prisoners. Socialist songs forbidden, they write their own. The ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ is one of these, written by the miner Johann Esser and the actor Wolfgang Langhoff.

The prisoners of the labour camp have no weapons, they sing with spades on their shoulders. The song is sung on and on by refugees from Germany and is a marching song of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Decades later, I remember a meeting where a veteran is almost angry that ‘Peat Bog Soldiers’ is sung to a slow and moving melody. He tramps his old feet and sings it as a march.

‘Piesn Obozowa’ is the ‘Song of the Camp’, written by Zbigniew Koczanowicz at Falkensee, a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen. The song is the song of prisoners in 1945. Liberation is near and they steal arms from the prison guards.

As prisoners, they wear a ‘red triangle and the letter P’. And this is the way they are identified by the rulers of the camps. For the social democrats and the communists, the red triangle is the sign. And on the triangles, their country has its letter. The red triangle with P is for the Polish prisoners and S for the republicans of Spain.

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