Lili Marlene

Marlene Dietrich’s signature song. Others have done it, but it belongs to Dietrich. As she recounts in the video, this was one of the tunes she sang when she risked her life entertaining Allied troops during WWII. Dietrich became the first woman to receive a Medal of Freedom for her efforts during the war. She did indeed spend the war years crisscrossing Europe and the Pacific to perform for troops, sometimes coming within mere miles of active frontlines. Having left Germany for Hollywood in 1930, she turned down Hitler’s personal invitation to come home and instead became an American citizen and one of the most prominent and outspoken anti-Nazis in Hollywood. Besides her work entertaining and selling war bonds, she was enlisted by the OSS to take part in a secret project that aimed to use music as a propaganda tool. Lili Marlene was one of the songs she recorded for that mission, both in English and German renditions. How the same tune was supposed to moralize Allied soldiers while de-moralizing the Axis, I don’t know, nor do I know if the musical propaganda project had any effect or was just a shot in the dark. Dietrich’s personal appearances certainly had the desired effect of raising morale, though. She sold more bonds and logged more miles than any other star. It must have pained her to reject her birthplace so completely and take up the flag for a new homeland, but she felt very strongly that it was right. She had staunchly opposed Nazism from the very beginning and refused to make the compromises that many other artists made in order to continue surviving in an increasingly oppressive atmosphere. She would not take the cushy but morally bankrupt place as a state-approved public figure that her peer and rival Leni Riefenstahl took. She was a woman far ahead of her time in every respect, not least in her choice of where to place her loyalties.