Pascal Derrien

3 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility ~100 ·

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Touching The Void: Le Chant Des Marais

Touching The Void: Le Chant Des Marais

I have moved quite a lot in my life, especially in the first part of it, clocking one to three schools per year on average and as many caravans, mobile homes, flats or apartments until the age of 16. The good thing with this nomadic lifestyle is that it has forced me to be quite ruthless over the years in terms of keeping or discarding belongings.

We are now in the process of converting our attic into an adult bedroom in our family home with a view to get me a small desk for my musings and a walking wardrobe for my other half. This not a move but it almost feels like one.  
To do that I have to get rid of quite a lot of bits and pieces that have been accumulated since our previous move 10 years ago or so. 

A lot of stuff has already found its way to charity shops, more junk have landed on a rubbish skip while the rest has to be triaged for storing. Its been a pretty heavy duty process I must say but it has come with some blessings too. Old photos have resufaced, toddler toys and kids clothes have re-emerged from hidden boxes reminding us how small our not so little guys once were. To be honest the whole experience has provided a few welcomed rides back to memory lane.

As far as I am concerned there aren't too many things that I have kept from my early childhood or teenage years even. That said I was glad to see an old and cherished French version of an Aristocats Disney book being if not pristine still intact and in good reading condition. I was also very happy to go thru a few old schools books and show my beautiful stamps collection to my kids.

I was also taken aback at times, for example I unexpectedly bumped into an old book belonging to my mum and with that what a surprise to discover four small notepads full of (bad) urban poetry that I had written in the 90's. In the book itself, a manuscript called ''Qu'elle etait verte my vallee'' by Richard Llewellyn, not that this is really significant, the important bit is that there was a small sheet with a hand written version of the Chant Des Marais inserted in it as a book mark. Almost straight away, as soon as I read the first verse the melody found its way back thru my brain at the speed of a boomerang .

The song was composed in the concentration camp of Börgermoormis in Lower Saxony. Originally set up in 1933 by the Nazis, the camp primary function was to home political opponents of the time. Situated in a very hostile environment the prisoners held in Börgermoormis were used as cheap labour and performed various heavy duties around the camp. The site was initially managed by the S.A but when the latter were dismissed the S.S took over.

The guards were ruthless and the conditions in the camp were barbaric, adding insult to injury the captives were expected to sing when going to work. Jumping at the opportunity to produce a passive resistance manifesto, a prisoner named Johann Esser wrote poignant lyrics that were supplemented by a music written by another political inmate called Rudi Goguel. The original title was  « Moorsoldatenlied » which can be translated as the song of ''The peat bog soldiers'', it is also known as ''the song of the deported''.


Lettre a un Inconnu

Mes yeux sont loin de moi
Mon regard est souvent perdu

Parfois je crois meme que je ne m'entends plus
Mon regard est si lourd et sourd de malentendus

Je sais qu'un jour viendra le temps du vecu
Les geoliers si peu necessaire veulent faire de moi un reclus
Moi a leur politique, a leur commissaire j'exprimerais bien plus que mon refus

Pascal Derrien -1994-

It took two weeks apparently to create the song from start to finish and it was sang for the first time on the 27th of August 1933 as part of the ‘Circus Konzentrazani.’  According to Goguel, ''sixteen singers, mostly members of the Solinger Worker’s Singing Club, marched into an arena with their prison outfits and their spades on their shoulders.''  

They started singing and by the second verse it is said almost all of the 1,000 prisoners were singing along to the refrain.  With every verse, the refrain apparently grew stronger and by the final verse even some of the SS sentinels were singing. 

Unverified records mentioned that the sixteen singers stuck their spades in the sand and marched out of the arena leaving their spades behind.

The ‘Börgermoorlied’ (Song of Börgermoor),  is not the only one but one of the most famous songs to have been created within a concentration camp: it is by far the most well known of all of them.In its English version it became known as the ‘Song of the Peat Bog Soldiers’ and in French it has acquired a symbolic notoriety under the title ‘Le Chant des Marais’. The song was also commonly sung as a Republican anthem throughout the Spanish Civil War, personally the first time I heard it was at a military parade by the French Foreign Legion.

Never before a song had produced such a tangible and palpable impact on me. It was almost like a modern blues but something that was far more and utterly visceral. Was it the monotonous rhythm or the lyrics evoking despair that struck me, I don't know. Boosted by a chorus celebrating a state of nothingness I asked myself how come human hearts had the ability to hibernate for so long.

English Version

Wherever the eye may wander,
Al around only moor and heath
No singing of the birds to raise our spirits,
Oak trees stand bleak and crooked.
We are the peat bog soldiers

And travel spade in hand
Into the moor!
Here in this bleak heath
The camp was built,
Far from any joy
We lie hidden away behind barbed wire.
We are the peat bog soldiers…

Work columns leave in the morning
To go into the moor.
We dig while the sun burns down on us
,But our thoughts remain with home.
We are the peat bog soldiers…

Homewards, homewards, each of us longs
To our parents, wives, and children.
A sigh opens up many of our chests
Because we are caught here.
We are the peat bog soldiers…

The guards walk back and forth
No one, no one can get through,
Escape will only cost you your life,
The fort is fenced four times around
We are the peat bog soldiers…

But for us there are no complaints
Because it cannot be winter forever.
Someday we will happily say:
Home, you are mine again.
Then the peat bog soldiers

Will no longer travel spade in hand
Into the moor!

people & stuff

Photo Credit

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Written Material Copyright 2018 - Pascal Derrien-

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Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #41

as often many thanks for dropping by and showing appreciation Bill Stankiewicz, \ud83d\udc1d Brand Ambassador 😀

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #40

need to cast an eye on that book 📚 😀

Very touching here

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #38

I can only imagine the shock and incredulity at discovering the living proof of the darkest sides of mankind interestingly I was also thinking about that generation of young liberators thanks for dropping by Deborah Levine

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #37

thanks Debesh Choudhury indeed more than just resilience they did show courage

Debesh Choudhury

3 years ago #36

Wonderful and touching .. literary creations inside the concentration camps bring out real images of the lives of the humans. Thanks Pascal Derrien for sharing this piece

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #35

thanks Lada \ud83c\udfe1 Prkic , true there was often orchestras in camps which is kind of weird providing the overall environment of the final solution. For having set a foot in a camp or two I can only describe it as an overwhelming experience I have also huge difficulty to understand those still in denial :-(

Lada 🏡 Prkic

3 years ago #34

You are more than just a mere conveyer, Pascal. Your beautiful and touching post intrigued me to find more about this song which is considered to be the most famous of all written within concentration camps. I found a website Music and the Holocoust dealing with the role of music in the Holocaust. I need to say that I'm very sensitive about the Holocaust, although have no direct link to and have no relatives that were in Nazi camps, and often ask myself how still there are people who deny the existence of the Holocaust and concentration camps.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #33

thanks Gert Scholtz it seems the topic had quite some impact but I am just a mere conveyor

Gert Scholtz

3 years ago #32

Pascal Derrien A touching and moving piece Pascal - thank you. Your flowing words, and the song, had me in many different places.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #31

Thanks it seems those guys had managed to create something powerfully universal which is pretty rare and raw at the same time

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

3 years ago #30

I wonder the emotion when our children and grandchildren read what we've written. The thought only makes me smile :) I must print each article and make a book, sort of a journal any better ideas :)

🐝 Fatima G. Williams

3 years ago #29

Pascal Derrien Listening to this song gave me goosebumps OMG. Truly a beautiful memory to share with us all. I can almost feel their empty longing souls in those verses. The hope that gave them courage and the love that keep them sustained. Thank you truly for sharing this poem. Pictures/old hand notes are worth a 1000 words they say, but I think are a worth a 1000 memories/emotions safely capsuled in time. They are indeed a memory in a memory, an emotion buried deep and a walk back in time :)

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #28

thanks Savvy Raj I don't know you but moving so oftenhas also given me the ability to adapt to change very quickly almost a sixth sense :-) Many thanks for the kind words on the article

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #27

thanks Devesh \ud83d\udc1d Bhatt sometimes circumstances led to create unexpected stuff, most non creative people are creating stuff everyday they just don't express it sometimes but you don't have that problem :-)

Devesh 🐝 Bhatt

3 years ago #26

i wasn't writing for a while. it seemed forced. Not now. Thanks a lot. A strange co relation works here when i read this. i am sure i will find the words now.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #25

Ken Boddie thanks for sharing that story I have seen a teenage choir performing that song and it was higlhly emotionally charged ...... good luck with the triage 😉

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #24

that's all I could ever asked CityVP \ud83d\udc1d Manjit not for me but for the memory of those who sang it first

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #23

thanks Paul Walters I think the song was originally written in German but what a destiny from camps to military march I am not entirely sure but I think it has also become the EU official anthem for the deported a few years ago

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #22

thank you Franci\ud83d\udc1dEugenia Hoffman, beBee Brand Ambassador it's powerful song indeed

Thank you for sharing your interesting trip down memory lane, Pascal Derrien. Your Chant des Marais is a mesmerizing piece and one that I will remember. It's amazing what treasures one can find in an attic.

Paul Walters

3 years ago #20

Pascal Derrien What a truly poignant piece that touched me deeply. My French isn't that great these days but I did manage to battle through the lyrics in the language it was written in and then nearly brought to tears listening to the male choir's voices bring it to life.! Now, get that attic have books to write. Thank you

Ken Boddie

3 years ago #19

The wife and I are currently preparing to move house, Pascal, and going through a similar decluttering. To keep, to charity, or to the rubbish tip? Your Chant des Marais brought back memories of when I was similarly deeply moved, during a visit to the historic penal colony of Port Arthur in Tasmania. After entering the chapel in the former solitary confinement wing, the doleful sound of male voices singing, via hidden speakers, had a similar and lasting effect on me.

CityVP Manjit

3 years ago #18

I see what you mean in the context of Le Chant Des Marais Like Susan Rooks said, this too will stay with me.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #17

the story is awesome I doubt I am but thanks all the same Debasish Majumder you are a very loyal reader :-)

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #16

You are very good Susan \ud83d\udc1d Rooks, the Grammar Goddess with your nice comments. Indeed jew or non jew, my two grandfathers were sent to camps in Germany one as a prisoner of war as captured as a soldier in the French army the other one got arrested twice (denounced) for being of Austrian descent and sharing radically opposite views from the Nazis, my mum's name is Weikert so I also have some Austrian blood I guess that makes me officially very confused :-)

Lisa Vanderburg

3 years ago #15

See now, lovely Susan \ud83d\udc1d Rooks, the Grammar Goddess..... Pascal Derrien runs D E E P in my book, so I'm not surprised. It's what he doesn't say that pricks my ears :)

Debasish Majumder

3 years ago #14

You are awesome Pascal Derrien! enjoyed read and shared. Tha nk you for the shared.

A most unexpected post from Pascal Derrien. Wow.

Wow, Pascal Derrien! Wow. Where to begin? Moving so much in your youth certainly prepared you for other adventures as you grew, didn't it? I cannot imagine three schools in one year --- I would have had a terrible time making friends. Then the purging of possessions --- here I'm on solid ground. I've written a few posts on going from a 2,200 s.f. house to a 1,500 s.f. condo, to my adorable 525 s.f. cottage by the sea. Obviously many items of all kinds did not travel with me; only what has true meaning for me made it to this small place. And, like you, I discovered unopened boxes that contained pictures and other memorabelia that I had forgotten about! Memory Lane, indeed. But you stopped my heart with the song that those under the Nazis created. I am Jewish, although far removed from anyone in the camps, but who can ignore what so many went through, Jew and non-Jew alike? It was a hideous time for way too many, and that song will be with me for quite a while.

Harvey Lloyd

3 years ago #11

I agree we still have a our pockets that seem to grow into the viking age and back out. My puzzlement comes from such sophistication demonstrated across media while watching these barbaric things still happening. It seems so incongruent. Also somewhat aristocratic. We may have put a man on the moon but we still can't stop the tragic exploitation of humans at any level. But such is the human existence. It only takes a few quiet folks to let something slide and before you know it we have the depravity. Reading of our Viking forbearers they were ruthless in rules but they stood fast within them. We are struggling to get this steadfastness within our own paradigm. Every tragedy seems to have its power brokers who are directly indirectly controlling outcomes. Again great piece. Humbling of how the human dynamic can adapt in the most depraved circumstances. We are resilient just not always smart.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #10

Thanks Harvey Lloyd it is impressive indeed and tragic at the same time, I would tend to agree we have come a long way and at the same time have to re think about it when I think of Bosnia or Rwanda in the recent past :-(

Harvey Lloyd

3 years ago #9

Wow, very soloom when we consider the tragic circumstances humans placed humans in. For me this history along with other history i venture into i get a sense of tragic entrapment that was a part of life. Incomprehensible, but yet the songs or writings of that day make some sense of the circumstances. Great piece and thanks for sharing a bygone moment. It reminds of us how far we have come and the need to be vigilant we dont let it happen again.

It is true. We keep some things to remember later.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #7

I agree Neil Smith what a lesson of courage and a reminder that some of our predecessors on earth were amazing people, lets not forget them !!!!

Neil Smith

3 years ago #6

The ability of people to find and create beauty in the midst of the ugliest situation never fails to amaze. This song really does bypass reason and grab you by the neck.

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #5

thanks @Julio Angel \ud83d\udc1dLopez Lopez amazing what one can find isn't it ? :-)

A pleasure that you share your attic with us. Pascal Derrien 😉👏👏👏

Pascal Derrien

3 years ago #3

Indeed Lisa Vanderburg it's an hypnotic tune from past troubled times, many thanks for commenting on this.

Lisa Vanderburg

3 years ago #2

Wonderment; at the human condition.

Lisa Vanderburg

3 years ago #1

'J'Accuse' pours like a slurry from this haunting song Pascal Derrien. I'm so moved you found it to share with us! Your last line says it all: 'Boosted by a chorus celebrating a state of nothingness I asked myself how come human hearts had the ability to hibernate for so long.'

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