A German prisoner song of protest brought to new audiences by Glasgow band

Published: 31 October 2023

Now Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat Bog Soldiers) will be the first EP, in the original German and English, by The Tenementals, a band of academics and musicians who came together to delve into the history of Glasgow through the power of music.

The Tenementals Group Photo. Creidt Holger Mohaupt

It is a haunting but stirring song of protest, written 90 years ago by political prisoners held in a Nazi concentration camp.

Now Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat Bog Soldiers) will be the first EP, in the original German and English, by The Tenementals, a band of academics and musicians who came together to delve into the history of Glasgow through the power of music.

While the 90-year-old German protest song is well-known inside Germany, it is much less known outside of it despite it being covered by a range of artists including Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson.

The Tenementals version of Die Moorsoldaten/Peat Bog Soldiers seeks to reimagine the song and to “blast it into the future”.  The new EP is being released on Strength in Numbers Records.

Professor David Archibald at the University of Glasgow who is both founding member and frontman for The Tenementals, said the band are exploring what the history of a city might sound, look and feel like if developed in song, rather than relying on conventional historical textbooks.

Professor Archibald, who is Professor of Political Cinemas based at the University’s School of Culture and Creative Studies, said: “We are keen to introduce our version of Die Moorsoldaten, in German and English. Our song is a new translation which we hope will bring it to a wider audience and to present it in a new way. Somewhat less mach, and less militaristic that some previous versions. Although we are interested in Glasgow’s history, we are not parochial, far from it. We are alive to the international connections that the city and its inhabitants have made, be they slave traders or anti-fascist fighters in Spain. Peat Bog Soldiers was a major song during the Spanish Civil war and no doubt many of the Glaswegians who fought in Spain would have been familiar with it. We take a tiger’s leap into the past; but our aim is to blast the song into the future at a time when its spirit of resilience in the face of oppression has great resonance.”

Last year, the Tenementals secured the prestigious “Outstanding Event” award at the 2022 Glasgow Doors Open Day Festival.

Since their debut performance at the Glasgow Doors Open Festival, they have performed at events such as the Glasgow Hidden Lane Festival, a memorable collaboration with National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Secretary-General Mick Lynch at The Revelator Wall of Death, and a resounding show at Queen's Park bandstand for May Day.

The band has begun to create an impressive catalogue of songs which explore the radical side of Glasgow’s past, from militant Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the Sighthill Martyrs of 1820, celebrates the city’s culture of pleasure and excess, interrogates its ongoing entanglements with Empire and slavery, and speculates on where one might find hope in the city.


The songs include:  

  • Universal Alienation (We're Not Rats) takes Jimmy Reid’s celebrated 1972 University of Glasgow rectoral address about alienation and updates its spirit for contemporary times.
  • People Make Glasgow discusses the complex network of people and institutions which work to create the city of Glasgow. The song title takes its name from the City Council’s current slogan.
  • Machines for Living reflects on the state of Glasgow’s high-rise flats and the city’s shifting architectural landscape. Glasgow was the subject of a major experiment in socialist, modernist-inspired architectural change in the post-war period, an experiment closely tied to notions of progress.
  • Pentimentois a song about painting, slavery and re-writing (re-painting) the past. It is based on ‘John Glassford’s Family Portrait,’ an oil painting created circa 1764 by the artist Archibald McLauchlan, which has its own changing history as characters within the painting – a deceased wife, a black boy servant – were thought by historians to have been painted over. 




Peat Bog Soldiers EP

Pre-order of Peat Bog Soldiers EP, which is official released on Friday 3 November, 2023. Once the album is released you’ll get unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app: Peat Bog Soldiers EP | The Tenementals | Strength in Numbers Records (bandcamp.com)

Link here to dropbox with the photos of The Tenementals (link to follow)


Die Moorsoldaten (The Peat Bog Soldiers)

It was a symbol of resistance during the Second World War and is popular with the Peace movement today. It was written, composed and first performed in a Nazi concentration camp (by political prisoners in 1933). The Emslandlager (Emsland camps) were for political opponents of the Third Reich, located outside of Börgermoor, in northwestern Germany. It was first performed on August 28, 1933 in front of some 1000 prisoners - and the guards. The words were written by Johann Esser (a miner) and Wolfgang Langhoff (an actor); the music was composed by Rudi Goguel and was later adapted by Hanns Eisler and Ernst Busch.

Here is Rudi Goguel's description of it:

“The 16 singers, mostly members of the Solinger workers choir, marched in holding spades over the shoulders of their green police uniforms (our prison uniforms at the time). I led the march, in blue overalls, with the handle of a broken spade for a conductor's baton. We sang and by the end of the second verse nearly all of the thousands of prisoners present gave voice to the chorus. With each verse, the chorus became more powerful and, by the end, the SS – who had turned up with their officers – were also singing, apparently because they too thought themselves "peat bog soldiers".”

The song was smuggled out of the Börgermoor camp, and circulated quickly in the camps and prisons of Nazi Germany. Today it is considered one of Europe’s best-known protest songs. Learn more here - https://www.hf.uni-koeln.de/39725

First published: 31 October 2023