Marlene Dietrich – Singer, Actress, Immigrant, and Patriot!

Marlene Dietrich – Singer, Actress, Immigrant, and Patriot!

Marlene Dietrich USO Show Germany 1945

Marlene Dietrich at USO Show in Germany, February 1945

Many recognize Marlene Dietrich as a famous German actress and singer, famous during Hollywood’s golden days.

However, there’s another side to Marlene Dietrich…Marlene Dietrich was also an immigrant who made valuable contributions to the war effort against her former country of Germany during World War II. Like many immigrants, she never forgot the country of her birth. She explained the paradox between her love for America and Germany:

America took me into her bosom when there was no longer a country worthy of the name, but in my heart I am German – German in my soul.


The Germans and I no longer speak the same language.

America will never forget her patriotism and tireless efforts for victory in World War II!

Marlene Dietrich Family and Childhood Years

marlene dietrich as child

Marlene Dietrich as child

Marie Magdalene Dietrich was born in 1901 in Schöneberg, now a district of Berlin, Germany. She was the younger of two daughters of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine (née Felsing), who married in December 1898. Dietrich’s mother was from a well-to-do Berlin family and her father was a police lieutenant. Her father died in 1907.

Her father’s best friend, Eduard von Losch, an army officer and veteran of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War and Boxer Rebellion in China, courted Wilhelmina and eventually married her in 1916. However, he died soon after as a result of injuries during World War I. At age 11, Marie Magdalene Dietrich contracted her two first names to form the name Marlene Dietrich.

Marlene Dietrich studied the violin and became interested in theatre and poetry as a teenager.

Parents of Marlene Dietrich, Louis Erich Otto Dietrich and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine (née Felsing)

Parents of Marlene Dietrich

Eduard von Losch - step-father of Marlene Dietrich

Step-father Eduard von Losch (with sisters) in 1907

Marlene Dietrich Career in Music, Stage, and Film

She began her career as a violinist in silent movie theaters, and small parts in dramas. Throughout the 1920s, Marlene Dietrich appeared on stage and in films in Berlin.

Marlene Dietrich began her film career in 1923 with a bit part as Kathrin in “The Little Napoleon.”

A major break for Marlene Dietrich came in 1930 with the leading role of cabaret singer Lola Lola in “The Blue Angel.

Marlene Dietrich went on to become an international film superstar. IMDb lists 54 entries in her filmology, and she was the highest paid actress of the era. Her film career led her to move to Hollywood in 1930.

Marlene Dietrich in World War II

Marlene Dietrich was a staunch anti-Nazi, and flatly refused all Nazi requests she return to Germany. Marlene Dietrich became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1939.

When war broke out between the U.S. and Germany, Marlene Dietrich was among the first performers to help sell war bonds, and sold more war bonds than any other performer. She wrote her own speeches, at a time most performers hired ghost writers. She toured coast-to-coast from January 1942 to September 1943, and sang in front of hundreds of thousands of American servicemen.

Here’s a 1943 radio show featuring Marlene Dietrich as the MC:

Beginning in 1944, Marlene Dietrich began overseas tours for USO, starting in North Africa in later in Europe, in addition to countless radio shows. She entertained troops in the front lines in Algeria, Italy, England and France and accompanied Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton into Germany. Often she performed very close to enemy lines, and narrowly escaped a German counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge. When asked about the danger her response was “aus Anstand” — “out of decency.”

A 1944 radio speech by Marlene Dietrich in Italy near the front lines:

“Lili Marlene” (German Lili Marleen), was originally composed by Hans Leip in 1915 as a poem, later becoming a song in 1938 titled “Das Lied eines jungen Soldaten auf der Wacht” (“The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch”), was first recorded by Lale Anderson in 1938. Marlene Dietrich sang “Lili Marlene” often during the war years by Marlene Dietrich, particularly during USO shows, becoming one of the most popular songs of World War II, on both sides.

Marlene Dietrich with Paul Laval’s Band, at the USO Camps July 16, 1944 in Alaska singing Lili Marlene:

Lilli Marlene Lyrics (English)

Outside the barracks, By the corner light,
I always stand and wait for you at night, We will create a world for two,
I’ll wait for you, the whole night through
For you, lili Marleen, For you, lili Marleen

beugler tonight, don’t play the call to arms, I want another evening with it’s charms
Then we will say goodbye and pass, I’ll always keep you in my heart
With me, lili Marleen, With me, lili Marleen

give me a rose to show how much you care, Tie to the stem a lock of golden hair
Surely tomorrow, you’ll feel blue, But then will come a love that’s new
For you, lili Marleen, For you, lili Marleen

when we are marching in the mud and cold, And when my pack seems more than I can hold
My love for you renews my might, I’m warm again, my pack is light
It’s you, lili Marleen, It’s you, lili Marleen

my love for you renews my might, I’m warm again, my pack is light
It’s you, lili Marleen, It’s you, lili Marleen

Recording of Marlene Dietrich singing Lili Marlene in German. Notice how the German version is mournful, as if to stimulate homesickness in German troops, while the English version sounds upbeat?

Lili Marlen Lyrics (German)

Vor der Kaserne, Vor dem großen Tor
Stand eine Laterne, Und steht sie noch davor
So woll’n wir uns da wieder seh’n, Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh’n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.

Unsere beide Schatten, Sah’n wie einer aus
Daß wir so lieb uns hatten, Das sah man gleich daraus
Und alle Leute soll’n es seh’n, Wenn wir bei der Laterne steh’n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.

Schon rief der Posten, Sie blasen Zapfenstreich
Das kann drei Tage kosten, Kam’rad, ich komm sogleich
Da sagten wir auf Wiedersehen, Wie gerne wollt ich mit dir geh’n
Mit dir Lili Marleen.

Deine Schritte kennt sie, Deinen zieren Gang
Alle Abend brennt sie, Doch mich vergaß sie lang
Und sollte mir ein Leids gescheh’n, Wer wird bei der Laterne stehen,
Mit dir Lili Marleen

Aus dem stillen Raume, Aus der Erde Grund
Hebt mich wie im Traume, Dein verliebter Mund
Wenn sich die späten Nebel drehn, Werd’ ich bei der Laterne steh’n
Wie einst Lili Marleen.

Lili Marlene, as sung by Marlene Dietrich in English during the mid 1960s. In her speech before singing, clearly one can sense the pain she still felt about the war 20 years later. Imagine how you would feel if the nation where you were born and raised was overtaken by an evil regime that murdered millions in unspeakable horror, and then was utterly destroyed? Marlene Dietrich was a young woman in Berlin as the Nazi movement grew powerful. After the war, she famously said:

The tears I have cried over Germany have dried. I have washed my face.

In Conclusion

Countless immigrants have fought for America from our founding, including three of my own immigrant ancestors. English immigrants Major General John Mason led colonial forces during the Pequot War (1637) and wrote the first history of that conflict, and Hugh Cole I fought in King Philip’s War (1675-78). German immigrant Charles Brickner fought for the Union in the Civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants serve in our armed forces today, and most are fiercely patriotic to their adopted nation. We should appreciate them regardless of their country of origin. Marlene Dietrich came from a nation that was a bitter foe of American in World War II, and yet she worked tirelessly to sell war bonds and raise the morale of millions of American troops. When you think about our hard won freedoms, remember the contributions of immigrants too!

Marlene Dietrich is no longer with us, but her spirit and her art will live with us forever in American history! She was born in Germany, and made in America!


Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans

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