They All Sang the Internationale

Katharina Jacob, long before she took that name
Was organizing workers in Hamburg just the same
Organizing beneath the flag of deepest red
A new dawn of peace and freedom clearly shining in her head

Katharina Jacob first was sent to jail
When the trappings of democracy all began to fail
She was frequently arrested, in and out of custody
While her first husband was in hiding from the Nazis

Katharina Jacob was acquitted of a crime
But the gestapo had the last word and they weren’t finished with her this time
She was sent to Ravensbrück, a killing hunger at her side
She heard of the execution, how her second husband died

For Katharina Jacob the end was close at hand
She was on a death march with a ragged, starving band
Marching through a forest, being led by the SS
What would happen hours later seemed impossible to guess

When the sun rose the next morning, it was the first of May
And they all sang the Internationale

Katharina Jacob thought about her children
And the friends and comrades taking care of them<
Not knowing yet if any of them survived
Not knowing that soon she’d see her daughters both alive

Katharina Jacob watched the German soldiers fleeing
Streaming from the east, that’s what she was seeing
Allied bombers flew above them, she thought they all might die and then
Soon there was the silence of all the SS men

Chorus

Katharina Jacob saw red flags flapping in the breeze
Above the Russian tanks and she fell upon her knees
And so many different voices in so many different tongues
Sang the most beautiful song that could ever have been sung

In German, Lithuanian, in Polish and in Dutch
A myriad of melodies as never had been such
In Russian and in Yiddish, Italian and French
Emerging from the forests beneath a trench

Chorus

Völker, hört die Signale! Auf zum letzten Gefecht!
Die Internationale erkämpft das Menschenrecht

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“They All Sang the Internationale” appears on the 2015 CD and Bandcamp album, The Other Side.

I heard this story of Katharina Jacob’s day of liberation from her granddaughter, who shares her name.  She was liberated by Russian troops during a death march from the Ravensbruck concentration camp to Berlin.  Her liberation occurred on may 1st, International Workers Day.  Being a communist, like many of the other prisoners, this was auspicious.  Or maybe it’s just auspicious for the songwriters trying to make sense of all that two generations later.

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