He is remembered today as the composer of "Lili Marleen", the most beloved song of the Second World War, but Norbert Schultze (1911-2002), a pianist and prolific composer of film music, was once remembered for much, much more.
Norbert Arnold Wilhelm Richard Schultze studied music theory, piano, composition, conducting, and theatre in Cologne and Munich. His career as a composer began in Munich during the early 1930s, where he also acted under the pseudonym Frank Norbert. He later conducted in Munich, Darmstadt, Leipzig, and Mannheim. He began composing songs for theatre and cinema in 1936 and met with considerable success.
The song most associated with his name, "Lili Marleen", was written as a poem in 1915, during the first world conflict. Schultze set it to music in 1938, and it was recorded by Lale Andersen in 1939. It was unsuccessful at first, but once it was broadcast from German-occupied Belgrade in 1941 it immediately transcended the war, becoming a huge international hit and the first million-selling record in Germany, perfectly encapsulating the longings of Allied as well as German troops. It was eventually translated into some fifty different languages.
In 1940 Schultze joined the Nazi Party to avoid conscription. By this time he was working for Dr. Joseph Goebbels' Reich Ministry for Propaganda, writing such popular combat songs as "Bomben auf Engeland" ("Bombs on England"), "Vorwärts nach Osten" ("From Finland to the Black Sea"), and "Das U-Boot-Lied" ("The U-Boat Song").
In great demand by the Goebbels propaganda machine throughout the war, Schultze composed music for such films as Hans Bertram's Feuertaufe (Baptism of Fire), the successful documentary on the Blitzkrieg in Poland; Wolfgang Liebeneiner's Bismarck (1940) and Ich klage an (I Accuse, 1941); Karl Ritter's GPU (The Red Terror, 1942), in which Lale Andersen appears as a singer; and Veit Harlan's Kolberg (1945), the last great spectacle film of the Third Reich. These are all available from International Historic Films.
At war's end Schultze was denazified, classified as a Mitlaufer (fellow traveler), paid a 3,000-Mark fine, and resumed his work in the German film industry, where he remained active for many years. His service to the Nazi state had discredited him, however, and in later years he apologized for having supported the Third Reich. He donated all of the royalties he made from material written during the Nazi era to the German Red Cross.
Despite composing scores for some fifty films and writing operas, operettas, musicals, and ballets, Norbert Schultze has been outlived by one song. Whether performed by Lale Andersen, Marlene Dietrich, or Vera Lynn, the beckoning ghost still waits in the shadows: "Your sweet face seems to haunt my dreams / My Lili of the lamplight / My own Lili Marleen / My own Lili Marleen".