Historian, Teacher, Writer

The Partisan’s Lament

From eastern Ukraine to an Oregon wildlife refuge, right-wing militias have lately expropriated the memory of antifascist resistance and partisan struggle. But we would do well to remember the progressive and emancipatory potential of that history. Below I’ve translated a famous song of the French Resistance, “La Complainte du partisan” (1943). Here’s a beautiful version by the Russian-born French singer Anna Marly, who composed the song’s original music in 1943 (the lyrics date to 1941, a year after the Nazi invasion of France). Leonard Cohen, who just passed away, made it popular with his 1969 rendition “The Partisan”; Joan Baez followed up with her own version in 1972. These later versions celebrate the return of liberty and the partisan resister’s emergence from the shadows. The original lyrics indicate, however, that it was a song for dark times.

The Partisan’s Lament

The enemies were at my door
They told me, ‘Give up,’
But I couldn’t do it.
So again I took up my weapon.

No one asked me
Where I come from or where I’m going
You there who knows,
Cover my tracks.

I’ve changed my name a hundred times
I’ve lost my wife and child
But I have so many friends
So I have the whole of France.

Only yesterday we were three
Now only I am left
And I go around in circles
Inside the prison of these borders

An old man hid us
In a barn for a night
The Germans got hold of him
Unsurprised he died

The wind passes over the graves
And when liberty returns
They will forget us!
We’ll go back into the shadows.