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‘Le Chant des partisans’ (Song of the partisans), sung by Anna Marly, was one of the most important and frequently performed songs in the French Resistance. It became a symbol of France’s stand against the Nazis, and also played a functional role in several resistance movements in France and abroad.
Born in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, Marly escaped with her mother shortly after her first birthday. She led a remarkably varied life, including living in Menton, working as a ballet dancer in Monte Carlo and studying with Prokofiev, before moving in 1934 to Paris where she worked in the cabarets. After the fall of France in 1940, Marly fled to London, where she made contact with the Free French forces. Emmanuel d’Astier, a prominent Resistance leader, heard Marly singing an old Russian air and had the idea of adding resistance lyrics. While taking refuge in d’Astier’s house, journalist Joseph Kessel and his nephew Maurice Druon carried out this task and the song was first broadcast on Radio-Londres, the French Resistance radio station broadcast from London, in 1943. Its popularity soared from here: the radio presenter André Gillois liked the song so much that he made it the theme tune for the BBC. In France, since the national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’ (The song of Marseille) was banned by the Nazis, ‘Le Chant des partisans’ was used instead as the official ersatz national anthem by the Free French Forces, and after the war it became a temporary national anthem for France. It also became customary to sing the song after a Resistance fighter was killed, followed by ‘La Marseillaise’. Rituals such as these were facilitated by clandestine newspapers such as Combat, which produced simple paper copies of the sheet music and lyrics in order that it could be circulated throughout France. Even after the war, the song continued to hold its significance: when Jean Moulin’s ashes were transferred to the Pantheon of Paris in 1964, the lyrics featured in André Malraux’s speech.
The song was also used to motivate Allied forces outside of France. Marly joined the Entertainments National Service Association set up in 1939 to provide entertainment for British armed forces, and performed for Allied forces across Europe. In her remarkable autobiography, the resistance fighter Lucie Aubrac recalls meeting Marly, d’Astier, and Kessel, along with another prominent French Resistance fighter Henri Frenay, in an underground restaurant in London in 1944 where Marly sang ‘Le Chant des partisans’ to boost morale among the dinner guests. In recognition of her work, Anna Marly was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) on the 40th anniversary of the liberation, by Francois Mitterrand.
Aubrac, Lucie Outwitting the Gestapo 1984 Ils partiront dans l’ivresse (Seuil, 1984)
Chimello, Sylvia La Résistance en chantant (Paris, 2004)
Marly, Anna Mémoires (Paris, 2000)
Raskin, Richard "Le Chant des Partisans: Functions of a Wartime Song." Folklore [U.K.], 102, 1 (Summer, 1991), pp. 62–76.