The “Horst-Wessel-Lied” was recognised as a national symbol by a law issued on May 19, 1933, after having been adopted as the party song of the Nazi party in 1931. Therefore it had an equal status with “Deutschlandlied”, so in fact Nazi Germany had a double anthem, consisting of the first verse of the “Lied der Deutschen”, followed by the “Horst Wessel-Lied”, this combined version was known as the “Lieder der Nation” (Song of the Nation). A regulation attached to a printed version of the “Horst Wessel-Lied” in 1934 required the right arm to be raised in a “Hitler salute” when the first and fourth verses are sung.
Horst Wessel joined the Nazi party in in 1926. He was a local commander of the SA (Sturmabteilung), a paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, and wrote an anthem for the SA that was published in a Nazi party newspaper in 1929 under the title “Der Unbekannte SA-Mann” (“The Unknown SA Man”). It eventually became known as “Die Fahne hoch” (“The flag on high”) from its opening words and later, the “Horst-Wessel-Lied”. Wessel was killed in 1930, possibly by communists in retaliation for his organizing an attack on local communist party headquarters. Glorified as a martyr to the Nazi cause, his song became the official Nazi anthem and was perhaps the most famous Nazi song of the war.
The melody was used in many other songs, so therefore its origin is widely disputed. Shortly after Wessel’s death, the Nazi party credited him as both the composer and lyricist but, until such criticisms were strongly discouraged under Hitler’s government, musicologists pointed out that the melody has long existed in German folk songs.
After Germany’s defeat in World War II, the anthem was prohibited in use by the governing allied powers in 1945, and remains so in Germany and Austria today, save for educational purposes.
See also: Germany (1922-1945, 1990-).