Video: Leonard Cohen Performs The Partisan – Warsaw 1985 + The Origins Of The Partisan


The Partisan and Leonard Cohen

The Partisan, a song from the French Resistance written by Anna Marly and Emmanuel d’Astier in 1943,1 has been and continues to be one of Leonard Cohen’s most popular songs, especially in French-speaking countries and in Poland.

Rock History 101: Leonard Cohen – “The Partisan” by Tim Nordberg (Consequence of Sound: January 14, 2009) is an excellent (albeit not error free; be sure to read the comments) account of the history and implications of Leonard Cohen’s adoption and adaptation of The Partisan. I’ve excerpted portions here but perusing the entire piece is highly recommended.

At the urgings of General Charles De Gaulle, broadcast on BBC radio, thousands of French men and women took to the hills, and heroically defied the Nazi occupation in the north and the puppet government instituted at Vichy. By the time the allies had landed at Normandy, the French Resistance had organized an irregular fighting force of over 100,000.

… Their struggle against the occupying forces was historically recorded in two surviving historical songs: “Chante des partisans” and “La complainte du partisan.” Cohen had heard the latter on Canadian BBC radio – although in translation. … Cohen then recorded the song for 1969’s Songs From a Room. He is often incorrectly credited as the composer of the song – although he is certainly responsible for its survival.

Cohen’s version downplays the song’s historical content – the English lyrics contain no references to France or the Nazi occupation, but when Cohen swings through the song a second time, in the original French, the first line is: “Les Allemands etaient chez moi”/”The Germans were at my house.”

“The Partisan,” in any language, reminds the listener of a simpler time–despite the song’s calm despair, there’s a Spielsbergian sense of right and wrong, good guys and bad guys, native and invader.


When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender,
this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often,
I’ve lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning
I’m the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

Les Allemands e’taient chez moi, (The Germans were at my home)
ils me dirent, “Signe toi,” (They said, “Sign yourself,”)
mais je n’ai pas peur; (But I am not afraid)
j’ai repris mon arme. (I have retaken my weapon.)

J’ai change’ cent fois de nom, (I have changed names a hundred times)
j’ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children)
mais j’ai tant d’amis; (But I have so many friends)
j’ai la France entie`re. (I have all of France)

Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic)
pour la nuit nous a cache’, (Hid us for the night)
les Allemands l’ont pris; (The Germans captured him)
il est mort sans surprise. (He died without surprise.)

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we’ll come from the shadows.

The Video

This video is from a NBC film of a March 22, 1985 Leonard Cohen performance in Warsaw.2

Leonard Cohen – The Partisan
Warsaw: March 22, 1985
Video from messalina79

Note: Originally posted Jan 11, 2010 at, a predecessor of Cohencentric


  1. There is some confusion about the proper credits for this song.  The French Leonard Cohen Site notes, “… as it can be read in Anna Prucnal’s LP “Avec Amour”, the actual credit is

    Original: La complainte du Partisan
    paroles: Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie also undernamed “Bernard”
    musique: Anna Marly

    Leonard ‘s cover: The (song of the French) Partisan
    paroles: E. d’Astier de la Vigerie, adaptation Hy Zaret
    musique: Anna Marly
    Ed. Raoul Breton.” []

  2. Diamonds in the Mine []

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