Esor Ben-Sorek

National Anthems

An anthem is a patriotic song written in praise of a victorious nation and sung in reverence by the nation’s population.

The oldest national anthem in the world is the Dutch HET WILHELMUS, written in 1572 allegedly by Petrus Dathenus and set to music by Adrianus Valerius.

It was written to commemorate the Dutch revolt for independence from the Spanish Empire.

Perhaps the most well-known and popular of patriotic anthems is the famous French LA MARSEILLES. It is a stirring anthem written in 1792 by a Strasbourg poet, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, after the war by France against Austria. It was originally called  THE ANTHEM TO FREEDOM or CHANT DE GUERRE POUR L’ARMEE DU RHIN.  It urged French citizens to arise, take arms, form battalions and march on to spill Austrian blood on the soil of France. De Lisle wrote both the lyrics and the music.

DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES became the German national anthem in 1922 during the Weimar Republic which followed the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm from the German throne. The music was taken from Joseph Haydn’s composition in 1797 and the lyrics were written by August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersl.

The words were popular with Germans who had lost the first World War but were held in disgust by most of Germany’s neighbors who rejected the German claim to be above all other nations in the world.

Following the German defeat in 1945 the anthem’s music was kept but the words were changed. It is also sung as a religious hymn in Protestant churches as “Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion city of our God….”


HATIKVAH (THE HOPE) was written by Naftali Herz Imber in 1877 and the music was from the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. The composer originally called his anthem VLTAVA in honor of the river which flows through Prague. It is more often better known by its German title, DIE MOLDAU.

Imber had composed many short poems but it was his HATIKVAH that inspired the Zionist Congress in Basel and ultimately became the inspiring hymn of the Zionist movement. It became the official national anthem of the State of Israel in May 1948. The last line of Imber’s poem “l’ir ba David, David chana” was changed to “lihiyot am chofshi b’artzainu, eretz Tzion v’Yerusalayim”… to be a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Imber’s life was a tragedy. He moved to New York and became an alcoholic frequently sleeping on the sidewalks of the city. On October 8, 1908. He collapsed on Forsyth street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and was rushed to Mount Moriah hospital where he died of starvation and alcohol. His anthem lives on as an inspiration to Israelis and Jews world-wide who stand to sing it proudly.

The American national anthem the STAR SPANGLED BANNER was written in the city of Baltimore by Francis Scott Key in 1814 and was set to a melody written in 1773 by John Stafford Smith.

Key wrote the words because he was emotionally thrilled to see the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 when the fort was bombarded by ships of the British Royal Navy.

Prior to that time, the United States had no official national anthem. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty, Of Thee I sing….” was the accepted popular hymn set to the melody of the British national anthem, God Save the King (Queen).

The STAR SPANGLED BANNER, whose high pitched melody is often difficult to sing, was officially declared the American national anthem on March 4, 1931.

Anthems are meant to inspire and to evoke national pride. They are usually sung in reverence to commemorate freedom and independence.

The only practices of change in the national anthems of Canada and Belgium reflect the dual-language of both countries and are sung in Canada in English and French and in Belgium in French and Flemish.

For obvious reasons in the wordings, non-Jewish Israelis do not sing the HATIKVAH.  Still, we have hope !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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