Let me start with an explanation: I was not brought up on the Bobby Darrin version (I don't like him, anyway) or the Armstrong or the Sinatra versions though I did hear them in my youth. No, I was brought up on the original, dark, sinister version, whether performed by Bertolt Brecht himself (not terribly well), Ernst Busch, the ballad singer in Pabst's film or sundry imitators. How that terrifying song managed to become jolly entertainment is fascinating and I wonder whether anybody has done a proper study of the transformation.
So, here are several versions. First off, Bert Brecht, the Communist propagandist, apparatchik, stool pigeon who betrayed various friends, lovers and comrades and the man, who wisely did not flee to the Soviet Union when the Nazis came to power, but to the Scandinavian countries and then the United States, returning to socialist East Germany only when it became obvious that he would be a great man there.
That is not a great performance but this is. Ernst Busch was an actor and a singer as well as a Communist agitator. It is as well to remember that the Communists did their very best to undermine the fragile Weimar Republic, aiding, though indirectly, the ascent of Hitler and the Nazis.
Busch did go to the Soviet Union together with many other German Communists but unlike those, he survived. In 1937 he went to Spain to fight in the International Brigade and survived the purge that the NKVD instituted among those. When Franco won Busch, interestingly enough, did not return to the Soviet Union. Perhaps, he knew what awaited him there.
He went to Belgium where he was interned by the Nazis after the invasion. Imprisoned in Belgium and France during the war he survived to move to East Germany to become yet another great man and fighter for freedom. Well, as long as the people did not demand freedom from the Communists as they did in Berlin in 1953. Neither Busch nor Brecht were in favour of the workers then.
Of course, there may have been other reasons for Busch's sojourn in Belgium and France. The NKVD was rather anxious to know about various ex-Communists and other left-wing activists who were in Nazi camps.
Well, enough already of this German gloom. Let us have some entertainment. Here is one of my favourite versions by Dinah Shore and Pearl Bailey, both wonderful singers and entertainers.