The music to the song, which extols the heroism of Polish troops in the capture of the Benedictine monastery atop Monte Cassino in Italy, was written by Alfred Schutz, a member of the Polish Soldiers’ Theatre, on the eve of the battle of 18 May 1944.
The four-part Battle of Monte Cassino is considered one of the key clashes of the so-called Italian Campaign, with the Allied victory opening up the road to Rome.
After Schutz's childless death in Munich in 1999, and that of his wife in 2004, royalties for the commercial use of ‘The Red Poppies’ were paid, according to German law, through GEMA to the Free State of Bavaria.
The efforts to obtain the rights to the music were initiated by a group of enthusiasts from the Kraków-based Polish Song Library.
The agreement between the Polish and Bavarian authorities was signed after protracted legal proceedings.
Upon receiving the relevant documents from Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, Culture Minister Małgorzata Omilanowska said: “I am delighted that something so very symbolic as ‘The Red Poppies of Monte Cassino’ has become a part of Polish national heritage. The music of the song is now in the Polish copyright domain and can be performed on all occasions.”
The matter is not that simple, though, as the copyright to the song lyrics continues to be protected by PRS for Music, a U.K. copyright collection society and performance rights organization. This is because Feliks Konarski, their author, who never returned to Poland after the war, died in London in 1991. The Instytut Książki (Book Institute) in Poland has undertaken steps to obtain the rights to the lyrics of ‘The Red Poppies’ as well. (mk/nh/rk)
Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew were drinking Polish blood
Through these poppies walked a soldier and died
But stronger than death was his wrath
Years go by and centuries will pass
The traces of old days will last
And all the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder because from Polish blood they'll grow