Ode to Joy (Himno a la alegría)

Song by:
original by Friedrich von Schiller (lyrics) and Ludwig van Beethoven (music). Free version in Spanish by Amado Regueiro Rodríguez, aka Orbe (lyrics) y Waldo de los Ríos (music), popularised in Chile by Miguel Ríos.
Testimony by:
Amelia Negrón
Experience in:

Preparations for that Wednesday night became more intense. It would be a different night. We women prisoners had secretly organised ourselves, but more importantly, we had also coordinated with the male prisoners. I’m not sure whether it was our idea or whether the men had proposed it. That detail is irrelevant now.

Another important thing is that we had been able to get the word to Lola, as we shall call her here. She was barely more than a child. She was short, had black hair, a tinkling-bell laugh, and sparkling eyes. She lived in the neighbourhood nearby, on the other side of that long wall, now painted white. She had been with us a few months and when the day of her release came, she cried and cried and cried. At last, she was getting out, but she was taking the sadness of leaving us behind with her.

But that’s how it was. Some continued in prison while other others returned to their homes or were sent into exile. Few women, very few, ever returned. We prepared the New Year’s Eve dinner in advance. We had to be ready for the chosen hour: midnight - not a minute more, nor a minute less.

We made salads of all kinds, with tomatoes and lettuce; for dessert, we had all the delicious treats family members had brought us: so much fruit from our bountiful Chile, fruitcake, biscuits, some chocolates, etc., in addition to whatever main course the prison kitchen served that night.

We never knew what it would be, although it didn’t matter much to us. We made sure to complement the prison fare with homemade kefir and jam. We made the yoghurt from milk the International Red Cross brought us, which was far from tasty, but the kefir and jam made it palatable. That was enough to make us almost happy!

We ate, washed the dishes, and smartened ourselves up a bit – not too much, not as we did to receive visitors when we had to be beautiful and healthy for our families, partners, children and friends. We absolutely could not allow ourselves to be depressed; we were so happy on those few visit days. We would be able to touch them, smell them, hug them, give them our affection, give them the gifts we had made for them, hear the news, the latest rumours about releases from prison. There were so many things we wanted to do with them and the time together would be so brief!

In that spirit, we feverishly took the tables out into the middle of the prison yard and placed the benches together. Amidst all the preparations, midnight was upon us. Five minutes to midnight, in silence and in the dark, we climbed up onto the benches and the tables, as quiet as we could but smiling. That warm night, the director counted to four and then, all of a sudden, we burst into song in unison.

The voices of the nearly 120 women political prisoners in Tres Álamos concentration camp began singing Ode to Joy as loudly as we could, towards the sky. Beyond the walls that enclosed us, our voices leapt to reach the ears of our male comrades held in Pavilions 1 and 2, as they were called.

The other prisoners held at Cuatro Álamos, still classified as disappeared because the dictatorship had not acknowledged their arrests, now probably knew where they were being held, upon hearing our song. Not only that, but Lola and all her friends from the neighbourhood, sitting on the kerb in front of the prison gates, could hear us as well. Although closed, the gates were powerless to stop our voices and the voices of all our neighbours at the concentration camp. That night a single choir was formed, free of walls and fences.

We sang and sang: 'Ode to Joy', 'El negro José', 'Palabras para Julia', 'No volveré', and we kept singing and singing. We would start singing a song and the men, fellow prisoners on the other side, beyond the walls that separated us, would respond. That night we went to bed around one in the morning, exhausted and hoarse but so happy. We had broken the chains - it was still possible to think of freedom.


Published on: 29 December 2014


Listen brother
to the song of joy
the joyful song that awaits
a new day.

Come, sing, dream, singing,
live singing the new sun
under which men
will once again be brothers.

If in your path only sadness exists
and the bitter cry
of total solitude,
come, sing, dream, singing,
live dreaming the new sun
under which men
will once again be brothers.

If you don’t find joy
in this land
search for it brother
beyond the stars.

Come, sing, dream, singing,
live dreaming the new sun
under which men
Once again will be brothers.