Two Songs from the Strassenhof Labor Camp by Masha Rolnik
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman, Ph.D.
Sadly, as we were preparing this blog entry the Yiddish writer Masha Rolnik (Mascha Rolnikaite) passed away at age 89 in St. Petersburg, on April 7th, 2016. Her Yiddish diary of her experiences during the Holocaust, written as a teenager is entitled Ikh muz dertseyln (I Must Tell). It is considered one of the most important day-by-day descriptions of the Vilna ghetto.
We thank Michael Lukin, researcher and curator of Yiddish song at the Jewish Music Research Centre in Jerusalem for submitting the recording, which he made in St. Petersburg, Russia, November 27, 2013.
In this Yiddish Song of the Week entry we are including a 10 minute unedited recording in which she sings two Yiddish songs written while in a labor camp during the second world war. She then talks about her life during the war. We have translated her introductory spoken remarks and the two songs, as well as transliterations of them.
The two songs that she sings, Der Shtrasenhofer hymn and Sport can be found in Shmerke Kaczerginski’s collection Lider in di getos un lagern (Congress for Jewish Culture, NY, 1948) (pages 228 – 229 and pages 224 – 225). There the author of the songs is listed as “unknown” but from this recording we are made aware that Rolnik wrote the words and apparently borrowed the melody from other songs.
We are attaching scans of the songs in Yiddish from the Kaczerginski collection. Since Rolnik’s versions of the songs vary only slightly from the printed versions, and, in fact, she is singing them from Kaczerginski’s book, we have only provided the Yiddish versions as found in that collection. The music to the Hymn is also found in the Kaczerginski collection and we have included a scan of that as well.
In the Kaczerginski collection, both songs were sung to the collector by Sarah Kogan from Vilna, and her performance of the Hymn can be heard in the Ben Stonehill collection. Also in the Stonehill collection you can hear Kaczerginski himself singing the Strassenhofer Hymn.
There are many websites to find out more about Rolnik’s life, and one can begin with her Wikipedia page. There is a Yad Vashem page on her father, Hirsh Rolnik, who was separated from the family at the beginning of the war. The Yad Vashem website additionally has information on the Strassenhof camp located near Vienna, where almost all the inmates survived.
Masha Rolnik speaks: “Sunday, we worked half a day, so during the second half we were free. That Jews should be free – they could not accept that notion. So we had to march in the camp singing a song that they provided. The song is called ‘We were the masters of the world; now we are’ – you’ll pardon me – ‘the lice of the world.’ I could not accept that. Where I got the melody I don’t know: I am no composer. It was in my head.
SONG 1: DI SHTRASENHOFER HYMN
lyrics: Masha Rolnik, music: unknown
Mir zaynen di shtrasenhofer yidn,
Dos “naye eyrope” boyen mir.
Di arbet, vos mir hobn – iz farshidn.
Ober tsores hobn mir on a shir.
Akh, shtrasenhof, oy biz tsum haldz bistu mir!
Akh, shtrasenhof, vi vert men poter shoyn fun dir?
Akh, shtrasenhof, ven vet shoyn kumen di tsayt,
un mir veln vider zayn bafrayt?
Mitn esn iz do zeyer biter –
Di zup, zi iz epes modne blo,
un dertsu – iz zi azoy shiter
vayl kartofl far undz iz nokh nito.
Di fabrikn-luft bakumt undz nit tsum gutn,
dos veysn mir ale gants genoy.
Es zol beser tsirkulirn undzere blutn,
shikt men zuntik undz afn barakn-boy.
Nor derfun ken men oykh nokh nit shtarbn –
dos meynt men mit undz gornit shlekht;
Mir viln krign in di bakn royte farbn –
Do iz der lager-elterer “gerekht”.
Mit der derloybenish fun eltern fun lager
vert yedn zuntik ovnt muzitsirt,
un loytn bafel fun eltern: oy a shlager,
vert yedn zuntik morgn eksertsirt.
Es muz vern marshirt un gezungen!
Ir tort nit zayn shtayf, vi a bret!
Ir muzst hobn gezunte lungen,
oyb ir vet amol farlozn dem katset!…
We are the Shrassenhofer Jews,
We are building the “New Europe”
The work that we do is varied,
But sorrows we have without end.
Akh, Strassenhof, I am up to my throat with you,
Akh, Strassenhof, how can I get rid of you?
Akh Strassenhof, when will the time return
And we will once more be free?
Concerning the food here, it’s very bitter –
The soup, its strangely blue.
In addition – it’s so thin
Because there are no potatos here for us.
The factory air makes us sick.
We all know this too well.
In order for our blood to circulate better
We are sent on Sunday to build barracks.
But yet from this one cannot die –
They have no evil designs on us.
We will get red colors in our cheeks.
The camp elder is right about that.
With the permission of the elders in the camp
Every Sunday we make music.
Following the order of the elders: Oh, a hit song!
Should get exercised every Sunday morning.
We must march and sing!
You cannot be stiff as a board!
You must have healthy lungs,
If you ever want to leave this camp.
SONG 2: SPORT
words: Masha Rolnik music: unknown
In Strasenhofer lager
derfunden hot men dort
far groys un kleyn,
far yung un alt –
a naye mode – sport.
Ver s’hot dem apel farshlofn,
Ver in nore farzamt zikh hot –
krigt glaykh nokhn apel
dem nayem sport-kompot
Oy, Shtrasenhof, farvos zog, Shtrasenhof,
Ikh freg dikh, Shtrasenhof, du veyst gevis.
Der sport iz grod nit shlekht, dos bistu yo gerekht
nor farvos shmartsn nokhdem azoy di fis?
Tsu morgns in fabrik gekumen,
dershlept zikh got-tsu-dank.
Dan nemt a yede brumen:
“Oy, vi bin ikh haynt krank”.
Eyne ken zikh nit rirn,
di tsveyte ken nit geyn,
di drite muz men firn,
di ferte ken nit shteyn.
Refrain – Oy Strasenhof….
Tsu peysekh git men undz
a geshenk gor fayn un shnel:
dray a zeyger ofshteyn
un fir in der apel.
Un Lides shtime hert men
“Ver vil nokh shlofn dort?
Tsi den hot ir fargesn
az ir muzst haynt makhn sport?”
Mit sport muzn mir oyfshteyn,
mit sport shlofn mir ayn,
sport ahin tui sport aher
Gevald! Ikh ken nit mer!
In Strassenhof camp
For big and small,
For young and old –
A new fad – sport.
Whoever slept past the “Apel” [line-up]
Whoever in her corner came late –
The new sport-pudding.
Oy Strassenhof, why, tell me, Strassenhof
I ask you Strassenhof; you know for sure.
The sport is actually not bad, in this you are right.
But why afterwards do my legs hurt so much?
Next day I came to the factory
I barely made it, thank God.
Then everyone starts to complain:
“Oy how sick I am today”.
One cannot move.
The other cannot walk.
The third one must be helped,
The fourth cannot stand.
For Passover they give us
A gift, real fine and fast;
Three o’oclock wake up
And by four at the Appel.
And Lide’s voice can be heard.
Who wants to sleep some more over there,
Did you forget
That you have to do sport today?!
With sport we must wake up.
With sport we fall asleep.
Sport here, sport there,
Help! I can’t anymore.