The last day of Passover 1903 coincided with Easter that year, and the tragic Kishinev pogrom began on that date. Kishinev, aftermath of the pogrom (YIVO Archives)
Lifshe Schaechter-Widman (LSW) sang this version of a song about the pogrom which was adapted for other pogroms, or perhaps was itself already an adaptation of an earlier pogrom song. In this post we note two other pogroms with versions of the song.
A version of the same pogrom song is sung by the actress/singer Miriam Kressyn about Bialystok on the LP record Dos Goldene Land. Kressyn was from Bialystok, and the Bialystoker pogroms took place in 1905 – 1906. (Thanks to Lorin Sklamberg and the YIVO Sound Archives for providing this recording)
The third pogrom where this song was used was in Volodarka, Ukraine. This pogrom took place in July 1919 amidst the Russian Civil War. The lyrics (as collected by S. Kupershmid) appears in the Tsaytshrift far yidisher geshikhte, demografye un ekonomik literatur-forshung, shprakh-visnshaft un etnografye 2-3 (Minsk, 1928) page 803. It too contains the lines of walking through feathers as through snow in winter, and this emerged as one of the primary pogrom images, as we see in our Kishinev pogrom examples and others.
On the Workmen Circle’s LP “Amol iz geven a mayse”, Sidor Belarsky sings two verses of an abbreviated version of The Kishiniev Pogrom song. The song begins at this link – double click on “Amol iz geven a mayse (cont.)” and go to 12:30 minutes.
In the chapter “The Pogrom As Poem” in David G. Roskies’ work Against the Apocalypse: Responses to Catastrophe in Modern Jewish Culture (1984) the author examines how the same pogrom song was adapted for different pogroms. He remarks “even when the singer invoked historical facts, the relics of the violence were organized into public symbols and thematic formulas, so that the details were applicable anywhere and only the place-name would have to be changed.”
Transliteration/Translation of LSW’s version:
Lifshe Schaechter-Widman “Lid funem Keshenever Pogrom”, recorded by Leybl Kahn, Bronx, 1954
Akhron Shel Peysekh af der nakht
iz aroys a nayer “rozkaz.”
Az yidn zoln lign bahaltn.
Zey torn zikh nisht dreyen in gas.
Oy, ziser got in himl,
kuk shoyn arop af dr’erd.
Ze nor dem rash un getuml.
Vos hobn di yidn far a vert?
A hoyz fun dray gorn
hot men geleygt biz tsu dem grint.
Betgevant hot men gerisn,
di federn gelozt of dem vint.
In di federn iz men gegangen
azoy vi vinter in shney.
Vayber hot men geshlogn;
mener gerisn of tsvey.
Vayber hot men geshlogn;
Di mener tserisn of tsvey.
Ziser got in himl
kik shoyn arup af dr’erd
Vuz zenen di yidn azoy zindik
Vus zey hobn gur keyn vert?
The last day of Passover
a new regulation was issued.
That Jews should lie hidden;
they aren’t allowed in the street.
Oy sweet God in heaven,
Look already down on the earth.
See the tumult and chaos.
Are the Jews worth anything?
A house three stories high
was destroyed down to the ground.
Bedding was torn apart;
the feathers blew in the wind.
In the feathers they walked
as in winter in snow.
Women were beaten;
men torn in two.
Sweet God in heaven
Look already down to the Earth.
Have the Jews so sinned
that they are of no worth.
When ballads have been presented on the Yiddish Song of the Week we have sometimes emphasized the parallels with other international ballads. This week we present a ballad type that is not to be found internationally, certainly not in the Anglo-British-American tradition – a ballad that describes the conversion of a child to the Christian faith; a shmad-ballad. The verb shmadn in Yiddish means to convert to Christianity.
This week’s entry has two versions of the same shmad-ballad. There are a number of others and judging by the geographic spread of the singers, we could conclude that it is at least as old as the 19th century.
1) The first version Zitst di mome (As Mother is Sitting) comes to us courtesy of the AHEYM (Archives of Historical and Ethnographic Yiddish Memoirs) project at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. This project has been directed by professors Dov-Ber Kerler and Jeff Weidlinger. Special thanks to AHEYM project manager Anya Quilitzch who prepared the video clip.
The singer Zelda Roif of Kishinev (Chișinău), Moldova, sings in her Bessarabian dialect, marked especially by her toto-mome-loshn. Tate (father) in her dialect becomes tote, mame becomes mome and geshmadt becomes geshmodt (converted). Her version has a distinctly Romanian flavor since the daughter Sonyele falls in love with a shepherd (cioban).
In classic ballad form, the first few verses set the action then turn into a dialogue between mother and daughter, in which the mother tries to convince her daughter not to convert. The mother fails and the last two lines spoken by the daughter – “I can’t stand the Jewish faith” is quite a powerful (unhappy) ending.
2) The second ballad Bentsik der shoykhet (Bentsik the Ritual Slaughterer) is sung by Lillian Manuel of Suchowola in northeast Poland, and the recording and comments were provided by her grandson, the Yiddish linguist Dovid Braun.
By comparing the two ballads we see the similar dialogue structure though in different settings. The ending of Bentsik der shoykhet is also quite shocking.
The Yiddish shmad-ballad song type deserves a longer analysis than is possible here. Among other versions collected is one in Sofia Magid’s work printed in “Unser Rebbe, unser Stalin” edited by Elvira Grozinger and Susi Hudak-Lazic (Harrasowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2008) – “Rokhele” (pages 288-289) recorded in Volyn, 1928. The Magid version is a variant of the two presented today and recounts how Rokhele ran away with the priest’s son. In the longer text provided (page 555) a similar dialogue between parent and daughter can be found. A recording of the song is included in the DVD that comes with the volume.
Please find Yiddish texts at the end of this posting.
ZITST DI MAME (Performed by Zelda Roif, Kishinev, Moldova)
Zitst di mame un
arbet a zok.
Kimt men ir zogn,
az ir tokhter Sonyele hot zikh geshmodt.
Mother is sitting and
mending a sock,
when they come to tell her
that her Sonyele has converted.
Loyft zi zi zikhn,
tsvishn ole shkheynim.
In ir tokhter Sonyele
iz nishtu bay keynem.
So she runs to search her among all the neighbors. And her daughter Sonyele is not found by anyone.
Loyft zi zi zikhn tsi tshubanes tir. In ir tokhter Sonyele shteynt akeygn ir.
So she runs to look for her at the door of the shepherd. And her daughter Sonyele is standing across from her.
Sonyele, Sonyele kim tsu mir aheym. Ikh vel dir gibn vus di vi’st aleyn.
Sonyele, Sonyele Come home to me. I will give you whatever you want.
Ikh vel dir gibn kleyder un dan.. in a yidish yingele far ayn man.
I will give you clothes and then.. and a Jewish boy for a husband.
Bay mir bisti ‘gan mit shikh un kaloshn. Vest khasene hobm far tshuban (In Romanian= cioban) vesti oysgeyn far a groshn.
At my place you wore shoes and boots. If you marry the shepherd you will die for a penny.
Bay mir bisti ‘gan mit a vas, zadn kleyd. Vest khasene hobn far Tshuban vesti vashn yidish greyt.
With me, you wore a white, silk dress. If you marry the shepherd you will wash Jewish laundry.
[Spoken] Hot zi geentfert der miter: She answered her mother:
Trabt avek man miter ikh ken zi nisht ladn. Di yidishe nemune Ikh ken zi nisht farladn.
Drive away my mother, I can’t stand her. The Jewish faith I can’t stand it.
BENTSIK DER SHOYKHET (sung by Lillian Manuel, known in her shtetl Suchowola, NE Poland, as “Libe Yankl dem shvartsns”, to her grandson David / Dovid Braun, in the Workmen’s Circle Home for the Aged, Bronx, NY, ca. 1988) *see comments by David/Dovid Braun at the end of this translation.
Bentsik der shoykhet mitn zaydenem khalat;
Feygele zayn tokhter hot zikh opgeshmadt.
Bentsik the [kosher] slaughterer with his silken robe; Feygele his daughter has converted to Christianity.
Bentsik der shoykhet shpant ayn ferd-un-vogn kedey er zol kenen zayn Feygelen deryogn.
Bentsik the slaughterer hitched up his horse and wagon, So that he could catch up to his Feygele.
Bentsik der shoykhet geyt arayn in a kvartir. Gefunen hot er Feygelen bam kloyster fun tir [in kloyster bam tir].
Bentsik the slaughterer goes into an inn. What he’s found is Feygele in church by the door.
“Kum aher mayn tokhter, kum tsu mir aheym. Ikh vel dir gebn vos du vilst aleyn.”
“Come here my daughter, come home to me. I will give you whatever you want.
Ikh vel dir gebn gelt un nadan un tsu dertsu a sheynem yungn-man.”
I will give you money and dowry and on top of that a handsome young man.”
Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di fis un im af tselokhes dem sheygets a kish.
Bentsik the slaughterer, he falls to their feet and to spite him, [she gives] the gentile boy a kiss.
Bentsik der shoykhet, er falt tsu di tishn [griber] un im af tselokhes tseylemt zi zikh iber.
Bentsik the slaughterer falls to the tables [graves, pits], and to spite him she crosses herself.
Feygele iz gegangen in zaydene zokn. Az zi vet peygern vet klingen di glokn.
Feygele was wearing silken socks/stockings. When she croaks, the [church] bells will ring.
Af morgn bay tog: a yomer, a klog! Bentsik der shoykhet iz geshtorbn in mitn tog.
The next afternoon: alas and alack! Bentsik the slaughterer died in the middle of the day.
Notes by David Braun:
In the Yiddish original, I have placed in square brackets [ ] a few words Mrs. Manuel sang on an occasion a few years earlier when in better health and with a yet crisper memory. It is clear how those words make better sense and/or form a more satisfactory rhyme. Also, the final two stanzas were reversed in that earlier rendition, which makes more sense: walking neither with shoes nor barefoot but in socks or stockings is a sign of mourning. So first her father Bentsik has died, then she has donned traditional Jewish mourning garb, and finally we are warned that when the end comes for her, the apostate, mourning will be signaled by church bells.
After first becoming acquainted with this song in her repertoire, I compared her version to others in the folkloristic literature and discovered that in some, the gentile youth who is the object of Feygele’s romantic interest is named. With that information, I jogged her memory and ended up eliciting this additional stanza that she doesn’t sing on the recording – it clearly belongs after the stanza following Bentsik’s promise of dowry and all other good things. Feygele insists:
Kh’vil nit kayne kleyder, kh’vil nit kayn nadan. Aleksandern hob ikh lib un er vet zayn mayn man.
‘I don’t want any clothes, I don’t want any dowry. Alexander is who I love and he will be my husband.’
With this stanza, we’re enlightened as to what’s behind Feygele’s conversion from yiddishkayt, and religious philosophy doesn’t seem to be the motivating factor.
The author of the text to “Nakhtishe lider”, Herz Rivkin was born Herzl Heisiner in Capresti, Bessarabia (today Moldova) in 1908, and died in a Soviet gulag, November 14, 1951. The poem is taken from his only printed poetry collection “In shkheynishn dorf” [From the Neighboring Village], Bucharest, 1938. Reprinted in Bucharest, 1977.
The composer of the melody is unknown. The performer of this week’s posting, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (my mother), learned this song in Chernovitz in the 1930s. The only recording of the song is by Arkady Gendler on his CD “My Hometown Soroke”, 2001. That version is incomplete with two verses by Rivkin, and a third by Gendler. Gendler titles the song “Nakhtike lider” which is the original title in Rivkin’s book.
Singer Michael Alpert has initiated and directs a concert program with singer/bandura player Julian Kytasty which brings together Jewish and Ukrainian singers and musicians in a collaborative program, the title of which “Night Songs from a Neighboring Village” was inspired by this song.
I recorded my mother’s performance of “Nakhtishe lider” at home in the Bronx in the 1980s. The audio quality of the recording is unfortunately not stable (be careful when listening – the volume increases significantly at 0:27), but Schaechter-Gottesman’s singing here is a wonderful example of what I would call urban interwar Yiddish singing and contrasts powerfully with the older plaintive, communal shtetl-style of her mother Lifshe Schaechter-Widman.
Nakhtishe lider fun shkheynishn dorf farblondzen amol tsu mayn ganik. Zey leshn mayn troyer; zey gletn mayn umet. Zey flisn vi zaftiker honig.
Night Songs from the neighboring village. Lose their way to my porch. They extinguish my sadness; they caress my melancholy. They flow like juicy honey.
Lider khakhlatske, muntere, frishe. Vos shmekn mit feld un mit shayer. Zey filn di luft un mit varemkeyt liber, vos shtromt fun a heymishn fayer.
Ukrainian Songs, upbeat and fresh that smell with field and barn. They fill the air with a loving warmth, that streams from an intimiate fire.
Nakht iz in shtetl, ikh lig afn ganik. Ver darf haynt der mames geleyger? Iz vos, az s’iz eyns? Iz vos, az s’iz tsvey? Iz vos az shlogt dray shoyn der zeyger?
It’s nighttime in town; I lay on my porch. Who needs today my mother’s place to sleep? So what if it’s one? So what if it’s two? So what if the clock strikes three?
Her ikh un ikh veys nisht iz yontif in dorf. Tsi es hilyen zikh glat azoy yingen. Az vos iz der khilek? Oyb s’vet bald, mir dakht di levone oykh onheybn tsu zingen.
I listen and I don’t know if it’s a celebration in the village, or just some kids are singing. But what is the difference? If soon, it seems The moon will also start to sing.
Azoy gisn amol zikh fun skheynishn dorf heymishe, zaftike tener. Biz s’heybt on frimorgn tsu vargn di nakht un ez heybn on kreyen shoyn di heyner.
In this way pours out, from the neighboring village intimate, juicy melodies. Until the early morning begins to choke the night and the roosters start to crow.
The singer of Sara troyer, a Romanian Yiddish partisan song from the second world war, is the Yiddish poet Israel Berkovitch (Israil Berovici). He was born in 1921 in Botoshan, Moldavia and died in Bucharest in 1988. He directed the Jewish State Theater of Bucharest, a Yiddish theater which still exists, for many years. For more on his life, see Dr. Elvira Grozinger‘s essay from the book Under the Red Banner at this link. His archives are at the University of Potsdam, Germany.
In 1985, I traveled to Romania with my parents to visit ‟the old country‟, and particularly my father‘s hometown Siret. At that time, we still had relatives living in Bucharest and Suceava. While in Bucharest we were able to get together with some of the Yiddish writers and activists living there then: writer Chaim Goldenstein, journalist and translator Anton Celaru (Yosl Faierstein) and Israel Berkovitch. At one get-together, I believe at the Berkovitches apartment, I asked if someone knew Yiddish songs, and Berkovitch took me to a back room, so no one else would hear, and sang this song for me. Ceausescu was still the dictator then, and everyone in Bucharest was very wary of everything, so I guess he didn‘t want others to know about the song. I have not found any other information on the song or variants.
Sara troyer in di Moldavishe stepn.
Sara troyer in di Moldavishe stepn. Vi umetik un troyerik s‘iz dort. Es benkt un es veynt zikh nokh epes, tor me nisht redn keyn vort.
Such a sadness in the Moldavian steppes. How lonesome and gloomy it is there. One longs and cries for something, but not one word is allowed to be spoken.
Teg un nekht zenen tribe. Es busheven zhandarmen, politsay. Akh! Basarabye mayn libe! Ven vestu zayn amol fray?
The days and nights are sad, Gendarmes and police run rampant. Oh! My dear Bessarabia! When will you ever by free?
Schaechter-Gottesman learned this version in Chernovitz before the second World War from her friend Moyshe (Moshe) Barasch (1920 – 2004), who came from a Bessarabian family. Moshe Barasch later became an internationally known art critic and historian in Israel.
The melody is similar to the song “Hey, di, di / Rik zikh tsi, rik zikh tsi mir /Az du vilst a libe shpiln,/ shpil zhe es mit mir” (still looking for a printed version…).
I recorded my mother singing “Vu tisti du sheyn meydele?” at home in the Bronx in March 2011.
Vus tisti du sheyn meydele? Vus tisti du baym brinem? Gey, shoyn gey, un gey shoyn gey, Fun vanen bist gekimen.
“What are you doing pretty girl? What are you doing at the well?” “Go, already, go, Wherever you came from.”
“Fun vanen kh’bin gekimen, zolsti mir nisht traybn. Khap zhe mir a ber fun vald un lern im oys shraybn.”
“Where I came from, do not drive me there. Better catch a bear from the woods and teach him how to write.”
“A ber fun vald vel ikh dir khapn, un im oyslernen shraybn. Makh zhe mir zibn kinder, a meydl zolsti blaybn.”
“I will catch a bear from the woods, and teach him how to write. “Then you should have seven children, yet a maiden remain.”
“Zibn kinder vel ikh dir makhn a meydl vel ikh blaybn. Makh zhe mir zibn vign, un tsvekes in un laystn.”
“I will have seven children, and I will remain a maiden” You should then make me seven cradles, without nails, with no wood strips.”
“Zibn vign vel ikh dir makhn, un tsvekes in un laystn. Makh zhe mir zibn hemder un nodl in un zadn.”
“Seven cradles, I will make for you with no nails, no wood strips. Make for me seven shirts without needle, without silk.”
“Zibn hemder vel ikh dir makhn un nodl in un zadn. Makh zhe mir aza min leyter er zol kenen in himl shtaygn.”
“Seven shirts I will make for you without needle, without silk. Make for me a ladder that can reach into the sky.”
“Aza min leyter vel ikh dir makhn er zol kenen in himl shtaygn. Ikh a nar in di a tsveyter, lomir beser shvaygn.”
“Such a ladder I will make for you that will reach up into the sky. I, a fool, and you – another one, So let us both be silent.”
With this entry, we mark one year of the Yiddish Song of the Week blog. Thirty-two songs have been posted to date, and we hope to improve upon that number in the coming year. Once again a sheynem dank to Pete Rushefsky, Executive Director of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance and our webmaster for this project of CTMD’s An-sky Institute for Jewish Culture, and to all of those who have submitted materials. Please spread the word and send us your field recordings of Yiddish songs!
I have never previously heard Eykho, a powerful pogrom-song written about the plight of the Ukrainian Jews who were escaping the pogroms in the Ukraine in 1919. In the Yiddish of this area, (see Sholem-Aleichem) the word „goy‟ refers specifically to a Ukrainian peasant. I believe Crasner means this in her song, but am not sure. In any case I find it remarkable that the song rhymes one of the holy names for God – „a-donay‟ with „goy.‟
In Eleanor and Joseph Mlotek‘s song collection Songs of Generation, they include a version of the song as it was adapted during the Holocaust (see pages 277-278 attached below). It differs textually from this version in most verses. Where I was not sure about certain words, I placed a question mark in brackets. For the last line of the refrain the Mloteks wrote „Re‘ey ad‘‟ [Look God!] I could not hear that in this version. She also sings here “Cast a glance at the Ukrainians‟ but in the Mlotek songbook it says “Cast a glance at the Jews.‟ But when she sings “Ukrainians‟ in this sentence, she means Ukrainian Jews.
Clara Crasner: I went I came over the border to Romania, and – You listening? and wanting to continue onto other towns – I had no passport, so I traveled with the impoverished ones from one …. Every day we were in a different town until I came to Yedinitz.
Bob Freedman: What year?
Freedman: Who is talking now?
Crasner: Clara Crasner, born in Sharagrod.
Freedman: Which territory?
Freedman: And the song?
Crasner: The song is from Bessarabia; Jews sang if for us from the Ukraine, describing how we felt upon arriving to Romania.
Farvolknt der himl, keyn shtral zet men nit, Es royshn nor himlen, es regnt mit blit. Es royshn di himlen, es regnt, es gist. Karbones un retsikhes in di merderishe hent.
The sky is cloudy; no ray could be seen. The skies are rushing, it‘s raining blood. The skies are rushing, it‘s raining, it‘s pouring. Victims and cruelties are in the murderer‘s hands.
Eykho, vi azoy? Vos shvaygstu dem goy? Vu iz tate dayn rakhmones, .A..[?} A – donay/ Fun dem himl gib a kik, af di Ukrainer a blik. Lesh shoyn oys dos fayer un Zol shoyn zayn genig.
Eykho, how could it be? Why are you quiet against the non-Jew? Where, father, is your pity….A-donay.. [God] From the heavens take a look Cast a glance at the Ukrainians, Extinguish already the fire and let it come to an end.
Shvesterlekh, briderlekh fun yener zayt taykh, hot af undz rakhmones un nemt undz tsun aykh. Mir veln zikh banugenen mit a trukn shtikl broyt. Abi nit tsu zen far zikh dem shendlekhn toyt.
Dear sisters and brothers from the other side of the river, take pity on us and take us in. We will be satisfied with a dry piece of bread. As long as we don‘t see in front of us a shameful death.
Kleyninke kinderlekh fun zeyer muters brist. me shindt zey vi di rinder un me varft zey afn dem mist. Altinke yidn mit zeyer grue berd, zey lign nebekh oysgetsoygn mit di penimer tsu der erd.
Little children taken from their mother‘s breast. are skinned as if they were cattle and thrown in the trash. Old Jews with grey beards are now lying stretched out with their faces to the ground.
Undzere shvesterlekh, geshendet hot men zey azoy; zey hobn nebekh zikh nit gekent oysraysn fun dem merderishn goy. Vu a boydem, vu a keler, vu a fentster, vu s‘dort [?} Dortn ligt der Ukrainer yid un zogt a yidish vort.
Our sisters were raped they could not, alas, get free from the murderous non-Jew. In an attic, at a window, wherever [?] There lay the Ukrainian Jews and says a Yiddish word.
What is a parekh? Medically speaking, it is a disease of the scalp – Favus. As a result of the disease, which is a fungus, you lose your hair, and lesions form. It is not a pretty site. Many Jews were afflicted with this disease and a large folklore developed around it. Parekh or Parkh, if you look it up in the Yiddish dictionaries came to connote „wicked man‟ (Harkavy‘s dictionary) or „a rat‟ „a stingy person‟ (Weinreich‘s dictionary). So parekh indicates both the disease and the person who has the disease. Parekh came to mean a filthy person as well, as in the old insult Ashkenazic Jews hurled at non-Ashkenazic immigrants in Israel in the 1950s – Frenk parekh.
Illustration: This “train ticket” was collected by the folklorist Shmuel-Zanvil Pipe in his hometown of Sonik, Galicia, (Sanok) for the YIVO Ethnographic Commission in the 1930s. It says on top “Parekh-commission” and then under it: “(from) Sonik – (to) Egypt: the journey is free. Attention: During the trip you cannot scratch yourself. The transport is leaving Shabes, 2:00 PM. We can assume this was distributed on Shabes-hagodl, when the parkhes were exiled to Egypt.
I made this recording of singer Moyshe Kupit at the Yidish-vokh retreat in Copake, NY in September 1989. Kupit was born in Yedinits, Bessarabia (today’s Republic of Moldova). The recording was a result of my research into a specific custom on Shabes-hagodel, the Sabbath before Passover, in which a mock parade took place in the towns of Eastern Galicia, Bukovina, Bessarabia and Romania, during which the Jews with a parekh in the town were singled out and mocked, and told to „Go back to Egypt!‟ Sorry I can‘t go more into this custom at this time; I have accumulated much material on it. The best account in Yiddish is found in Itzik Shvarts‘ (I. Caro) memoirs „A moldovish yingl.‟ It‘s not a very nice custom, one in which Jews denigrate other Jews in a vulgar manner, so I doubt the parekh-song will ever make the top 10 Yiddish song charts.
Yet it is a fascinating cultural document. The reference to tar in the song is connected to the belief that smearing tar can cure the parkeh. Symbolically, the song is just wonderful – a line of parekhs connecting the dirtiest place in the town, the hekdesh – poorhouse, to the cleanest – the bathhouse.
Adds Pete Rushefsky: Musically, the piece shares charcteristics of many Ukrainian kolomeykes, employing a running series of descending eighth notes, though Parekh-lid lacks the characteristic cadential couplet of two quarter notes that typifies a true kolomeyke.
Ale parkhes hobn zikh arumgenemen in a reydl,
hobn getontst funem hekdesh bizn beydl.
gib zikh a krots in kepenyu.
All the parkhes formed a circle,
danced from the poorhouse to the bathhouse.
Give yourself a scratch in your head.
Ver se vil gikher loyfn,
der zol geyn smole koyfn.
gib zikh a krots in kepenyu.
Whoever wants to run faster,
he should go buy the tar.
S‘iz gevorn a groys gezeml,
der eltster parekh hot farloyrn zayn keml.
gib zikh a krots in kepenyu.
A big gathering then formed,
the oldest parekh lost his comb.