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“Zishe Breitbart” Performed by Yitzchak Milstein

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 7, 2020 by yiddishsong

Zishe Breitbart Sung by Yitzchak Milstein
Recorded by Toby Blum-Dobkin, 2/19/1977, Brooklyn NY. 

Commentary by Toby Blum-Dobkin. Song lyrics and transcription appear at the end of the post, including Milstein’s opening and closing spoken remarks. 

About the Singer Yitzchak Milstein

I first recorded Yitzchak Milstein singing the ballad of Zishe Breitbart in 1973, when I interviewed Mr. Milstein for the YIVO Yiddish Folksong Project, directed by Dr. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. The project team aimed to define and document Yiddish musical specialists and to compose portraits of such individuals [Blum-Dobkin 1975]. I again recorded the song in 1977, when I wrote an article about Zishe as a folk hero. I translated the song into English, and also transliterated it to reflect features of Milstein’s Yiddish pronunciation [Blum-Dobkin 1978].  

MilsteinPhoto

Yitzchak Milstein

I conducted ten interviews with Yitzchak Milstein for the Yiddish Folksong Project, between 2/27/1973 and 9/18/1974.  Each interview lasted approximately 90 minutes. All the interviews were conducted in Yiddish, with some songs and narrative in other languages. I translated portions of the interviews and songs into English, directly from the recordings. Bella Gottesman transcribed all the interviews and songs in Yiddish, also directly from the recordings. 

Mr. Milstein was born in Shidlovtse (Szidlowiec), Poland, in 1914. His mother Rokhl had a booth of ‘galenterye’ at the shtetl market. His father Motek (Mordkhe) was a ‘holts tokazh’ – a wood turner. Yitzchak worked as a tailor in Shidlovtse and seasonally in Warsaw. His childhood home was filled with music. He remarked, “In our home, almost everyone sang. . . were there better entertainments?. . . I remember that my father had a ‘liderbikhl’ – a Yiddish song book..  [with songs about] city girls and farmers’ girls…When my father was young he also acted in the drama circle, in [Goldfaden’s] Di Kishefmakherin – The Sorceress.” Even when Yitzchak’s father became more religious, he did not forbid Yitzchak from attending performances and acting in amateur dramatics. Yitzchak remembered that his father “said it was ‘b’yerushe’ – part of my legacy.”  The family had a mandolin, and Yitzchak learned by observing others.

In 1942 Yitzchak Milstein was forced into labor at the Skarszysko Hasag camp, and was subsequently incarcerated in several other Nazi camps. He was liberated in April 1945 and housed in the Displaced Persons camp in Feldafing, Germany. He emigrated to the the US in 1950 and settled in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, resuming work in his trade of tailoring.  He also resumed his avocation, singing. Mr. Milstein’s other avocation was keeping the memory of his shtetl Shidlovtse alive. He was active in the effort to publish Shidlovtse’s ‘yizker bukh’ – memorial book – for which he created artwork and essays  [Milstein 1974]. For Yitzchak Milstein, it was a matter of pride to reproduce a performance or song ‘genoy’ – as correctly and faithfully as possible. “I am a tape recorder,” he explained to me.

The Song ‘Zishe Breitbart’ 

Yitzchak Milstein had heard the ballad of Zishe Breitbart in the 1920’s from a ‘hoyfzinger’ – a street singer in Shidlovtse. The text of the ballad along with pictures of Zishe Breitbart were sold by street singers in broadside form. I am indebted to Chana Gordon Mlotek for directing me to other versions of the Breitbart song, and for pointing out the elements that the Breitbart ballad had in common with traditional ballads [Mlotek 1974].

PhotoBreitbart

Zishe (Sigemund) Breitbart

Zishe (Siegmund) Breitbart, son of a blacksmith, was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1883. His fame was based both on his physical strength and his unique personality. He toured widely, and in 1923 performed for the Keith vaudeville theaters in New York. The New York Times reported on Breitbart’s 1923 arrival in the United States:

“Among other feats of strength he claims to be able to lift ten or twelve persons with his hands, twist bars of iron like scraps of paper, crack Brazil nuts between his fingers, and haul a wagon with ten persons along the road by his teeth.” The article notes that Breitbart “says he is so sensitive that he would walk into the roadway to avoid trading upon a worm. . . he likes music and writes poems, but doesn’t like prize fighting. He declined an offer received by telegram at the pier to go to Saratoga Springs and have a tryout with Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion. ‘For me it is not,’ the strong man of Poland said.” [New York Times 1923].  

Breitbart’s death at the age of forty-two apparently resulted from blood poisoning initially contracted during a performance in Radom, Poland, when he scratched or punctured his leg with a nail.  He died in Berlin in 1925.

Zishe Breitbart’s crowd-pleasing persona and sense of mission as a Jewish hero made a lasting impression [Blum-Dobkin 1978; Bart 2014; Gillerman 2010].  He appeared in the silent film [Der Eisenkoenig 1923] and is the subject of a feature film [Invincible 2001].  It has even been posited that Zishe Breitbart was an inspiration for the character of Superman [Gordon 2011]. 

Milstein Comments

From Khane & Yosl Mlotek’s Song of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song (Workmens Circle, 2004):

Breitbart1Breitbart2Breitbart3

Selected Sources:

Bart, Gary.  Interviewed by Christina Whitney,  Wexler Oral History Project, National Yiddish Book Center, Amherst MA, November 21, 2014.

Blum-Dobkin, Toby.  “Case Study of a Traditional Yiddish Folksinger.” Unpublished paper, 1975.

Blum-Dobkin, Toby.  “Zishe, the Yiddish Samson.”  The Parade of Heroes: Legendary Figures in American Lore.” edited by  Tristram Potter Coffin and Hennig Cohen, Anchor Press, Garden City NY, 1978: 206-213, 557-558.

Der Eisenkönig.  Film directed by Max Neufeld, 1923. 

Gillerman, Sharon.  “The Strongest Man in the World.” YIVO Encyclopedia, 2010.

Gordon, Mel.  “Step Right Up and Meet the World’s Mightiest Human: A Jewish Strongman from Poland who Some Say Inspired the Creation of Superman.”  Reform Judaism, Summer 2011.  

Invincible.  Film directed by Werner Herzog, 2001.

Milstein, Yitzchak.  “Khronik fun khurbn in Shidlovtse.”  Shidlovtser Yizker Bukh/Yizkor Book Szydlowiec, edited by Berl Kagan  Shidlovtser Benevolent Association, NY (1974): 344-368.

Mlotek, Chana Gordon.  “Perl fun der yidisher poezye.” Forverts 1973.The New York Times August 27, 1923.

 

“In Kiev in gas” Performed by Frima Braginski

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2018 by yiddishsong

In Kiev in gas  / In Kiev on the Street: A Pogrom Ballad
Sung by Frima Braginski
Recorded by Michael Lukin in Israel, 2013.

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

The first Kiev (Kyiv) pogrom happened on April 26th, 1881, and to mark this event we feature the song In Kiev, in gas – In Kiev on the Street sung by Frima Braginski.  She was born in Teplyk (Yiddish – Teplik), Ukraine (Vinnytsia Oblast) in 1924. Braginski was recorded by the ethnomusicologist Michael Lukin in 2013 in Kiryat Gat, Israel.

The first Kiev pogrom took place in May 1881. A second larger pogrom occurred there on Oct. 18th 1905. The first printing of the song appeared in an early issue of Mitteillungen von Judischen Volkskunde in 1895. There it is printed with music and called Die Bettlerin. More versions were printed in the collection Evreiskiia narodnyia piesni v Rossii (Yiddish Folksongs of Russia) of 1901, edited by S.M. Ginzburg and P.M. Marek (#58 and #59). Therefore the song clearly refers to the first pogrom of 1881. At the end of the post, we are attaching the two versions that appear in the Ginzburg and Marek collection and in the Mitteillungen.

pogromPic

Another recorded version of this song – Dortn in gas is dokh finster un nas (There in the Street It’s Dark and Damp) by an anonymous singer can be heard on the CD The Historic Collection of Jewish Music 1912 – 1947 volume 3, produced by the Vernadsky Library in St. Petersburg.

In the Sofia Magid collection of Yiddish songs, Unser rebbe, unser Stalin, edited by Elvira Gorzinger and Susi Hudak-Kazic, Harrassowitz Farlag, Wiesbaden 2008, there are four additional variants – pages 330-332 with music and recordings that can be heard on the accompanying CD/DVD. Three more variations collected by Magid are on pages 568 – 580, texts only. In Shloyme Bastomski’s collection Baym kval: yidishe folkslider, 1923, Vilne, another version is found on page 86.

This pogrom song became a ganovim-lid entitled Dos ganeyvishe lebn (The Thief’s Life) and can be found in Shmuel Lehman’s collection Ganovim-lider (Warsaw, 1928), pages 25 – 27 with music. The original pogrom-song collected by Lehman can be found on 213-214 in the same volume. All of those pages are attached at the end.

Thanks to Michael Lukin who submitted the recording of Braginski and to Robert Rothstein and Michael Alpert for their linguistic assistance.

TRANSLITERATION

In Kiev, in gas s’iz fintser un nas.
Dort zitst a meydl a sheyne.
Zi zitst un bet, bay yedn vos farbay geyt.
“Shenkt a neduve a kleyne.”

“Oy di sheyn meydl, oy di fayn meydl.
Vos hostu aza troyerike mine?
Dayn sheyne figur un dayn eydele natur –
dir past gor zayn a grafine.”

“Kiever katsapes mit zeyere lapes,
zey hobn dos alts gemakht khorev.
Dos hoyz tsebrokhn, dem futer geshtokhn,
Di muter iz far shrek geshtorbn.

Un far groys tsorn, iz der bruder in kas gevorn
un hot a merder dershosn.
Kayn yid tor nisht lebn, kayn rakhe [German – rache] tsu nemen.
Me hot im in keytn fargosn.

Vi groys iz mayn shand, tsu shtrekn di hant
un betn bay laytn gelt.
Got derbarem, shtrek oys dayne orem
un nem mikh shoyn tsu fun der velt.”

TRANSLATION

In Kiev on the street, it’s dark and damp.
there sits a pretty girl.
She sits and begs from all who pass –
“Please give some alms”.

“O, you pretty girl,  O, you fine girl.
Why do have such a sad expression?
Your nice figure, your noble nature –
You could pass for a countess.”

“Those Kiev katsapes [see note below] and their paws
have wiped out everything.
My house was destroyed. My father stabbed.
From fright my mother died.

In great anger my brother became enraged
And shot one of the murderers.
No Jew is allowed to live who takes revenge,
They led him away in chains. [Literally: They poured chains on him]

How great is my shame to stretch out my hand
And beg money from people.
O God have mercy stretch out your arm
And take me away from this world.”

*Found in almost all the variants is the rhyme “Kiever katsapes” (katsapes = a Ukrainian derogatory term for a Russian) and “lapes” (paws).

From Evreiskiia narodnyia piesni v Rossii [Yiddish Folksongs of Russia] of 1901, edited by S.M. Ginzburg and P.M. Marek (#58 & #59):
GM1
GM2

Shmuel Lehman’s collection Ganovim-lider (Warsaw, 1928), pages 25 – 27, 213-214:

Lehman1

Lehman2

Lehman3

Lehman4

Lehman5