Archive for concentration camp

“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.

 

“Iz Reyzele a meydl” Performed by Chaya Fiyzerman Friedman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2015 by yiddishsong

Iz Reyzele a meydl
Reyzele is a Girl
Performance by Chaya Fiyzerman Friedman
Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

A student at University of Texas at Austin, Brooke Fallek video recorded her grandmother, Chaya Fiyzerman Friedman (b. 1929, Vilna) in New Jersey, Fall 2014, singing this song about a toy donkey (eyzele) which she learned by sneaking into the Yiddish theater in the Vilna ghetto.

REYZELEFOTO

Picture of a Jewish girl in Poland, 1930s

Fallek writes about her grandmother –  “Her mother hid her in a knapsack at the time of the selection at the closing of the ghetto. They were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in Latvia. She had to hide in camp since she was a child and should have died A Nazi soldier found her and took a liking to her – he had a daughter her age.

Both she and her mother survived and went to Berlin after the war to a Displaced Persons camp. She came to New York, attended high school and married David Friedman – also a partisan survivor, in 1950. They were married for 53 years until his death. They have 3 children and 8 grandchildren.”

Iz Reyzl a meydl, a shtiferke a bren.
Hot Reyzl in a fentster an eyzele derzen.
Vert Reyzl tsetumlt, zi vil an eyzele vos lakht.
Hot papa ir anumlt fun yard aza gebrakht.

Ay, ay ay Reyzele hot zi an eyzele
mit fislekh kurtsinke, oyern lang.
A kvetsh a knepele, rirt zikh dos kepele,
Shoklen un viglen zikh af yo un neyn.

Oy, an umglik hot getrofn
shloft Reyzl nisht bay nakht.
Der eyzl iz tsebrokhn
iz Reyzl umgebrakht.

Ay, ay ay Reyzele,
hot gehat an eyzele.
mit fislekh kurtsinke, oyern lang.

Reyzl, a girl full of mischief and zeal.
Suddenly spotted in the window a donkey.
So Reyzl gets excited – she wants a laughing donkey.
So papa brought her one from the fair.

Ay, ay, ay Reyzele has a little donkey,
with short legs and big ears.
Push a button and the head moves,
and shakes and rocks to say yes and no.

Oy a catastrophe happened;
Reyzl can’t sleep at night.
The donkey is broken,
so Reyzl got upset.*
[*umgebrakht usually means “killed”, perhaps “oyfgebrakht” is what she meant?]

Ay, ay, ay Reyzele
once had a donkey.
with short legs
and long ears.
reyzl1 reyzl2 reyzl3

There are two professional recordings of this song, one by the singer and collector, Lea Szlanger in Israel on her LP “A Nig’n After My Heart – Mayn eygener nigun”. In Szlanger’s version the donkey “eyzele” becomes a rabbit “heyzele” (thanks to Lea Szlanger for sending the recording and words.)

Lea Szlanger in Song


Transliteration/Translation of Lea Szlanger’s performance:

Iz Reyzele a meydl, a shtiferke a bren.
Hot Reyzele in fentster a hezele derzen.
Un Reyzele zi vil nor, a hezele vos lakht.
Hot ir der foter fun yarid a hezele gebrakht.

Oy, oy, oy Reyzele, hot zi a hezele
mit lange oyerlekh un fislkeh kleyn.
A kvetsh a knepele, shoklt zikh dos kepele;
Shoklt zikh un vigt zikh – yo, yo un neyn.

Men tut a kvetsh a knepele hert zikh a gezang.
Oyfn haldz a glekele, klingt es gling, glang, glang.
Dan fregt zikh Reyzele far vos dos hezele
hot fislekh kurtsinke un oyern lang?

Zi tsertlt im un tulyet; zi shloft mit im bay nakht.
Zi kusht im un zi haldzt im un Reyzele zi lakht.
Un kinderlekh in droysn fun Reyzelen makhn shpot
“Zet nor, zet nor sara groysn heyzl reyzl hot”

Oy, oy, oy Reyzele, hot zi a heyzele
mit lange oyerlekh un fislekh kleyn.
A kvetsh a knepele, shoklt zikh dos kepele;
Shoklt zikh un vigt zikh yo, yo un neyn.

Men tut a kvetsh a knepele hert zikh a gezang.
Oyfn haldz a glekele, klingt es gling, glang, glang.
Dan fregt zikh Reyzele far vos dos heyzele
hot fislekh kurtsinke un oyern lang?

Reyzele is a girl, a scamp, a dynamo.
Reyzele saw a rabbit in the window.
And Reyzele, she only wants a rabbit that laughs.
So her father brought her a rabbit from the fair.

Oy, oy, oy Reyzele, has a rabbit
with long ears and little legs.
Push a button and the head rocks,
Nods and rocks – yes, yes and no.

Just push a button and you hear a song.
On her throat a little bell that rings -gling, glang, glang.
Then Reyzele asks herself why does this rabbit
have such short legs and big ears?

She caresses it and cradles it; she sleeps with it at night.
She kisses it and embraces it and Reyzele, she laughs.
And children outside make fun of Reyzele –
“Just look what a big rabbit Reyzl has!”

Oy, oy, oy Reyzele, has a rabbit
with long ears and little legs.
Push a button and the head rocks,
Nods and rocks – yes, yes and no.

Just push a button and you hear a song.
On her throat a little bell that rings -gling, glang, glang.
Then Reyzele asks herself why does this rabbit
have such short legs and big ears?

reyz1reyzl2reyz3The second recording of the song is by Henny Durmashkin on her LP  “Lider tsu gedenken” – “Songs to Remember” (thanks to Lorin Sklamberg of the YIVO Sound Archives for sending the mp3 and LP cover with photo of singer and biographical information – click image to enlarge). Her version is very close to Szlanger’s.

henny-durmashkin-pic-use

Durmashkin was also from Vilna; her father Wolf Durmashkin was a Vilna conductor before the war and in the ghetto. Henny’s sister Fanny Durmashkin accompanies her on piano. A film on these remarkable sisters was made in 2007 – “Creating Harmony: the Displaced Persons Orchestra at St. Otillien.” An article from the New Jersey Jewish Standard tells the story.

A shortened printed version of the song appears in the Parisian collection, 1948  – “Mir zingen” published by Gezelshaft kinder-fraynt, p. 109. An even shorter recorded version is found in the Ben Stonehill collection.

So this song about a rocking toy donkey (or rabbit) is clearly from Vilna/Vilnius, 1930s or perhaps created in the ghetto; but the author and composer are unknown. Fiyzerman sings a verse, or part of a third verse, that the other versions do not include, about the toy being broken.