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.