Archive for World War I

Harry Boens & Nathan Hollandar’s Song “Di Shpanishe kholere” Performed by Cantor Sam Weiss

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2020 by yiddishsong

Di Shpanishe Kholere / The Spanish Contagion
Lyrics by Harry Boens (Bennett), Music by Nathan Hollandar.
Performance by Cantor Sam Weiss.

Commentary by Cantor Sam Weiss

Around 15 years ago my friend Michael Bennett discovered his grandfather’s name (see Michael Bennett’s post about his grandfather, Harry Boens / Bennett) listed as lyricist on a piece of Yiddish sheet music about the 1918 Spanish flu. As there were no extant recordings or performances of the song, in 2010 he emailed me to see if I could arrange to get it recorded. I glanced at the lyrics and was quickly captivated by their colloquial directness and interesting vocabulary. In short order I printed out the file, placed the sheets on my electronic keyboard, ran through the song, and emailed the mp3 to Michael.

Image courtesy of Michael Bennett; all rights reserved.

The song remained our private little adventure until COVID-19 reared its head and Michael reached out to me again: “…Maybe it’s an appropriate time to release to the public your rendition of my grandfather’s lament.” I hesitated, not really thinking of that quick take as a “performance, “and his idea remained dormant. Right before the High Holidays, however, it occurred to me that the Yiddish Song of the Week website would be an appropriate vehicle for sharing this gem, and Itzik Gottesman agreed to host it along with Michael’s back story on his grandfather.

Cantor Sam Weiss by Robert Kalfus

As the song is equal parts humor and pathos, I adopted a theatrical singing style along with the “stage Yiddish” dialect suggested by the printed notation. The initial sound in the Yiddish word for “Spanish” is clearly intended to be pronounced “S” rather than “Sh,” being spelled here with a samekh in place of the standard shin, and that is how I sang it.

In the case of the word for “heart” I vacillated between the standard pronunciation harts and the printed word hertz. In these two cases the transcription reflects standard Yiddish spellings rather than the pronunciations heard on the recording; the remaining words are transcribed as sung. Although the notation indicates a repeat of the final phrase in the verses, these repeats were skipped in verses 3-6.

I was struck by an interesting word that occurs three times, neveyre, which I have translated as “plague.” Strictly speaking neveyre is simply the colloquial version of aveyre, meaning “sin” (the “n” resulting from conflating the two words an aveyre), but in this context neveyre implies a divine punishment that may have come about as a result of our sins. Although I have yet to find this particular meaning in any Yiddish dictionary or thesaurus, the usage is amply supported by Jewish lore from the Ten Plagues onwards. The song itself, moreover, expresses a plea for God’s compassion (to reverse the punishment, as it were) as well as the darkly comical idea of the Spanish flu as Woodrow Wilson’s vengeance for Germany’s role in World War I.

The title word kholere is especially noteworthy. Unlike the English word “cholera,” it has a much broader connotation than any specific type of illness. Indeed, the technical name of the disease appears only on the Yiddish lyrics back cover page as the title—but nowhere in the song—as Di Shpanishe influentsiye. In verse 5 kholere appears unmodified by Shpanishe; I therefore translate it as “contagion.” Kholere is found in a great number of Yiddish curses where the speaker is not particularly concerned with which krenk befalls the victim, as long as it is grueling and punishing. Indeed “punishing” is the word’s operative intention, as in the case of neveyre. Note the antiquated spelling of the word on the title page with a khes instead of the standard khof. This older Yiddish orthography hints at a presumed Hebrew origin, as if kholere were a retributive disease related to kadokhes (biblical kodokhas), which is always spelled with a khes. The back cover lyrics are below.


1. Ikh gey mir arim in strit fartrakht
Say bay tug in say bay nakht.
In mayn hartzn kokht dus blit,
Ze’endik vi mentshn faln in strit.


Vayl di gantse velt iz yetst in trobl,
In yeder eyner zikht dem knobl.

I walk the streets deep in thought,
Be it day, be it night.
The blood is seething in my heart
As I watch people collapsing in the street.


Because the whole world is now in trouble,
And everyone is searching for garlic.

2. Mentshn zitsn in hoyz mit der neveyre,
Zey hobn moyre far der Shpanisher kholere.
Nemt mayn edvays in seyft zikh fin dem trobl,
Trinkt a glezl vayn in est dem knobl.

REFRAIN: Vayl di gantse velt…

Everyone is stuck at home with this plague,
They’re all afraid of the Spanish flu.
Take my advice and save yourself from trouble,
Drink a glass of wine and eat some garlic.

REFRAIN: Because the whole world…

3. Der Daytsh iz oykh a groyser diplomat!
Er hot gevolt farnikhtn di velt vi a rats;
Wilson hot ober genimen zikh di ere
In geshikt dem Daytsh di Shpanishe kholere.

REFRAIN: Vayl di gantse velt…

The Germans are some diplomats…
Seeking to destroy the world as if it were a rat;
But Wilson stepped right up
And sent the Germans the Spanish flu!

REFRAIN: Because the whole world…

4. Sobveys, kars, gepakt oykh fil mit mentshn;
Ikh bet bay dir, oy Got, di zolst indz bentshn!
Nem fin indz oykh di neveyre
In hit indz up fin der Shpanisher kholere.

REFRAIN: Vayl di gantse velt…

Subways, cars, all packed with people;
I beg you, God, please bless us!
Remove the plague from us too,
And shield us from the Spanish flu.

REFRAIN: Because the whole world…

5. Barbers loyfn arim azoy vi di nyankes;
Fin hoyz tsi hoyz shteln zey ayedn bankes.
Zey aleyn trugn arim di neveyre;
Zey danken Got es halt on di kholere!

REFRAIN: Vayl di gantse velt…

Barbers scurry about as if they were nurses,
From house to house, with cupping glass treatments;
They themselves are carriers of the plague,
Thanking God that the contagion perseveres!

REFRAIN: Because the whole world…

6. Mikh tsi hern zingen is nisht kayn vinder;
Mentshn, past nor oyf of ayere kinder.
Di froyen in Eyrope zenen geblibn vi ofn yakor,
In di mener in Amerike brenen vi a flaker

REFRAIN: Vayl di gantse velt…

Don’t act surprised to hear me singing;
Folks, just watch over your children.
The wives are all marooned in Europe
While their husbands are ablaze in America

REFRAIN: Because the whole world…

Below images courtesy of Michael Bennett; all rights reserved.

Three Yiddish Songs to the tune of the Italian pop classic “Return to Sorrento”

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2019 by yiddishsong

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

In this posting, we examine three Yiddish Songs set to the tune of the Italian pop classic Return to Sorrento:

1) Fil gelitn hob ikh miter sung by Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, recorded in 1954 by
Leybl Kahn
2) Sheyn iz Reyzele dem sheykhets sung by Reyzl Stalnicovitz, and recorded by Itzik Gottesman in Mexico City, 1988.
3) Sore-Yente a song found in Meyer Noy’s collection at the National Library in Jerusalem, and performed by Sharon Bernstein, piano and vocal, and Willy Schwarz on accordion, Florence, Italy 2001.


This week we highlight three Yiddish songs that use the melody of an Italian pop classic Torna a Surriento (Return to Sorrento) music by Ernesto De Curtis (1875 – 1937), copyright 1905. The original lyrics were by his cousin Giambattista De Curtis. Here is a Dean Martin recording of the Italian song which we chose because it has a translation of the Italian lyrics (click here to listen).

There are even more Yiddish songs that use this melody, among them: in 1933 after the murder of Haim Arlosoroff in Tel-Aviv, a song was composed to this melody and a song sheet was published (A tragisher mord in Tel-Aviv/A Tragic Death in Tel Aviv). A song about the Polish Jewish strongman Zishe Breitbard (1883 – 1925) also uses a version of the melody (see Mlotek, Songs of the Generations, page 147-148 ).

Thanks this week to Aida Stalnicovitz Vda Fridman and Sharon Bernstein.

1) Fil gelitn hob ikh miter (I Have Suffered Much Mother) 
Performance by Lifshe Schaechter Widman, recorded in 1954 by Leybl Kahn in NYC.

Lifshe introduces the song by saying “S’iz a lidl vus me hot gezingen in der ershter milkhume (It’s a song that was sung in the First World War).” The four verses are entirely in the mother’s voice, apparently addressed to her mother, as indicated in the first line.

Fil gelitn hob ikh miter
bay der as[ent]irung fun mayn kind.
Gearbet hob ikh shver in biter
Far vus lad ikh nokh atsind.?

Iz mayn zin nokh mayn nekhome
Vi iz er fin mir avek?
Afarshundn iz er in der milkhume.
Un a seykhl in un a tsvek.

Ziser Got ikh beyt ba dir
loz mikh nokh a nes gesheyn.
Eyder eykh vel shtarbn
Vil eykh mayn kind nokh eyn mol zeyn.

Dentsmult vel ikh riyik shtarbn.
Got tsi dir keyn tanes hubn.
Loz mayn kind khotsh eyn mul mir
nokh, “mamenyu” zugn.

Much have I suffered mother,
from the drafting of my child.
I worked hard and bitter.
Why do I still suffer?

My son is still my comfort
Where did he go and leave me?
Disappeared into the war,
for no logic, for no reason,

Dear God I pray to you
May another miracle take place.
Before I die,
I want to see my son once more.

Then I would calmly die
God, have no complaints to you..
Let my child say to me –
just once more “my mother dear”.

Fil Gelitn

2) Sheyn iz Reyzele dem sheykhets (Beautiful is Reyzele, the Shokhet’s Daughter)
Performance by Reyzl Stalnicovitz, recorded by Itzik Gottesman, Mexico City, 1988.

StalnicovitzPhotoReyzl Stalnicovitz, photo by Itzik Gottesman

Reyzl Stalnicovitz was born in 1935 in Xalapa, district of Vera Cruz, Mexico. She was a teacher at the I. L. Peretz shul (“Di naye yidishe shul”) in Mexico City, and passed away in  1996.

Of the three songs presented in this post, this song was by far the most popular and has been printed in several collections and can be found in the field recordings of Ben Stonehill, Sarah Benjamin and at the National Library in Israel. As for commercial recordings: Lea Szlanger sings it on her CD Lea Szlanger In Song.

The text was originally a thirteen verse poem by Zusman Segalovitch (1884 – 1949) that first appeared in the periodical Der shtrahl, Volume one, #2 Warsaw, 1910 (see below). There it was titled Dem shoykhets tokhter: balade (The shoykhet’s daughter: ballad) followed by the inscription – Dos hobn kinder in shtetl dertseylt (This Was Told by Children in Town).

The plot – Reyzl wants to marry Motl but the father, a shoykhet (kosher slaughterer) boils with anger as she combs her hair because she refuses the match he made. He then cuts her golden locks. Then it gets “weird”: she swims into the Vistula (Yiddish = Vaysl) river and builds a little shelter for herself along the bank until her hair locks grow again.
Stalnicovch sings four verses. This ballad was almost always shortened when sung. For example in the Arbeter Ring’s extremely popular songbook Lomir zingen (1939, NY), only five verses are printed (that scanned version, words and music, are attached below).

Sheyn iz Reyzele dem sheykhets.
Zi hot a yunge harts on zorgn.
Zi tants un freyt zikh mit ir lebn.
Vi a shvalb mitn frimorgn.

Es bakheynen ir di oygn
Es bakreynen ir di lokn.
Un a shtoltse iz zi shtendik.
Zi vet far keynem zikh nit beygn.

Un ir tate iz a frumer
un dertsu a groyser kaysn.
Ven di tokhter kemt di lokn
Heybt er on di lipn baysn .

Un der tate veyst nokh gornisht
Vos in shtetl veysn ale:
Az Reyzl hot shoyn a khosn.
Un me ruft ir Motls kale.

Beautiful is the shoykhet’s daughter Reyzl
She has a young heart with no worries.
She dances and is joyful with her life
as a swallow is with the morning.

Her eyes make her pretty
Her locks are a crown on her;
And she is always proud.
She will bow for no one.

Her father is religious
and also quick to anger.
When he combs her locks,
he starts to bite his lips.

And her father doesn’t know anything
what everyone knows in town:
that Reyzl has a groom,
and they call her Motl’s bride.

Spoken (transliteration):
Dos iz vos ikh gedenk. Ober di mame flegt mir dertseyln az s’iz geven epes a gantse tragedye, vayl der tate hot nisht gevolt az zi zol khasene hobn. Vayl er iz geven a sotsyalist, a yingl, un er iz geven a frumer yid. Er hot gevolt zi zol khasene hobn mit a yeshiva bokher. Un zi’s antlofn mitn bokher.

Spoken (translation):
That’s what I remember. But the mother used to tell me that it was a whole tragedy because the father did not want her to get married. Because he (the groom) was a socialist boy and he (the father) wanted him to marry a Yeshiva student. And she ran away with the boy.

Sheyn iz Reyzele

3) Sore-Yente
Performance by Cantor Sharon Bernstein, Florence, 2001 (accompanied by Willy Schwarz on accordion)

The third song that uses the melody of Sorrienta is Sore-Yente – a word play on the original Italian title. This was collected by Meir Noy in Israel in 1962 from Shmuel Ben-Zorekh, who learned it from an immigrant from Minsk. A scan of Meir Noy’s original notation, words and music are attached below.

Mit a nign fun akdomes
shteyt baym fentster Yosl-Monish,
Far der sheyner Sore-Yente
Zingt er dort tsu ir a lid:

Kum tsu mir mayn sheynes benken,
Eybik vel ikh dikh gedenken.
Kh’vel mayn lebn far dir shenken.
Vayl ikh bin in dir farlibt.

Azoy lang iz er geshtanen
vi der groyser pipernoter
un zi hert im vi der koter
un geyt derbay af gikh avek.

With a melody from Akdometh
stands at the window Yosl-Monish
For the beautiful Sore-Yente
there, he sings this song:

Come to me my longed for beauty
I will long for you eternally.
I will give you my life
For I am in love with you.

He stood there for so long
like a giant dragon.
She totally ignores him
And walks quickly by him.

Sheyn iz Reyzele dem sheykhets (Beautiful is Reyzele, the Shokhet’s Daughter) by Zusman Segalovitch (1884 – 1949) in the periodical Der shtrahl, Volume one, #2 Warsaw, 1910:

Sheyn iz Reyzele dem sheykhets (Beautiful is Reyzele, the Shokhet’s Daughter) from the Arbeter Ring’s songbook Lomir zingen (1939, NY):

Arbeter Ring1
Arbeter Ring2

Sore-Yente in Meir Noy’s Notebook:
Sore Yente Vol 1, p74-page-0

“Ze vi gru” Performed by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman

Posted in Main Collection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 15, 2014 by yiddishsong

Ze vi gru (See How Gray)
Performance by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman
Recorded 2013, Bronx, by Itzik Gottesman

Commentary by Itzik Gottesman

Before we enter the new year, let us do our part to remember that 2014 marked 100 years since World War One and post a song about that time.

In memory of her first yortsayt (memorial anniversary), the 2nd day of Khanike, I am posting the last song that I recorded from my mother, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, a few months before she died. At 93 years of age she could still sing well.

DP Beyle LifshaVienna 1948-49. From left: Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Mitsi Weininger.

I cannot find the full text for the song, but my mother knows it from Chernovitz, which was Romania when she grew up. We both agreed that it was about WWI but have no other information on the song. Could “in akhtsetn geboygn” refer to something else other than 1918? The rhyme “nayes” (news) and “Ashmoday’es” (Asmodeus’s) is wonderfully original.

As usual, any help finding more lyrics to this unusual song would be appreciated.

(The transliterated Yiddish reflects her dialect; the lyrics written in the Yiddish alphabet are transcribed in standard Yiddish.)

Ze vi gru der himl iz.
Gru vi dayne oygn.
S’iz der Balkan shoyn fun tsar
in akhtsetn geboygn.

See how gray the skies are;
Gray as your eyes.
The Balkan has already, from grief,
bent over in the 18th. [1918?]

Kruen brengen psires un.
Loyter shlekhte nayes.
Kruen brengen psires un.
Psires Ashmodayes.

Crows bring us over news,
just bad news.
Crows bring us over news,
News from (or “of”) Ashmodai. [the devil]