Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg,
Khotsh himeln blayene farshtein bloye teg,
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot -- mir zaynen do!
Never say that there is only death for you
Though leaden clouds may be concealing skies of blue
Because the hour that we have hungered for is near;
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble: We are here!
My great-uncle -- Beryl then, but Bernie to me for my whole life -- escaped from the Vilna ghetto with his girlfriend Kayla. The two of them put their guns in music cases, like storybook gangsters, and walked towards the woods, trying to look nonchalant -- young German lovers, two musicians on a stroll. In the woods, the partisans were waiting for Bernie and Kayla to join them. It was dangerous, maybe futile, but it was better than an empty life in the ghetto, waiting to be dragged out to dig your own grave, or maybe just waiting to crumble into dust. For young idealists in a twisted world, the resistance was the only real option.
Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,
Un vu gefain s'iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut.
From land of palm tree to the far-off land of snow
We shall be coming with our torment and our woe,
And everywhere our blood has sunk into the earth
Shall our bravery, our vigor blossom forth!
Hirsh Glik wrote the Partisan Song while he was fighting with the resistance. He had lost many of his friends and fellow fighters in battle with the Nazis, and he wrote this poem out of his anger and grief, setting it to the tune of a Russian folk song. Hirsh's poem spread through the camps and the partisan outposts, finally becoming the official resistance hymn of Eastern Europe. In Workman's Circle Hebrew schools, like the one I went to, they still teach the children to sing this song.
S'vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,
Un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mitn faynd,
Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor --
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.
We'll have the morning sun to set our day aglow,
And all our yesterdays shall vanish with the foe,
And if the time is long before the sun appears,
Then let this song go like a signal through the years.
Kayla was captured and taken to a camp. My great-uncle's mother and brother, whom he'd left in the ghetto, were taken to camps as well. My great-uncle ran and fought and hid and nearly lost his life, but in the end he did not die. But he never really spoke about anything except the Holocaust. He would start by telling you why he was telling you -- we have to know what happened, so it will never happen again. And then he would talk about Kayla, and his mother, and his lost little brother, and the time he hid under a bed in the dust while Nazi soldiers slept and washed and joked in the room above him, hid there so long that he lost his sneeze and could never again manage more than a tiny whisper of an "achoo." And we listened because we loved him, and as we got older we listened because we wanted to know.
Dos lid geshribn iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
S'iz not keyn lidl fun a foygl af der fray,
Dos hot a fold tsvishn faindike vent
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!
This song was written with our blood and not with lead;
It's not a song that birds sing overhead.
It was a people, among toppling barricades,
That sang this song of ours with pistols and grenades.
At my bat mitzvah
, we asked my great-uncle to speak about the Holocaust, and we were going to sing this song as well (because I'm from a family that cares about Jewish culture
but is basically areligious
, my bat mitzvah was more free-form
than most). When Bernie got up to speak, he saw the lyrics
on the podium
, and broke down crying
. Hirsh Glik was his friend; they fought together, and none of us had ever known. When Hirsh died, fighting the Nazis in Estonia
, his final words were a request to his companion
s to make sure his song became a partisan anthem
When I learned this song in Hebrew school, we never learned the author. It was taught to us as the Partisan Song. I believe Hirsh got his wish.
To zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letstn veg,
Khotsh kimlen blayene farshtein bloye teg,
Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho --
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot -- mir zaynen do!
My great-uncle Bernie killed himself, almost ten years ago now. My bat mitzvah was one of the last times I saw him alive. I wore his tallis for the occasion, and since then, every bar or bat mitzvah in our family has worn it... including his grandchildren, whose ceremonies he did not live to witness. He was not the first Holocaust survivor to commit suicide, or the first great fighter to succumb to despair where he did not succumb to danger. By now, with the war almost 60 years over, he would have been one of the last. But he told us what he went through, and we remember his story, and the song.