Where Is Our Homeland?

In 2018, the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, along with musician-in-residence D. Zisl Slepovitch and former Hartman fellow Sarah Garibova, began production of an album of songs recalled in testimonies. This album, Where is Our Homeland? Songs from Testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive, reached fruition in Fall 2019, composed and arranged by musicologist and musician D. Zisl Slepovitch.


Click on the links below to learn more about the project.
Introduction (Stephen Naron)
It Began with Liubov’ (Sarah Garibova)
Track Listing, Background Note, and Full Album (D. Zisl Slepovitch)
The Songs By Testimony
Performer Biographies
Complete Liner Notes


by Stephen Naron, Director of the Fortunoff Video Archive

The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies’ predecessor, the Holocaust Survivors Film Project,
began taping testimony of survivors, witnesses and bystanders in New Haven in 1979, thanks to the creativity of
Dr. Dori Laub, himself a child survivor from Czernowitz, Romania, and psychiatrist and analyst, and Laurel Vlock,
a television journalist at Channel 8. They had the support of the New Haven survivor community, particularly of
Willian Rosenberg who would later become the president of the project, as well as many, many other members
of the Jewish community. The collection came to Yale in 1981 thanks to the work of Professor Geoffrey
Hartman, who gave it a permanent home within the Manuscripts and Archives department at Sterling Memorial
Library. Under his watch as Faculty Advisor, it grew to become an internationally renowned collection that over
the years, has influenced the way the history of the Holocaust is written, studied, and taught.

There are more than 4,400 testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive. 12,000 hours of recorded material in
over a dozen languages, recorded over the last 40 years in over a dozen different countries. That is 4,400 life
stories. I call them life stories, because our interview methodology asks survivors to recount their entire history –
– from their earliest childhood memories to the present. We consider it essential to know what life was like
before the Holocaust, if we seek to understand the scope of the loss, and the complexity of each individual’s
attempt to recover – to the extent possible — and build a life in the postwar period.

The songs and poems you are about to hear were sung or recounted in a number of testimonies and reflect the
richness of these documents. They are songs from the interwar period and from the ghettos, and the camps.
Originally, these songs were sung individually and collectively, but in survivors’ testimonies they are recounted
or performed by individuals. They thus remind us that the survivor singing them represents all those who did not
survive to sing again, and remind us of the absence of the original audience.

The Fortunoff Archive’s faculty advisor, Professor Timothy Snyder, notes that testimonies, like works of art, have
a special ability to cross the membrane between death and life, between past and present. The singing of these
songs can’t happen in a written source. They can only happen in a visual or an audio source. The recording you
are about to hear is a reading of testimony as a source, perhaps an unconventional reading, but a reading
nonetheless. Some of the songs you will hear are about dying and death, written and sung in the camps. This
effort to recall them – part anthropological, part ethnomusicological, part historical – also recreates them. And
my hope is that this recreation will form a link between the people who are no longer living and the living, all of
us listening to this recording.

It Began with Liubov’

By Sarah Garibova

Fifty years after the liberation of central Ukraine, in the summer of 1994, researchers from the Fortunoff Video
Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, including Pinchas Agmon and Z.M. Zabarko, conducted dozens of interviews
with Holocaust survivors across Ukraine. Among the interviewees was Liubov’ K. Born in 1921 in Zvenigorodka,
Ukraine, she returned to her hometown after the war and remained there until the mid-1990s, when she
emigrated to Haifa, Israel. In her charming, understated, and bitingly tragic way, Liubov’s testimony provides
astounding detail regarding prewar Jewish life in Zvenigorodka and the horrors of the Nazi occupation of the
city, July 1941 – January 1944. In addressing the period of the Holocaust, Liubov’ does not shy away from the
complexities of that time. She immortalizes both local collaborators and rescuers in her testimony—highlighting
how neighbors could become executioners and strangers could become unlikely saviors.

After eight months in the Zvenigorodka ghetto, on May 5, 1942, Liubov’ and approximately 300 other able-
bodied Jews were transferred to a series of labor camps north of the city. While in the labor camps, Liubov’ and
her fellow prisoners performed road repairs for the infamous Transit Highway IV project. These experiences of
family separation and backbreaking labor inspired the prisoners to write four of the songs that you hear in this
album. As Liubov’ recalls, “Everyone [wrote the songs], all together. This one would give a word, that one would
give two. This one a line, and the next would add another. That’s how it came together for us.” The words of
“Farewell, Our Native City” recount the prisoner’s tearful separation from family members who were left behind
in the Zvenigorodka ghetto. Once in the camps, Liubov’ and her fellow prisoners lived in unheated barns and
relied on the generosity of local Ukrainian villagers to supplement their meager food rations. The details of these
experiences are described in the songs “In the Little Village ‘Smilchyntsi’” and “Clouds Gather over Budyshche.”
While in the Budyshche camp, Liubov’ and several other inmates ran afoul of Stepan—a self-important overseer
in the camp. His brutality is immortalized in the song “Stepan the Blond.” While the lyrics describe the episode in
unflinchingly factual terms, in a way, the song allowed its authors to have the last laugh. Stepan tried to break
their will, yet they could still compose a song about their tormentor. Because songs like these were not
committed to paper and could be easily memorized, if even one of the camp inmates survived, their collective
history was guaranteed to survive as well. Liubov’s recollection of these songs in her testimony is the fulfillment
of this hope.

All projects have a starting point, a moment of genesis. This album, as well as the ongoing musical project,
Where is Our Homeland, were directly inspired by Liubov’ K. Her testimony and her music galvanized a team of
archivists, musicians, and researchers to bring the prewar and wartime songs of survivors out of the archive and
back to life. My hope is that this album will allow Liubov’s memory and the memory of those who perished
during the Holocaust to reach a new generation.

The Album

By D. Zisl Slepovitch

The songs presented on this album provide a series of insights into the Holocaust survivors’ experiences both
during World War II and in the period preceding the war, which were documented by the Fortunoff Video
Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University. The widely diverse compositions presented on the album
form a timeline that helps recreate a multidimensional image of people’s lives and the multiple identities they
carried — as Jews by faith and roots, and as European citizens — Poles, Germans, Russians– by culture. These
identities were shaped during the vibrant and dynamic interwar period, which is represented by several songs
on this album. The core of this collection, however, conveys the ways people managed to survive during the
Holocaust, not in the least thanks to the support they gained through the songs they wrote and sang in the
ghettos and concentration camps all across Central and Eastern Europe.

Side 1
1. Doina — Badkhen’s Song
2. Polish Army Songs
3. Trayb di khvalyes, tifer taykh
4. Walc François
5. W pociągu jest tłok
6. Kadima – Vorwärts

Side 2
7. In dem kleinem Dorf, in Smiltschenzi
8. Tuchi nad Budishchem vstali
9. Stepan-blondin
10. Proshchay, gorod moy rodimyi
11. Płaszów Inmates’ Song
12. Treblinka Survival Song
13. Ani Ma’amin

The Performers

Meet the musicians
See All Audio Productions