Songs From Testimonies

The Songs From Testimonies project collects and records songs and poems discovered in our testimonies. Our musician-in-residence, Zisl Slepovitch, took the songs, conducted research about their origins, then arranged and recorded versions with his ensemble, featuring Sasha Lurje. 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.

-Stephen Naron, Director, Fortunoff Video Archive

Cry, My Heart, Cry! Songs from Testimonies, Volume 2

Singing Songs of Dark Days

The sufferings of Jews under the Nazi regime were reflected in their music and musical life. Music offered women and men interned in ghettos and camps a way to express their humanity in inhuman conditions, to escape, revolt and cry for freedom. The act of singing is a human act of artistic performance that creates another world for the singer and the audience. The 13 songs selected here were recalled by survivors telling their stories and singing – words and music – probably for the first time since their liberation. These songs describe and witness places, ghettos, camps, deportations, slave labor and other harsh circumstances the survivors had to struggle with. When these songs are sung – both now and then – they create moments of relief and comfort for the singers and their listeners.

In addition to private occasions on which Jews played music, sang and even danced, music was performed publicly in some ghettos. Street singers performed in Łódź, Warsaw, and Kraków. Professional musical performance was censored and controlled by the authorities, but theater revue shows took place and concerts of classical music were performed in several ghettos. In Warsaw, Adam Furmanski (1883-1943) organized small orchestras in cafés and soup kitchens. A symphonic orchestra played in the ghetto until April 1942, when the Nazi authorities closed it down for performing works by German composers. In Łódź, the head of the Jewish Council, Chayim Rumkowski, oversaw musical activities. The culture center was especially adapted for musical and theatrical performances by a revue theater, a symphony orchestra, and the Zamir choral society. In the Kraków ghetto, chamber and liturgical musical selections were performed. The Vilna ghetto had an extensive program of musical activities, with a symphony orchestra, several choirs, and a conservatory with 100 students. A revue theater presented many popular songs about ghetto life.

Most of the music scores and songs did not survive. But as soon as the war ended, songs were collected, transcribed and published. A few recordings of Yiddish songs were made during the 1940s – by Shmerke Kaczerginski in 1946 in Europe and by Ben Stonehill in 1948 in America. The musicologist Ruth Rubin recorded Holocaust survivors in Canada and America in the early 1950s. The recordings are kept in several archives, but most of these songs were neither performed nor recorded again. In the early 1980s, I began to record survivors of the Holocaust singing Yiddish songs in Israel and America. However, many songs were forgotten, as most of the survivors – even when recalling songs in their diaries or memories – recall the lyrics but not the music. Therefore, the oral history testimonies in the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies provides a great source for additional songs to be discovered, studied and performed.

For this album 13 songs were selected for a new musical arrangement and performance. The songs were sung by survivors in three languages: Yiddish, Polish and French. The singers sang the songs during their interview with a smile on their face. Some of the songs are humorous, some realistic, and some are pre-war songs that received new meanings as a few songs are parodies (contrafact) i.e., new lyrics to known melodies are created to express the circumstances and emotions of that time.

The lyrics commented on reality while the music – the melodies – was taken from pre-war Yiddish folk songs, Yiddish popular songs, Polish traditional songs and French folk songs – familiar melodies that provided comfort and hope. Several songs in this CD are sung to a tango or a waltz rhythm, both of which were popular in the interwar period. A few melodies recall Jewish synagogue and klezmer tunes, while others are taken from the non-Jewish repertoire, as music has no borders and Ashkenazi Jews were often multilingual and multicultural.  Which can be heard in these songs.

The act of singing in ghettos and camps was an act of creation. It was an assertion of freedom as well as of life and of community. The ghetto and camp songs in this CD symbolize survival – life and not death. Even when the song-text expresses despair and fear of death, the melody elevates the text to another world, another time, and brings hope. The songs and their singing in ghettos and camps tell the story of the spiritual resistance of the survivors and the victims – of a human community during an inhuman period.

-Dr. Gila Flam, Director, Music Department and Sound Archives of the National Library of Israel

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Where is our Homeland? Songs from Testimonies in the Fortunoff Video ArchiveBy 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.

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Video Series

SE01EP13: Ani Ma’amin (I Believe)

Episode 13 features “Ani Ma’amin (I Believe),” from the testimony of Irene S. (HVT-98). Irene sang this song with her fellow prisoners while on the train going to Treblinka and Majdanek.

SE01EP12: Badkhen's Song

Episode 12 features "Badkhen's Song," taken from the testimony of Jack M. (HVT-1555). Jack M. remembered this song from a wedding in Szydłowiec, Poland.

SE01EP11: Treblinka Survival Song

Episode 11 features “Treblinka Survival Song,” taken from the testimony of Irene S. (HVT-98). Irene co-wrote this song on the train going to Treblinka and Majdanek concentration camps.

SE01EP10: W pociągu jest tłok

Episode 10 features “W pociągu jest tłok,” drawn from the testimony of Peretz H. (HVT-3569). As a child, Peretz sang this and other songs in the streets of Warsaw, Poland.

SE01EP09: Polish Army Songs

Episode 9 features Polish Army Songs, drawn from the testimony of Jack M. (HVT-1555). Jack M. learned these two songs from his fellow soldiers and officers in his regiment.

SE01EP08: Płaszów Inmates’ Song

Episode 8 is based on a poem drawn from the testimony of Ruth C. (HVT-3793). The piece describes the horror and hope of those imprisoned in Płaszów concentration camp.

SE01EP07: Stepan-blondin

Episode 7 features Stepan-blondin, drawn from the testimony of Liubov’ K. (HVT-3280). She and other labor camp prisoners composed this poem about a cruel collaborationist.

SE01EP06: Proschai

Episode 6 is based on a poem drawn from the testimony of Liubov’ K. (HVT-3280). Liubov' K. read this heartfelt farewell as a poem.

SE01EP05: Tuchi Nad Budyschem Vstali

Episode 5 features Tuchi Nad Budyschem Vstali. This song, another that appears in Liubov' K.'s testimony (HVT-3280), was composed in an Ukrainian labor camp.

SE01EP04: In Dem Kleinem Dorf

Episode 4 features In Dem Kleinem Dorf. The song, composed in an Ukrainian labor camp, appears in Liubov' K.'s testimony (HVT-3280).

SE01EP03: Trayb Di Khvalyes

Episode 3 features Trayb Di Khvalyes. The song appears in Jack M.'s testimony (HVT-1555). Born in Szydłowiec, Poland, Jack heard this song at his workplace.

SE01EP02: Kadima

Episode 2 features Kadima. The song appears in Itzhak S.’s testimony (HVT-3489). Born in Berlin in 1915, Itzhak sings a song from a Zionist youth movement.

SE01EP01: Walc François

Episode 1 features Walc François. The song appears in Peretz H.’s testimony (HVT-3569). A native of Warsaw, Peretz was just a child when the war began.

The Songs By Testimony

In Dinaverke

Lily M. (HVT-1711) was imprisoned at the slave labor camp Dünawerke (Dinaverke, in Yiddish), where her friend composed this song. Listen Here

Chłopek-Roztropek—Bam geto-toyer

Zalman H. (HVT-3638) and Kalman A. (HVT-3869) recall two songs about unsavory characters. Listen Here

Hej Tam Na Górce

Yaakov B. (HVT-3829) heard this song from classmates as a child in Hrubieszów, Poland. Listen Here

Kiddush Hashem

Moshe B. (HVT-4409) sang this song as a tribute to Zhelazny, possibly a former synagogue cantor. Listen Here

A Dermonung Funem Appellplatz

Moshe B. (HVT-4409) pays tribute to one of his musically talented fellow prisoners who sang this song during the roll call. Listen Here


Joseph W. (HVT-2852) remembers this song, composed by friend and Lodz ghetto "troubadour" Jankele Herszkowicz Listen Here

Une Fleur Au Chapeau

Henri G. (HVT-2096) recalled, "my little brother was with me, we went to the Gare d'Austerlitz, and I told him, 'Sing like me. Sing "Une fleur au chapeau."'” Listen Here

Shray, Hertsale, Shray!

This song appears in more than one testimony, including those of Morris K. (HVT-1651) and Willy F. (HVT-2844). Listen Here

A Valts

Jean B. (HVT-701) choreographed many dances for shows in the Lodz ghetto, including one to this song. Listen Here

Dem rebns shikse

Hella R. (HVT-4179) noted that people in Warsaw Ghetto coped with daily life using dark “gallows humor" in songs like this one. Listen Here

Siekiera, Motyka

Zalman H. (HVT-3638) heard this song from other children in the streets of Warsaw when the song had already been banned by the Germans. Listen Here

W Saskim Ogrodzie

Zalman H. (HVT-3638), a native of Warsaw, remembered hearing this antisemitic song in the street. Listen Here

Himlen, o Himlen

This powerful yet chilling song was remembered and performed by Moshe F. (HVT-1956), born in Uniejów, Poland, in 1913. Listen Here

The Performers

Joshua CampAccordion (3, 5, 7–12), piano (1, 2, 6, 13), Hammond C3 organ (4), whistling (7), additional vocals (2).

Joshua Camp is a founding member of the bands One Ring Zero, C.A.M.P.O.S., Locobeach, and Chicha Libre, has composed for and played in projects of various genres over the years, including country, folk, Irish, klezmer, merengue, and experimental music. He has also composed music for film, dance, theater, and multimedia installations. As an accordionist, Joshua has been in the Broadway productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Threepenny Opera, and the Tony Award–winning play Indecent, and appeared on the soundtrack to the Lincoln Center production of The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard.

Dmitry IshenkoContrabass (all tracks), additional vocals (2).

Dmitry Ishenko is a versatile and highly sought-after New York City bass player. He has performed and recorded with such jazz greats as Steve Lacy, John Tchicai, Eric Harland, Dave Liebman, and many others. A graduate of Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, Dmitry is a busy session player and arranger, having worked in the studio and on the road with Paul Banks of Interpol, among others. Dmitry has toured all over northern America, Western Europe, Russia, and Japan, and has appeared at the CareFusion Jazz Festival, Vision Festival, Blue Note Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival, Boston Beantown Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and the Blue Note, as well as countless other venues around the world. Dmitry has also performed in a number of theater productions in the US and Europe, including the award-winning production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (off-Broadway).

Craig JudelmanViolin (1–3, 5–13), tambourine (9, 10), additional vocals (2).

Craig Judelman grew up in Seattle, where he studied classical violin. He soon branched out into jazz, folk, and klezmer music, which he first studied with the early klezmer revival fiddler Wendy Marcus. Craig went on to study composition with Joan Tower, as well as classical and jazz violin at Bard College. Craig made a name for himself in New York playing traditional American music with his band, The Dust Busters, eventually recording an album with John Cohen for the Smithsonian Folkways. Brooklyn life also brought Craig to the band Litvakus, notable for its revival of North Eastern European Jewish music. Craig has been a music educator for over a decade, teaching Yiddish and American folk music. He helps produce the Seattle Yiddish Fest and Shtetl Neukölln (currently Shtetl Berlin) in Berlin, where he currently lives.

Sasha LurjeVocals (all tracks)

Sasha Lurje, a native of Riga, Latvia, has been singing since the age of three. She has performed with a wide variety of groups in various styles, ranging from classical to folk, jazz, rock, and pop. Sasha has also been involved in several theater groups, where she focused on musical and improvisational theater. She has performed and taught Yiddish singing in Russia, Europe, and North America, and has been a longtime artist and faculty member at Yiddish Summer Weimar. Among her projects and bands are Forshpil, STRANGELOVESONGS with Daniel Kahn, Semer Ensemble, You Shouldn’t Know from It, and Litvakus.

D. Zisl SlepovitchComposer (5), arranger (all tracks), Bb/A clarinet (1, 2, 8, 11, 13), Eb clarinet (12), basset horn (3, 5, 6, 10), piccolo (7), shawm (9), vocals (9), additional vocals (2), whistling (7), finger snapping (7), producer, artistic director; lyrics translator.

D. Zisl Slepovitch is a native of Minsk, Belarus, who has resided in the United States since 2008. He is a musicologist (Ph.D., Belarusian State Academy of Music); a multi-instrumental klezmer, classical, and improvisational musician; a composer and poet; and a music and Yiddish educator. He is a founding member of the critically acclaimed bands Litvakus, Minsker Kapelye, and Zisl Slepovitch Trio. He has served as assistant music director and music director in many productions by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and is now the Musician-in-Residence (Research Affiliate) at the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University. Zisl has been the Clarinet chair and Associate Conductor in the award-winning off-Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (2018–20). He has served as a Yiddish language and culture instructor at The New School, an educator and artist-in-residence at BIMA at Brandeis University, and a guest artist and lecturer at many US and international universities, cultural organizations, and festivals. Zisl’s theater, film, and TV contributions include consulting on and acting in the film Defiance, Eternal Echoes (Sony Classical), and Rejoice with Itzhak Perlman and Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot (PBS), and composing a number of original scores.

Mariana SlepovitchTsimbl (tsymbaly) (9, 10).

Mariana Slepovitch is a native of Minsk, Belarus who grew up playing tsymbaly, a Belarussian version of the hammered dulcimer. While basing her experience in the Belarusian professional school of the tsymbaly, she has mostly used her instrument in the context of Ashkenazic Jewish (klezmer) and Eastern European music. Mariana Slepovitch appears on Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman’s album, ‘Fli, Mayn Flishlang,’ (Fly, My Kite, 2008, as Mariana Beytelman) and on the soundtrack of Matthew Lancit’s ‘Funeral Season’ documentary scored by D. Zisl Slepovitch (2011). From the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine, she has been performing in Slepovitch Klezmer Duo together with her husband Zisl.

Additional Production Notes:
Recorded at Mighty Toad Recording Studio, Brooklyn, New York, on January 8–10, 2020.
Recording engineer, mixing, and mastering Craig Dreyer.
Additional vocals (5, 6) recorded in Berlin, Germany, on July 22, 2020.
Recording engineer: Thomas Stern.

Artwork and design: Yulia Ruditskaya.
Booklet layout: Jeff Mueller, Dexterity Press.
Lyrics translation and liner notes: D. Zisl Slepovitch.
Editor: Simon J. Cook.

Thank you
Michael Alpert, Samuel Norich, and Josh Waletzky for their invaluable help with the ghetto and concentration camp-related Yiddish slang; Nikolay Borodulin for consultations on the Yiddish lyrics; Dr. Viktor Slepovitch, for his notes on the Polish lyrics.

Produced by the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University.