Chłopek-Roztropek—Bam geto-toyer

Analysis and contextual notes by D. Zisl Slepovitch.
All songs transcribed, translated, scored, arranged, and produced by Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch.


Zalman H. was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1929, the youngest of six brothers. He recounts being the sole Jew in his public school class; antisemitic harassment; his oldest brother’s draft in 1937; German invasion; anti-Jewish restrictions; ghettoization; his father’s death; two brothers escaping and working as non-Jews; smuggling food into the ghetto with Peretz, his next oldest brother; arrest by Polish police; escape; his father’s non-Jewish friend once providing food; his mother’s death; escaping with Peretz; moving from place to place; entering the ghetto often to obtain goods to sell outside the ghetto; a ghetto resistance fighter showing him a secret arms cache; fighting with him during the uprising; capture; escaping from a boxcar; finding Peretz; selling cigarettes and newspapers; attending church to reinforce his non-Jewish identity to the other street children; obtaining false papers from the underground, resulting in registering and living with a Polish woman as non-Jews; occasional contact with a person from the Jewish underground; joining the Polish resistance; fighting in the Polish uprising; and their unit surrendering.

Mr. H. recalls transport to Ożarów; transfer to Stalag VIII B (Lamsdorf), then IV B (Mühlberg); receiving Red Cross parcels; forced labor in an airplane factory; antisemitic harassment by non-Jewish Polish prisoners; assistance from their German supervisor; liberation by Soviet troops from an evacuation march; jumping on a train to Warsaw, leaving Peretz behind; reunion with another brother who had survived posing as a non-Jew; Peretz’s return; joining a kibbutz; being smuggled to Bratislava, Prague, Germany, then Marseille; illegal emigration to Palestine in August 1946; interdiction by the British; incarceration on Cyprus; release; reunion with his brothers (they had arrived while he was in Cyprus); draft into the Palmaḥ; fighting in the Israel-Arab War; marriage; and the births of three sons. Mr. H. discusses his nightmares and sharing his experiences with his sons and in schools.

Unedited Testimony

Kalman A. (HVT-3869) was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1928, an only child. He recounts attending a Yavneh school; antisemitic harassment; Soviet invasion; attending a Soviet school; German invasion; Lithuanians openly stealing their possessions; his father’s round-up (they never saw him again); ghettoization; slave labor at the airport; smuggling food into the ghetto; a selection prior to a mass shooting at the 9th Fort; hiding during the children’s selection; a public hanging; transfer to Aleksotas with his mother, aunt, and her children; deportation to Stutthof; separation from his family; transfer to Landsberg; placement in a children’s group led by Ze’ev G.; their transfer to Dachau, then Auschwitz/Birkenau one month later; assignment as a camp cleaner, which resulted in receiving extra food; train transfer to Mauthausen in January 1945; a death march to Gunskirchen; hearing about cannibalism; a German soldier giving him food; liberation by United States troops; hospitalization in Wels; transfer by the Jewish Brigade to a hospital in Udine, then Milan; his adoption by a survivor in 1945; their emigration to Israel in 1955; reunion with his aunt (his mother did not survive); marriage; and adopting a child. Mr. A. discusses songs in the ghetto and camps (he sings several); not losing his belief in God; nightmares resulting from his experiences; sharing his experiences with his daughter; and attending reunions of the children’s group.

Unedited Testimony

Chłopek-Roztropek—Bam geto-toyer(A Village Hustler—At the Ghetto Gate)

Music and lyrics: traditional (unknown); arrangement: D. Zisl Slepovitch

This piece is composed of two songs from two different testimonies. One is a satirical Polish song, Chłopek-roztropek (A Village Hustler), overheard in the streets of Warsaw by Zalman H. (HVT-3638), then a little boy (born in 1929). The song’s general concept is poking fun at uneducated yet street-smart peasants. Zalman did not remember one of the lines but we were able to discover it in a source that contained the full text. As the character is ironically making fun of his girlfriend, pointing out that she dresses too fancy, she fires back, noting that her Wojtek bought a fur coat from a Jew in the ghetto (it was obviously a cheap coat, and he didn’t see anything particularly immoral about this purchase).

We decided to cut the song’s lyric at that dramatic turn and transition to the next ‘Picture from the Exhibition,’ from a testimony given by Kalman A. (HVT-3869). Kalman was born in 1928, a native of Kaunas, Lithuania. He remembers one verse of a song portraying a strict Polish collaborationist who is guarding the entrance to the ghetto. He suddenly becomes happy when he sees an opportunity to get a cut of what is likely food being illegally smuggled into the ghetto. The characters of both songs represent the same figure—a non-Jewish former neighbor who under new circumstances doesn’t mind benefitting personally from the misery of Jews—the moral opposite of those who risked their lives by hiding their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis.

Another example of predatory behavior towards Jews comes from the testimony of Willy F. (HVT-2844). His family was forced to leave their hometown of Dziołoszyce. In Willy’s own words: “later we learned that there was to be a public auction where the Poles could buy the apartments with everything inside, so this time we knew there was no point in going back…” Then, he remembers, “my parents had a very difficult trip, constantly being attacked by the Poles who wanted their baggage.”

1. Jestem se chłopek-roztropek, mieszkam se w chałupie, 
Życie nie jest takie jak w Warszawie głupie.
Bo nam, chłopom, dzisiaj na wsi dobrze się powodzi, 
A was w Warszawie drożyzna niedługo zagłodzi.

Wywieźliśta z tej Warszawy meble i ubrania, 
Tak że nie mata nam nic już do sprzedania.
A my wasze fortepiany w stodołach trzymamy,
Bo na tyle różnych gratów już miejsca nie mamy.

2. Mówiły na nas: frajery albo głupie chamy.
A ja mówię, że my swoje kiełbie we łbie mamy.
Bo jak przyjedzieta na wieś rąbankę kupować, 
To musita pół dnia za to forsę nam rachować.

My, frajery, se na miejscu nigdzie nie jeździewa, 
Ale za słoninę skórę dziesiątą ściągniewa.
A wam jeszcze w tych pociągach wszystko zabierali, 
A chłopi sobie sienniki forsą napychali.

3. Myślę sobie: to ci czasy, niech to piorun liźnie, 
Jak ja zobaczyłem Kasie w jedwabnej bieliźnie!
—Nie wyśmiewaj, mój Wojtusiu, boś nie lepszy przecie, 
Boś sobie niedawno futro kupił w getcie.

Bam geto-toyer shteyt a poyer,
Zayn gezikht iz shtreng un zoyer.
Hit di geto vi a bank,
Mit a biksele in hant.
Ober plutsling vert er freylekh
Un er fil zikh vi a meylekh.
A brigade kumt aher,
Ongelodn rikhtik shver.

1. I am a village hustler, I live in a shack,
Life here is not silly, like it is in Warsaw,
We peasants have a good life in the village,
And soon you’ll be starving from those high prices in Warsaw.

You took the furniture and clothes out of Warsaw,
So, we don’t have anything to sell.
We are keeping your pianos in the stables,
Because we don’t have room for all that stuff.

2. Those ladies used to call us “Ne’er-do-well” or “foolish rednecks,”
And I’m telling you, we don’t have fish for brains, we can think for ourselves.
When you come to the village to buy pork chops,
You’ll be counting out the cash to give us for hours.

We fancy folks stay in place, not going anywhere,
But we’ll rip you off for some lard.
They used to take everything from you on those trains,
While the peasants stuffed their mattresses with cash.

3. I’m thinking to myself, these are great times, damn it,
When I saw Kasia wearing silk underwear.
—Don’t laugh at me, my dear Wojtek, you’re not any better,
‘Cuz you recently got yourself a fur coat in the ghetto.

At the ghetto gate stands a peasant,
His face is strict and sour.
He guards the ghetto like a bank,
With a rifle in his hand.
But suddenly he’s happy,
He feels like a king.
A brigade of smugglers is coming,
Fully loaded.