Jack M. (HVT-1555)

“Doina — Badkhen’s Song”
“Polish Army Songs”
“Trayb di khvalyes, tifer taykh”

Analysis and contextual notes by D. Zisl Slepovitch.
All songs transcribed, scored, arranged, and produced by Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch.
Translations by Daniel Kahn & Yeva Lapsker.

Unedited Testimony


Jack M. was born in Szydłowiec, Poland in 1913. In his testimony, Jack recalls attending cheder, then public school; visiting his grandmother in Chlewiska; apprenticeship as a tailor at age fourteen; working in Warsaw; military service in Skierniewice from 1937 to 1939; German invasion; one brother fleeing to the Soviet zone (he perished); slave labor in Jósefów; ghettoization; hiding during round-ups; his family’s deportation; incarceration in Wolanów, Skarżysko-Kamienna, Sulejów, Laura, Dachau, Buchenwald, and Allach; slave labor in HASAG factories; liberation from an evacuation train; living in Feldafing displaced persons camp; hearing from his uncle through the Red Cross; and emigration to the United States. Mr. M. discusses details of prewar life; some guards who helped him; the deaths of his entire family; and a 1980 trip to Poland.

A survivor of Szydłowiec ghetto (Poland), he remembered and beautifully performed a wealth of traditional repertoire, including musical and theatrical pieces. His interview includes traditional Yiddish songs of various genres: badkhones (wedding jester’s rhymes), Hassidic niggunim (paraliturgical tunes without words), a Biblical play “Mekhiras Yoysef” (The Trade of Joseph), which was quite widespread in Eastern and Central Europe for a few centuries as part of the folk theatre and Purimshpil tradition dating back to the 1400’s; Polish songs that Jack remembered from street and the army, including some anti-Semitic and frivolous rhymes presumably made up by his senior officer; and many other rare pieces, some of which are likely the only (or one of the very few) such recordings in existence. In addition to his singing, Jack was also a gifted storyteller. Choosing just a few songs for this record was not an easy task.

Unedited Testimony

Doina — Badkhen’s Song

The composition opens with the doina (a free-time improvisatory piece, traditional to the southern East European, primarily Moldovan and Romanian, klezmer repertoire). This particular piece was recorded and notated by Moisey Beregovskiy, a notable Soviet ethnomusicologist who completed work of critical importance — simultaneously with Sofia Magid of Leningrad / St. Petersburg, collecting and researching Eastern European Jewish traditional music in the 1920’s — 40’s. The song that follows the doina was sung by Jack M. as he had remembered it at a wedding in Szydłowiec, originally performed by a Hassidic badkhen (the wedding jester). The lyrics indicate that it must be a fragment of a larger composition, in which the central moral was, “a Jew must not be alone, a Jew must have a wife”. The song is followed by the melodic freylekhs based on the mocking street song “Vos bistu ketsele baroygez?” (“Why Are You So Angry, Honey?”)

Doina – Badkhns Lid

Tsi Shmelken zugt der tate:
“Zay nisht azoy tamevate!
Horkh oys dayn foter Yankl dem altn,
In ti dayn kas oyf im aynhaltn”
Er ken nisht esn,
Er ken nisht shlufn,
Vayl es shteyt geshribn in der Toyre,
Azoy zugt im der Boyre:
“A yidl tur nisht zayn alayn.
A vayb miz men hubn,
Zol im kenen shpeter bagrubn,
A yidele zol nisht zayn alayn.”

Doina — Badkhen’s Song

Papa says to Shmelke:
“Don’t be such a numbskull!
Heed to your old father.
And restrain your anger with him.”
He can’t eat,
He can’t sleep,
For it’s written in the Torah,
Thus speaketh our creator:
“A Jew mustn’t be alone.
He must have a wife,
Who can later bury him.
A Jew mustn’t be alone.”

Polish Army Songs

(a) A Jew in the Barrel – (b) “They Drafted a Poor Jew” – (c) Rzeszów Polka – (d) “A Gray Dove.” Before World War II, Jack M. served in the Polish army. The two songs he remembered from the time were popular in his regiment (and were probably composed by his fellow soldiers and officers). The suite opens with, “A Jew in a Barrel, a pre-war piece that was popular both in villages and urban areas in Poland, since it presents the Jewish neighbor as the Other, just as the first of the songs does. “They Drafted A Poor Jew” on the surface is a couple of anti-Semitic mocking verses. It is followed by a lively interlude, a traditional instrumental piece, Polka Rzeszówka (Rzeszów Polka), which leads into the second military song performed by Jack, “A Gray Dove” which is a rather foolish love song based on a repetitive short motive in the rhythm of mazurka.

“They Drafted a Poor Jew”

Zabrali do wojska biednego żydziaka,
Nie dali mu bułki z masłem, tylko kapuśniaka.
Dali mu karabin, cebulą nabity.
Kazali mu strzelać do swojej kobity.

“A Gray Dove”
Siwy gołąbeczek na kamieniu siedział,
Dałabym ci buzi, żebyś nie powiedział.

A jakbyś powiedział, to bym się wstydziła
Żeś mnie pocałował, jam się nie broniła.

Jedzie wóz na przewóz, malowane uśnie,
Dałabym ci buzi jak matula uśnie.

Matula usneła, na kominku zgasło.
Dziewcze buzi dało, aż lóżeczko trzasło.

A poor little Yid got drafted.
He got no bread with butter, just cabbage soup.
They gave him a gun, loaded with onions,
And told him to shoot his wife.

On a stone sat a gray pigeon,
I’d give you a kiss, but don’t tell anyone.

If you were to tell, I wouldn’t feel ashamed
That you kissed me. I wouldn’t mind that.

There’s a wagon going, all painted,
I will give you a kiss, when Mother falls asleep.

Mother has fallen asleep, the fireplace is dark.
The girl gives a kiss, and the bed shakes.

Trayb di khvalyes, tifer taykh

(Drive Your Waves, Deep River). This is a love song that Jack M. remembered from his childhood in the pre-war Polish town of Szydłowiec. Sung on behalf of a young abandoned woman, it expresses her grief and longing for her lover who has left for a land far away. This is a beautiful example of an old-time personal lyrical song.

Trayb di khvalyes, tifer taykh

Trayb di khvalyes, tifer taykh.
Trayb zay iber barg in tul,
Mayn gelibtn fundervaytn,
Gris ikh toyznte mul.

Di ertsayl im, tifer taykh,
Fun mayn bitern shikzal,
Az mayn leybn iz vi ayn triber tul.
On a zin un on shtral.

Drive Your Waves, Deep River

Drive your waves, deep river
Drive them over mountains and valleys
From afar, I send my beloved
A thousand greetings

Tell him, deep river,
Of my bitter fate.
For my life is like a dismal valley,
Without a ray of sunlight