Music Mondays: partisan songs

Chava Alberstein: “Zog nit keynmol”

Paul Robeson: “Zog nit keynmol”

Two versions of the great Warsaw Ghetto partisan song I wrote about here.

The liner notes from the Paul Robeson version read as follows. I am curious about this. I hear what sounds like booing amongst the applause. This was the month, June 1949, when the greatest of Soviet Yiddish poets, among the greatest Yiddish poets, were arrested, to be murdered in 1952. I am curious about what Robeson knew about this, and if he knew what he thought.

The Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion – April 19 – May 16, 1943
Sung by Paul Robeson at the 1949 Moscow Concert (live)
in Yiddish and historical pictures of the burning of the Ghetto by the Germans.

This famous song was sung by Robeson as part of his legendary Moscow Concert of June 13, 1949.which Paul Robeson gave while on his tour in the Soviet Union, at the time under the Stalin oppressive dictatorship.
This song was sung by him as a tribute to the Jewish partisan fighters of the Ghetto. It was also a surprise that Robeson gave at the Concert. His son tells of the introduction of the song from his father’s memoirs that: “… One could hear a pin drop during my father remarks about the deep and enduring cultural ties between the Jewish communities of the Soviet Union and the United States, about the common tradition of the great Jewish writer Sholem Aleichem, and about the continued vitality of the Yiddish language. Finally he announced that he would sing a song of the Jewish partisans who fought to the death against their Fascist oppressors in the Warsaw Ghetto. Since the song had to be sung in Yiddish, he would explain the lyrics in Russian, as follows:

‘Never say that you have reached the very end
When leaden skies a bitter future may portend;
For sure the hour for which we yearn will not arrive
Arid our marching steps will thunder: we survive’.

For a moment there was no sound from the stunned audience; then a single intrepid young woman stood up and applauded, and the entire audience joined in a swelling wane of applause before my father could sing a single note. Only this response to my fathers remarks remains on the recording; Stalin’s censors simply cut out his remarks, and they have disappeared…”

The Song of the Wamaw Ghetto Rebellion sung in Yiddish (Zog Nit Keynmol) – remains an a crowning jewel of this recording of the Concert. The combination of power and pathos with which my father delivered this song transfixed his listeners. When he finished, the audience released its accumulated tension like an explosive charge. Although his listeners included many of Moscows Jewish intellectual elite who were waiting for Stalins axe to fell on them, the great majority were Russian members of the Party elite which was being decimated by a purge. Jews and Russians alike, in some places seated side-by-side, were either walking in the shadow of death or had lost someone close…
After that first release, the ovation continued to swell and recede in a series of waves which ebbed and flowed. People stood, applauded and cried out; they called my father by his patronymic-Pavel Vasilevich; some who were total strangers fell info each others arms and wept; still others sat silently with tears streaming down their faces. The first part of the audiences response is captured on this recording, but the rest has been cut by the censors. Still, the sound of this cry of hope is unforgettable, and there is little doubt that it was heard by the Master himself.
Thus it was that Paul Robeson, one of the greatest voices of the century, gave expression to the suffering not only of Soviet Jews but also to the countless victims of Stalins purges…..”

Published in: on November 22, 2010 at 11:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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