(Inspired by Irene Lilienheim Angelic’s letter to Leonard Cohen)
18 July 2017
“Zog Nit Keynmol” is Yiddish for “Never say…. that you have reached the end of the road”. These are the opening words to the poem that you wrote in the Vilna Ghetto during the horrendous times for Jews in 1943.
Yet your poem contains words of hope, heroism and inspiration for the partisans and the inmates of your ghetto. When you read “Zog Nit Keynmol” on the street corner to your friend Rachel Margolis, she matched it to the music of the 1938 Russian march by the Dmitri and Daniel Pokrass.
The song was soon sung in the ghettos and camps of Europe. It has been sung as a stirring anthem or hymn every year for 73 years since, by Survivors and others at Yom Hashoah ceremonies throughout the world. It has been translated into many languages.
The song is so well known but not necessarily well understood. Perhaps it is because it has been mostly sung in Yiddish, a language which is no longer spoken as it was in your time!
I established the Partisan Poem & Song project in February this year after I was asked by King David High Schools in Johannesburg, South Africa to address their 1000 high school students about the meaning, inspiration and context of the Partisan Song.
Our goal is to increase the understanding of the song’s powerful and positive message and, at the same time, create a bridge between your generation which originally sang it and future generations – creating continuity while there are still Holocaust Survivors among us.
To achieve this, school choirs are invited to learn the song in a language/s of their choice, to record their performance and post it on our dedicated website, to create a video tapestry of remembrance.
Within a few weeks of the project’s launch in February this year, World ORT, the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organisation, operational in 37 countries, adopted the project. In their pilot, ten ORT schools in the Former Soviet Union submitted videos. These were compiled into a single video, sung in different languages, in time for Yom Hashoah.
We are now building resources to help students analyse and understand the song as you originally wrote it, namely as a poem. We have found 17 different language versions, making this a truly international program from its outset.
Yad Vashem has a resource for Teaching The Holocaust Through Poetry, using the poem “Refugee Blues” by famous British poet W H Auden. It was written in 1939, six months before war broke out, about Jewish refugees and not specifically about ghettos or camps.
Your Poem sits perfectly alongside Refugee Blues as the most important resource of a poem written in the ghetto during the Holocaust.
Mervyn Danker, a retired school principal based in San Francisco, has set up an outline of a study guide for teachers to use when teaching your poem or the song.
World renowned authorities such as Shirl Gilbert, are interested in the progress of this project, and educational NGOs in Poland, Lithuania, Austria and Poland are keen to participate.
Phillip Maisel, 93, a volunteer at the Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Australia, is our direct link to you as he was your good friend, and was one of the first to hear your poem!
To watch the video and to read more, please visit our home page:
Menu Please watch this short video and join an inspiring project: From World ORT: Quote World ORT With each Yom HaShoah the number of Survivors dwindles making the challenge of engaging new gene…
I will keep you posted as to how the project is growing.
The direct link to the YouTube video is here: