Keeping the Partisan Song relevant for generations to come
Keeping the Partisan Song Relevant For Generations To Come
by Tali Feiberg
“Just as Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein has taken the local Shabbos Project idea to a global level, my vision for this project is to spread it throughout the world,” says Eli Rabinowitz, a Cape Town-born educator who is working to teach the ‘Holocaust Survivor’s Anthem’ to school children across the globe.
“On Yom Hashoah, many Holocaust survivors sing the Partisan Song ‘Zog Nit Keynmol’. However, a decline in survivors has meant that it is being lost to history,” explains Rabinowitz, who lives in Perth.
“The motivation behind this Don’t Give Up Hope Project, is to educate and give meaning to The Partisan Song – its history, significance and inspiration, and to continue the legacy of the survivors and partisans.”
In addition, the theme of this year’s United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day is ‘The Power of Words’, and Rabinowitz hopes that young people can learn the poem in time to recite it on that day, 27 January 2018.
The project had humble beginnings right here in South Africa, when Rabinowitz was invited to present it to 1000 students at King David High Schools, and an online classroom hosted by Herzlia High School, attended by five schools in the Former Soviet Union. He used some ‘out of the box’ techniques, including showing YouTube clips of the song in unexpected genres such as heavy metal and Japanese!
Since then, the project has snowballed. The Holocaust Education Trust (HET) in the UK has suggested the Partisan Song as the single most important reading for UN Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, and 95 year old Holocaust survivor Philip Maisel has come on board to promote the initiative – he was a friend of the poem’s author, Hirsh Glik, and was one of the first people to hear it.
In addition, “World ORT has said that “The thundering, defiant optimism of Zog Nit Keynmol raised the morale of fighters against the Nazis, but it can also be an inspiration to new generations – if they know about it. To ensure that this magnificent song and its stirring message are not lost, World ORT is supporting Eli Rabinowitz in his passionate campaign to introduce it to schoolchildren around the world”.
The educator and film maker says he is motivated to do this work because he realised that there were so many fields that could be covered by teaching the Partisan Song, from history and the Holocaust, to poetry and music. “The contextual relationship between these is special. In addition, the contrast between talking about the Holocaust and a poem that represented hope, heroes and spirited resistance is something quite powerful.”
He adds: “I wasn’t that comfortable with poetry when I was at school at Highlands North Boys’ and Sea Point Boys’ in the mid to late 60s, and this is my chance to make amends!”
In consultation with Mervyn Danker, a past principal of Herzlia, a free study guide has been created, available on Rabinowitz’s website. “The study guide is a lesson plan, enabling teachers and learners to work through the Partisan Poem using a more structured approach. This plan can be used in History, English or Jewish Studies classes,” he explains.
“We have focussed on classroom activities around the poem, its author and the historical context: reading, analysing, watching a recital, comparing with other war and Holocaust poems and discussions. Related creative activities include art, creative writing, multimedia and singing.”
Rabinowitz has worked to gather numerous translations of the poem: “I initially sourced about thirteen translations on various websites. When I visited the UK in June, I did some research in the British Library and found several more, eventually compiling 23 language versions. I have now utilised a WordPress plugin to translate the poem into 104 languages! Understanding the words is crucial to the strategy. We need people to read the poem in a language they understand, not just to sing it in Yiddish or Hebrew,” he says.
Rabinowitz urges community leaders to arrange for the poem to be recited on United Nations Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations on 27 January 2018, and on Yom Hashoah on 11 April 2018, and you can help: “Support the Jewish Studies learning programmes that have adopted this project, encourage your kids or grandkids to learn the Partisan Song; ask Jewish youth movements and SAUJS to participate; attend Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremonies and motivate your shul or community choir to sing the song.”
Rabinowitz’s ultimate vision for the project is for students around the world, irrespective of their background, to understand the meaning, significance and context of this song that for 75 years has been the anthem of the Partisans, of those incarcerated in the camps and ghettos, and of the Holocaust survivors.
“The words represent hope, heroes, and spirited resistance. These were written in the darkest times for the Jews of Europe. Standing up for what is right is something we hope our children are taught and will practice. The poem’s message is still relevant today and resonates with our youth. We have limited time with survivors now in their twilight years. I would like their legacy to be embraced by the next generation, and for our children to continue to recite and to sing it!”
To learn more and download the free study guide, visit elirab.me and look under the headings ‘Zog Nit Keynmol’, ‘Don’t Give Up Hope’ and ‘A Lesson Plan’
Eli Rabinowitz will be presenting in South Africa on the following dates:
Sun 4 Feb – In The Footsteps of Zalman Tzoref at the HOD, Johannesburg
Mon 5 Feb – The Partisan Song Project at the Greenside Shul, Johannesburg
Wed 7 Feb – The Partisan Song Project at the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre