The Partisan Song Project
Imagine a high school student in 2017, singing a Yiddish song with confidence and understanding. It may seem like an impossible dream, but Eli Rabinowitz is making it a reality.
Rabinowitz, who is ex-South African and resides in Perth, is passionate about Jewish education, genealogy and history. On a recent trip to South Africa, he was asked by Rabbi Craig Kacev (Head of Jewish Life at King David Schools) to address over 1000 students on the meaning of ‘Zog Nit Keynmol’ (‘Never say this is the final road …’) – known as the Partisan Song or the Holocaust Survivors Anthem or Hymn.
The words may be familiar to an older generation as they are often recited at Yom Hashoah ceremonies, but Rabbi Kacev felt that young Jewish students had no understanding of the meaning or inspiration of the song. By teaching them the words and their meaning, a legacy and a link could be created between young Jews and Holocaust survivors.
Indeed, when Eli Rabinowitz presented this to a group of Holocaust survivors in Johannesburg, they were thrilled and very moved. Inspired by their enthusiasm, he decided to encourage organisations and schools around the world to teach the song to students, in the hope that they will perform it at Yom Hashoah ceremonies across the globe on 23 / 24 April.
Rabinowitz took the initiative one step further in Cape Town, where he hosted a live ‘online classroom’ with six schools. These included Herzlia High School and a range of schools in Lithuania, Moldova and the Ukraine. This technological feat was achieved using ‘Google Hangouts’ and YouTube, with the expertise of Steve Sherman of Living Maths.
The students introduced their schools to each other and the Herzlia Vocal Ensemble performed a (spirited or moving) rendition of Zog Nit Keynmol, which they were taught by their music teacher, Cantor Ivor Joffe. It really is wonderful seeing them in action:
Eli presented a compilation of the videos that each school had sent to him, which included clips on the partisans, the ghettos, Hirsh Glik (the writer of the song), and the original poem.
The students also watched a short inspirational audio recording of survivor Phillip Maisel talking to 11 year old Melbourne students about his friend, Hirsh Glik, who wrote the song. Phillip was one of three people to hear the poem for the first time after it was written in 1943:
What started as an idea has now become the Partisan Song Project. Eli’s aim is for students of Jewish Day Schools around the world to learn and sing the Jewish Partisan Song in a combination of Yiddish, Hebrew and the students’ home languages; to perform it on or around Yom Hashoah and other appropriate events; to learn about the history of the poem and the music from their origins; to understand the meaning, inspiration and significance of the song; and to appreciate the role it has today as a protest song sung in different genres.
How can Jewish communities get involved? “Encourage participation by your children and grandchildren by learning the song and its meaning,” says Eli. “Encourage your shul choir to learn and to sing it. Cantor Ivor Joffe is able to assist with the music. Promote this project to all the Jewish organisations you are connected with. You can also connect to the web portal at http://elirab.me/zog-nit-keynmol/ and learn more. Share the link!”
Communities can highlight the Partisan Song in their Yom Hashoah ceremonies this year by arranging for students to sing it in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, as Herzlia has done. “Let them recite the English version of the poem – the words are beautiful. It is a poem of hope and rekindling the spirit! If any students are visiting Poland on March of the Living, or on any other programs, encourage their educators to learn it together with their students, and to sing it in Poland. They can practise on the bus!”
The Project has certainly caught on, with World ORT encouraging its many schools to record their students singing it, and organisations like Centropa, Limmud and the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation showing interest. Says Eli: “My roots lie in many places – Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, South Africa and Israel. The Partisan Song, with its words of hope, is my way of bringing us all together!”
Written by Tali Feinberg
28 March 2017
I learnt from the presentation that the Partisan Song is a resistance song that was sung by the Jews in the Warsasw Ghetto Upsrising and in the concentration camps. It was adopted by many Jewish Partisan groups as a motto that future generations will always continue to exist. This song gave the Jews hope that there would be freedom and that the camps would eventually be liberated.
It is significant because it became the symbol of resistance against Nazi Germany’s persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust. The importance of the Partisan Song is that we never forget the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany and the atrocities of the concentration camps.
Ryan Lanesman – attended Eli Rabinowitz’s presentation at King David Linksfield on 7 February 2017.
I found the links, I sat in front of my laptop and sobbed watching them. It’s beautiful to see the kids carrying on the tradition and not just because they have to, they did it with a force!
Sharon Mintz, San Diego, CA
Please don’t get excited by my email, I have nothing to contribute, I just wanted to say that I love what you are doing and hope to be able to follow it. My great uncle, Itzchak Mintz, was a partisan from Dywin, Belarus. kI believe he was involved in Betar before the war, I’m not sure who he fought with. He died towards the end of the war. I’m working now to learn more about him but to even hear songs that he sang or heard as he showed such unbelievable strength would be an amazing experience. Thank you.
Sharon Mintz, San Diego, CA
I grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and attended the I.L. Peretz School (a Yiddish Day School) from kindergarten through grade 7. I was a member of the choir. We sang Zog Nit Kayn Mohl As Du Gayst Dem Letsten Veg yearly. We would follow the song immediately with the Palmach Song. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I have lived in Skokie, Illinois since 1992. Skokie had a very large population of Holocaust survivors (and hence the KKK decided to march in Skokie in the 70s leading up to the movie with Danny Kaye). The shul that I belong to still hosts the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day although the numbers attending have drastically dwindled. Zog Nit Kayn Mohl is still sung, and I still cry, now more than ever.
I don’t have any video recordings of choirs singing this song. I just wanted to share my experience. Thanks for listening.
Michele Zell Kanter
Good morning from New York City, Eli!
The “Partisanen Lid” was part of every Workmen’s Circle seder when I was growing up; I can still hear my bubbe’s voice in my mind’s ear on the last two lines.
Here is a version by the legendary Paul Robeson. My mother had the honor of sharing a stage with him at Madison Square Garden in 1947, at the celebration of Israel’s impending statehood. She says that after he kissed her cheek, she didn’t wash it for a week.
I have sung this in Yiddish in both concert and, as Hazzan in my synagogue. I never liked the English translation. I am certain, from the way the prosody works, that this song was written in Yiddish and never sung in Russian. Good luck in your endeavor.
Rabbi Richard Allen, PhD.
Rochester, NY 14625