HIRSH GLIK — A TRIBUTE FOR APRIL 19, 2002
©2002 by Hershl Hartman
Secular Jewish vegvayzer/madrikh/Leader; Ed. Dir. of the secular, progressive Sholem Community, L.A.; Dist. Comm., SoCal AR/WC; professional Yiddish/English translator.
- He wasn’t quite twenty-one years old.
- Hirsh Glik, the young poet of Vilna.
- He wasn’t quite twenty-one years old, and tomorrow would be the First of May.
- Hirsh Glik, the son of a junk peddler on a street called Shnipishok, in the city of Vilna.
- Tomorrow would be the First of May…the workers’ holiday…the springtime holiday of revolt. And, on that day, Hirsh Glik would sing an anthem that has become the Hymn of the Holocaust: a song that has gone, in his own words, “like a signal through the years”…from generation to generation.
- Hirsh Glik…the young poet of Vilna. But how much do we know of him, really?
*The world knows, and sings, two of his songs. Some know a third song. But what of his other poems? What do we know of his life, of his young and tragic heroism?
- It is time we knew more — the little there is left to know. It was believed that he was born in 1920. That would have made him twenty-three on that spring evening in 1943. But his cousin, Perets Miranski, confirmed that he was born in 1922…not quite 21 years before he wrote his undying tribute to a people who sang their songs among crashing walls, with pistols in their hands.
- He was not quite fifteen, in 1937, when he approached Shmerke Katcherginski, after a poetry reading by the famous group Yung Vilne — Young Vilna — and said, shyly: “I write, too. And, besides me, there are others who write. A whole group of us.”
- Katcherginski wrote, in his book, I Was a Partisan: “A few days later, they came to visit me: Hirshke Glik, Sheve Faygenberg, Moyshe Gurin and Rabinovitch. Children, really. Poverty had driven them from their homes to earn a living. The boys had known each other for many years. They all lived on the same street, on Little Shnipishok, and all had gone to the same Hebrew school, the Beys Yehuda — House of Judah. When they learned that Sheva Faygenberg was also writing poetry, they invited her to join their group, where they read their poems to each other.”
- And Katcherginski concludes: ”Later on, the group became close with a member of Yung Vilne, Leyzer Volf, who also lived on the same street. Together they published a few issues of a journal called Yungvald — Young Forest. That was the name under which the group became well-known in the city.”
- The earliest poem we have is dated January, 1939. In all, there are thirteen poems in the archives of YIVO — plus a long Ballad of the Brown Theatre that was buried along with other cultural treasures and found after the liberation of Vilna by Aba Kovner, the last commander of the Vilna partisans. All the surviving poems were gathered by the literary critic Nakhman Mayzel and published in 1953 by YKUF, the Yiddish Cultural Alliance.
- Hear now that earliest poem that was preserved — among the scores lost to us forever. Hear it in a new English translation by Hershl Hartman, with the Yiddish text set to new music by Ruth Judkowitz.
- ••: Once…
Hirsh Glik (January, 1939)
English: Hershl Hartman (April, 2002)
ikh hob getroymt amol
tsu vern a milner in a vint-mil,
hinter a vaytn barg, hinter a zaydn-grinem tol,
hinter zibn taykhelekh sheptshendike shtil…
hot a vint mayn troym fartrogn.
ikh hob amol getroymt
tsu zayn a held fun a legende,
vos hot a nimfe aroysgetsoygn oyf zayn vende,
efsher volt zi mir dem lebns-sod arayngeroymt.
hobn khvalyes di nimfe tsum opgrunt fartrogn.
ikh hob amol gehat a troym
tsu voynen oyf a hoykhn boym,
vos kukt ibern yam farbenkt —
hot der yam dem boym farshvenkt
in harbstike fartogn.
ikh hob getroymt amol tsu zayn a meylekh
in a vaytn, vaytn land,
vu di beymer royshn freylekh,
mentshn, naket, on keyn shand…
bin ikh naket geblibn oyf kremerdike rogn.
un ikh troym nokh haynt
un s’iz mir gut,
ikh betl bloyz a bisl mut
un kh’pruv arunterbrekhn yede tsoym…
un ikh vil mayn troym keynem nisht zogn.
Once I had a simple dream:
I’d be the miller of a windmill…
Behind a distant hill, in a silk-green valley and its streams,
seven of them, whispering and still.
But the dream was carried away.
I had a simple dream that took
me to be the hero of a fable,
who caught a nymph on his fishing hook
so she’d share life’s secrets, were she able.
But waves to the abyss washed her away.
Once a dream came unto me,
to live my life on the tallest tree,
that gazes soulfully across the sea.
But the ocean washed away the tree
in the autumnal break of day.
Once I dreamed I’d be a king
of a distant, distant land,
where the trees are joyful and sing
and naked, shameless people take their stand.
But here I am, naked amidst merchants on the broad highway.
And I still dream yet,
and I’m content.
I only hustle for a bit of courage
and I try to tear down every hedge…
and I won’t tell anyone my dream today.
- Later that year, in April of 1939, Hirsh Glik wrote this playful lullaby, that has now been put to music by Ruth Judkowitz and Eric Gordon. The new English translation is by Hershl Hartman.
- •• My Mother Rocks Me As She Sings
Hirsh Glik (April, 1939)
English: Hershl Hartman (April, 2002)
vigt mikh di mame ayn,
zingt hartsik vi in tkhine:
— vest, mayn kind, a layt nokh zayn —
eyner in medine!
rays ikh zikh bay ir fun shoys,
loz zikh nit farvign;
oyb s’iz mir bashert zayn groys —
past mir nit tsu lign.
zingt di mame mit a shtim,
iz es hoyle honik.
shray ikh mit mayn meser-shtim,
kvitshik un eyntonik.
klogt zi zikh: “oy, loz tsuru!” —
un ikh ze tsvey tsign…
klepn zikh di eygelekh tsu
un ikh ver antshvign.
Mother rocks me to fall asleep,
singing sweetly as though praying:
You will, my child, grow strong and deep,
doubtless, beyond saying.
So I try to leave her lap,
I won’t let her rock me.
Since I’ll be a sturdy chap
what use can sleeping be?
Mother sings in a lovely voice,
I scream in my squealing-voice
monotone, in a screech.
She complains: “Oh, let it be!” —
Two little goats appear…
My eyelids droop, I cannot see,
and my sleep comes near.
- What do we know about Hirsh Glik’s life before the war? Very little, but what we know tells us much about how he came to write the anthem that still resounds among the generations.
- We know that he had to drop out of the Hebrew school he attended at the age of 16 in order to help drive hunger from the door. We know that, although his parents were somewhat observant, he became an active member of Hashomer Hatsayir, the secular, radical Socialist-Zionist youth movement, in a group led by Aba Kovner.
- We know his father, Velvl, peddled scrap iron, used bottles and rags. We know his first job was in a paper warehouse and that he later worked in a scrap-iron yard where the work day stretched far into the night. But still, he kept on writing.
- There are some mysteries about those years. How did the son of traditional parents become a radical, secular Jew? How did the student of a Hebrew school, involved in the Hebrew-speaking Zionist movement, become a Yiddish poet? What led the young Shomer to become a Komsomol, a member of the Communist Youth League?
- There is no answer. All we know about his life before the war are those stark facts. We know more about his life between June, 1941 — when the Soviets were driven out of Lithuania — and the summer of 1944, just three years later.
- When the Nazis marched into Vilna, both Hirsh and his father were drafted into a labor camp in Reshe, where they were forced to dig peat for fuel. In that sense, they were like the anti-Nazi Germans a decade earlier, “The Peat Bog Soldiers,” whose famous song was the first to be flung in the face of fascism.
- Somehow, Hirshke managed to visit the Vilna ghetto quite often, bringing new poems he had written in the labor camp and read to his fellow-inmates there. Twice in those years, his work won prizes given by the Literary and Artistic Alliance of the Vilna ghetto. Eventually, raids by Jewish and Soviet partisans forced the Nazis to evacuate the Reshe camp. Hirshke was back in the ghetto.
- It was there that he became a Komsomol and, through it, a member of the fareynikte partizaner organizatsye, the United Partisan Organization. Late in 1943, when the ghetto was being liquidated, the young underground fighter was headed to join his group in their planned escape to the partisan forces outside Vilna. He was caught by the Gestapo and deported to the Goldfield concentration camp in Estonia. He escaped and joined the partisans in a nearby forest. It is believed he fell in battle.
- There’s another mystery about Hirsh Glik. How did he manage the spirit and determination to be both a fighter and a poet in those terrible days?
- Perhaps his sense of humor helped. His light-hearted spirit shines through the songs we’ve heard. But they were written before the war. In 1943, he wrote a playful love poem that was quickly set to music and became popular in Vilna as the darkening clouds grew ever blacker. Hear it now in a new musical setting by Ruth and Eric, and in a new translation by Hershl.
- ••DOS ZANGL
Hirsh Glik (1943)
English: Hershl Hartman (April, 2002)
blond bistu vi a zangl,
sheyn vi der zun fargangl,
fir mir durkh barg un tol
un ikh dikh nokh amol
biz mir veln zikh sheydn.
un volt ir zen baym sheydn
in rozn shki’e beydn,
lipn vi merelekh,
oygn ful trerelekh
un beser gornit reydn.
her, meydl, mayn farlangl,
in rozn zun-fargangl:
shver mir baym zunen-shayn
az du vest mayne zayn —
un zi hot im geshvorn.
un zi hot im geshvorn,
purpur iz er gevorn,
purpur vi der farlang,
purpur vi zun-fargang
hinter di blonde korn.
in pastekh’s fayfl-klangl,
lesht zikh der zun-fargangl,
un in di himlen tif,
di levone a zegl-shif
iz shoyn aroysgegangen.
iz zi zey nokhgegangen
un shtern oysgehangen,
shtern iber di tsvey
un beymer tsvishn zey —
shteyen vi khupe-shtangen.
You’re as blond as corn silk,
prettier than sunset’s ilk.
Lead me through hill and dale
and I’ll chase you beyond the vale
until we separate.
And should you see us separate
in the rosy sunset’s closing gate:
lips in tiny carrots’ guise,
tears that fill the pretty eyes;
it’s better nothing to relate.
Hear maiden, this, my desire,
in the waning sun’s rose fire:
swear to me by bright sunlight
that you’ll be mine all through the night.
And so she swore to him.
And so she swore to him.
Bright purple turned his skin.
As purple as desire.
Purple as the sunset fire
behind the corn’s blond scrim.
In the shepherd’s piping lilt
the pretty sunset’s rays are spilt.
And in the heavens there now dips
the moon, a handsome sailing ship,
that poses there, suspended.
Until it follows, open-ended,
hanging stars. toward morning wended;
stars above those two,
then trees come into view —
trees like khupe-poles, upended.
- FLASHBACK! The summer of 1942. Vitke Kempner, eighteen years old — one of the many young women in the United Partisan Organization — blew up a German munitions train in the forest…the first act of armed resistance in Vilna.
- Hirsh Glik, the young poet of the Vilna ghetto, was thrilled. Perhaps… perhaps he was in love with Vitke Kempner. He was not quite twenty years old himself. He wrote a song about the “maid with a face as soft as velvet.” But he didn’t betray her name. He changed the story, so the Nazis wouldn’t know.
- He wrote a song…and used three different words to describe her pistol. He called it by its German name — shpayer — because he knew some Germans hated Nazism and gave their lives to stop it.
- He called it by its Polish name — pistoyl — because some parts of the Polish underground gave arms to the Jewish fighters in the ghetto.
- And he called the pistol by the Yiddish name, that came from the Russian name of a certain model — nagan — because he was a Yiddish poet. He chose those three symbolic names for a pistol because he was a revolutionary, and a poet.
- ••Partisan Love Song
Hirsh Glik (1942)
English: Hershl Hartman (1998)
Still, the night is bright with stardust;
bitter cold makes harsh demands.
D’you remember the many nights they taught us
to hold a pistol in our hands?
A girl, in sheepskin, and a beret,
holds a pistol in her hand;
a maid with a face as smooth as velvet
surveys the Nazi caravan.
She aimed, she fired, and hit the target:
a lorrie, filled with dynamite!
Her pistol with but a single bullet
illuminated that dark night.
At dawn, she crept out of the forest,
with snowflake garlands in her hair:
inspired by the victory she brought us,
and brought to Freedom everywhere!
LOMIR ALE ZINGEN CHORUS
shtil, di nakht iz oysgeshternt
un der frost hot shtark gebrent.
tsi gedenkstu vi ikh hob dikh gelernt
haltn a shpayer in di hent?
a moyd, a peltsl un a beret
un halt in hant fest a nagan;
a moyd mit a sametenem ponim
hit-op dem soyne’s karavan.
getsilt, geshosn un getrofn
hot ir kleyninker pistoyl.
an oto a fulinkn mit vofn
hot zi farhaltn mit eyn koyl.
fartog, fun vald oroysgekrokhn
mit shney girlandn af di hor,
dermutikt fun kleyninkn nitsokhn
far undzer nayem, frayen dor.
- He was a revolutionary poet. But he was a very young poet, too.
- And very young poets sometimes write very young poems. Personal poems. Poems that merely try out the wings of poetry. On November 14, 1940, Hirsh Glik wrote such a poem.
- ••LILKE MEISNER READS:
Hirsh Glik (November 19, 1940)
English: Hershl Hartman (April, 2002)
zay a held un khap dayn shotn
un farhalt a bloe sho.
kindhayt ligt in zamd farknotn:
keyn tsurikveg iz nito.
zamdvegn fun zun tsezotn,
honik trift fun bloen roym.
s’lign zamdshleser farshotn
in geveb fun zilbertroym.
in der luftn hengen notn
un zey zingen zikh aleyn:
feygl zaynen dos oyf drotn,
iber zey — a bloe kroyn.
a karshnboym shteyt opgeshotn —
a girland fun vayse blitn.
ovnt varft dem ershtn shotn,
himl nemt mit shtern shitn.
Let’s see if you can catch your shadow
and hold it in a blue hour’s lair.
Childhood’s enmeshed in sandy burrows
and there’s no way back to there.
Sandy pathways baked in sun,
honey drips from blue above.
Sandcastles lie caught in fun,
in the web of silv’ry love.
Notes hang freely, awe inspired
and they sing as by themselves;
they’re the songs of birds on wires,
while above, the blue crown dwells.
A cherry tree, bedraped in flowers —
a garland of white in bloom.
Evening brings the shade that lowers;
the stars spill out to light the gloom.
(English: Hershl Hartman, April, 2002)
- And now it was the last day of April, 1943. Hirsh Glik, member of the United Partisan Organization in the Vilna ghetto, had heard the rumors. He’d heard the report on the hidden, underground radio station.
- “The Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose up in revolt on the night of April 19. It was the first night of Passover and the eve of Hitler’s birthday. Casualties are heavy on both sides. This is the first open uprising against the Nazis in Poland…in all of Europe. The Jewish Fighting Organization issued the following call on April 23, four days after the battle began:
- “’We may all perish in battle, but we will not surrender!…This is a struggle for our freedom and yours; for our and your human, social, and national honor!…Long live freedom!’”
- Hirsh Glik, the young Yiddish poet of the Vilna ghetto, wasn’t quite twenty-one years old. And tomorrow would be the First of May…the workers’ holiday…the holiday of revolution…the holiday of resistance in the Vilna ghetto.
- That night, the Yiddish writers of Vilna held a celebration. Not a celebration of the First of May, of course. That was forbidden. So they called it…
- “A celebration of Springtime in Yiddish Literature.”
- The story is told that, on that night, Hirshke told an older poet, “I’ve written a new song…I’ll come to your room tomorrow and sing it to you.”
- On the First of May in the year 1943, so the story is told, Hirsh Glik first sang the song that has gone “like a signal through the years.”
- Some say he wrote he wrote zog nit keynmol for the Uprising in the Warsaw ghetto…
- Some say he wrote it for the United Partisan Organization in Vilna many months earlier, in 1942.
- Some say he wrote it two months later, in July of 1943…
- But we know that, whenever he wrote it, he wrote it for us. So that we would remember.
- He wrote it for his friends, to give them courage as they prepared to fight for human dignity, “ours and yours.”
- He wrote it for himself. He wasn’t quite twenty-one years old and he wanted so much to live.
- “We’ll have the morning sun to set our days aglow…”
- His name was Hirsh Glik. We remember.
CHORUSES AND AUDIENCE:
ZOG NIT KEYNMOL.
Zog nit keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg
ven himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.
vayl kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho:
s’vet a poyk ton undzer trot, mir zaynen do!
Never say that now the end has come for you,
when leaden skies may be concealing days of blue.
Because the time for which we’ve yearned will yet appear:
and our marching step shall thunder: We Are Here!
This song was written with our blood and not with lead;
it’s not the carolling that birds sing overhead.
It was our people, ’midst the crashing walls of hell,
that sang this song and fought with courage til they fell.
We’ll have the morning sun to set our days aglow
and all our yesterdays shall vanish with the foe.
And if the time is long before the sun appears
then let this song go like a signal through the years.
(English: Aaron Kramer, adapted)
A chapter from the memoir of Shmerke Kaczerginski translated by Seymour Levitan
Hirsh Glick, the author of the famous Partisan Hymn, Zog nisht keynmol az du geyst dem letsten veg (“Never say you walk the nal road”), was born in Vilna, Lithuania. He was a talented student of the poet Shmerke Kaczerginski and a second generation of the group of Yiddish writers known as “Yung Vilna”. Hirsh Glick was only 23 years young when he was murdered by the Gestapo. The following piece is condensed from Kaczerginski’s memoir Ikh bin geven a partisan (I was a Partisan), Buenos Aires 1952.
Shmerke Kaczerginski, the author of this account, was my late father’s best friend. He survived the war but was killed in an airplane crash in 1954 while on a return ight from Tel Aviv to his home in Argentina, following a JNF speaking tour. He was 46 years young.
I met Shmerke in April 1953. It was my first and last meeting with my fathers’ closest friend. Shmerke was a poet, renowned for his memoirs of the war years and for his lyrics to a number of the most enduring songs of theVilna Ghetto. His famous poem on Ponar was quoted in the proceedings of the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1962-63.
— Myer (Ben Tzvi) Grinshpan
Shmerke Kaczerginski, 1953
Hirshke Glik was among those captured by the Gestapo. I keep thinking of him. Just a few days before he was taken, I spoke to him about his poems.
It’s so odd in the Ghetto. You’d think everyone knows that his own end is coming, and yet we all speak with regret about those taken and killed. We hold memorial services for them. Just a little while ago there were even public tributes to the memory of Dr.Tsemekh Shabad (died before the war), for Dr. Kowarski (died just after the Nazis occupied the city), for the teachers Gerstein and Fludermakher. People made speeches and recounted memories.
I went to a beys medresh (house of prayer) not long ago, and I was overwhelmed with fear when the entire congregation stood to wail kaddish (memorial prayer) at the end. I had the nagging thought that the dead are lucky, really; at
least they have someone to say kaddish for them for the time being. Who will say kaddish for us? or remember us?
But life goes on. And makes demands. Hirshke, Hirshke Glik. 15 year old Hirshke rst spoke to me after a “Young Vilna” evening at a public auditorium. “I write too,” he said softly, “and along with me there are others who write, a whole group.”
Hirshke was the “lion of the group”— even though he was the youngest of these youngsters. I remember him in short pants and low boots laced up tight, sunshine ashing from his blue eyes, his hair cut short. His appearance didn’t change in the Ghetto. He wasn’t there very long. He was sent some distance from Vilna to White Vake, a work camp where he was forced to dig turf along with a few hundred other Jews. The very di cult living and work- ing conditions strengthened his resolve to describe this experience in an artistic form. And late at night, after work, in the dark shed
Where the Jews slept on hard bunks under a torn up roof, he didn’t sleep, he wrote. Glik was twice awarded the prize in competitions organized by the literary union in the Ghetto. From time to time he came into the Ghetto, to the Youth Club, the only place where he felt at home, and read his work to his young audience with great success. The work camp was liquidated at the start of 1943, and the Jews were transferred to the Ghetto. Extremely di cult times began, yet Glik continued to create his poems.
What sort of time was it – 5th April 1943? The sun rarely looked down into the lowest oors and the little alleys. Its pale rays over the Ghetto ignited longing for a bit of green, sun, air and water. Standing not far from the Ghetto gate, immersed in this great longing, I suddenly noticed a bloodied young man slip in from the street and disappear quickly into a gateway. We tore his clothes o , washed the blood o him, bandaged his wounded shoulder. “I come from Ponar,” he hissed, understanding that we didn’t want to disturb him with questions just then. We were stunned. “Everyone, everyone was shot.” Tears rolled down his washed face. “Who? The four thousand who were going to Kovne/ Kaunus?” “Yes!”
This happened at dawn on April 5, 1943. For a year and a half the situation in the Ghetto had been “stabilized”. The Jews thought that the aktsie (action) directed against hundreds of old people, against individuals and small groups had nothing to do with the ongoing existence of the Ghetto. There were even people who believed that the Germans consideredVilna Ghetto a “chosen” ghetto. Those four thousand Jews slaughtered at dawn suddenly set death before the eyes of the believers. Death that spares no one.
The mood in the Ghetto grew more intense a few weeks later when we received the news on the underground Polish radio station “Shvit”, that – “Hello, hello, the Jews remaining in the Warsaw Ghetto have begun armed resistance against the Nazis. The ghetto is in ames!”
There were only a few lines to the secret news-bulletin from the partisans. We didn’t know any of the details.There were only those few word-sparks — but we visualized the ames of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Jews battling with weapons in hand for our honour. The news about the uprising lifted our morale and strengthened us.
Days passed and we had no news at all about what was happening there. But we imagined our comrades battling. It was painful for us to know that the battle was not an equal one. But it made our own di cult time easier to endure. As if we’d been given wings. We looked proudly back at the Nazis and our tormentors. They knew what that look signi ed. They understood, and surely more than one of them thought, ”Who knows? I may have to ght the Jews ofVilna and be killed by them.”
On Shavl Street on the night of May 1st we organized an “evening” which we called “Spring in Yiddish Literature”. “Spring”— an innocent name, but the hundreds who attended knew that they had come to celebrate the rst of May.
One speaker after another, one song after another, everything was imbued with the spirit of theWarsaw resistance. “While we join together to celebrate the rst of May here at this local, the Warsaw Ghetto is in ames,” declared the evening’s chairman, Herman Kruk. “Honour to the ghters! Honour to the fallen!” Suddenly we all rose. The spirit of theWarsaw resistance ghters stirred in the crowded hall. We knew that tomorrow or the next day the radio would announce to the world that the Jews of the Ghetto of the Jerusalem of Lithuania had begun their uprising against the Nazis. There was dead silence in the hall, and then the trembling, grieving voices of the ghetto actors. Without my noticing, Hirshke Glik had come up beside me.
“Well, what’s the news, Hershl?”
“I wrote a new poem, do you want to hear it?”
“A poem in the midst of things? Well, read it”
“Not now, tomorrow. I’ll come up to your place, tomorrow. The poem is a song lyric.”
Hirshke arrived quite early the next day. “Listen carefully,” he asked of me.“I’ll sing it right now.” He began singing quietly, but with heart. His eyes ashed re: “Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho / The hour we are yearning for will come..” Where did this certainty come from? Hirshl didn’t give me time to think. His voice lost its quaver, he hammered the words out with con dence, tapping his foot as if he were marching: “Dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent / dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent / A folk emerging from collapsing walls / sang this song with pistols in their hands.”
“Wonderful, Hirshke, wonderful.” I pressed his hand. In these words I felt the impact of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on him.
And then May, June, July and August passed. But for us partisans it was still April, the time of the uprising. Partisan headquarters in Vilna decided to make the song its ghting hymn. But they really didn’t need to wait for a decision on it; the song had spread quickly in the Ghetto.
Glik had written quite a few songs and longer poems. Few of them are still known. So far as I know, his strongest poem is Zog nisht keynmol az du geyst dem letstn veg / Never SayYouWalk the Final Path. The public understood and valued it as such, and for that reason I believe it will be the song that like a call to wakefulness will rouse coming generations to remember and to stand on guard.
And now when I remember Hirshke, it is entirely because of that song. It doesn’t allow me to rest. The youngster took a Cossack melody and so wonderfully tted his words to it that it seems there could be no other melody for those words and no other words for that melody.
Where is Hirshke now? Where all of us will be! I answer myself.
English translation copyright © 2006 Seymour Levitan