Lesson Plan of the Partisan Poem:
A Teachers’ Guide by Mervyn Danker & Eli Rabinowitz
The poem was written in 1943 by Hirsh Glik, a young Jewish inmate of the Vilna Ghetto. The title, “Zog Nit Keynmol” means ” Never Say” and was derived from the first line of the poem. Later on, Glik’s words were set to the music of a 1938 Soviet march composed by the Pokrass brothers, Dmitri and Daniel.
It is mostly said that Hirsh was inspired to write his poem by news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, even though the timing is wrong. Others believe that he was influenced by Vitka Kempner, a female partisan.
During World War II The Partisan Song was adopted by a number of Jewish Partisan groups operating in Eastern Europe. It became a symbol of resistance against Nazi persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust. Since the Holocaust, it has been the anthem or hymn of the Survivors.
Hirsh Glik was born in Wilno (now Vilnius) in 1922 at the time it was part of Poland. He began to write poetry in Yiddish in his teens and was a co-founder of Yungwald (Young Forest), a group of young Jewish poets. Hirsh Glik entered the Vilna Ghetto after the Nazi assault against the Soviet Union. He involved himself in the ghetto’s artistic community while simultaneously participating in the underground movement and took part in the 1942 ghetto resistance. Glik managed to flee when the ghetto was being liquidated in October 1943 but was recaptured . He was later deported to a concentration camp in Estonia. During his captivity he continued to compose songs and poems. In July 1944, with the Soviet army approaching, he escaped but was never heard from again. It is presumed he was again captured and executed by the Nazis in August 1944.
A broad range of discussion points with students and assignments:
What does the word “Partisan” mean? In what context does one hear it being used today? Who were the Partisans of World War II? In which countries did they operate?
Try to arrange for a screening of the Partisan film ” Defiance” starring Daniel Craig.
Some say Hirsh Glik was inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Consider a written assignment on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Others say it was Vitka Kempner. Discuss her role and other women as partisans.
Where is Vilna (or Vilnius)? 97% of the Jews of Lithuania were murdered mostly by Lithuanian perpetrators. Ask the students to point out on a map of Europe, the Baltic countries. Consider a research paper on the Jews of Lithuania in 1939 and in 2017.
The poem was written and sung in Yiddish. Why and where was Yiddish spoken in Europe? Look up the origins of the language and its current place in the phalanx of languages.
The strong themes in the poem are those of hope, optimism, courage, bravery and above all as a message and song to inspire. Where can this be clearly seen in the respective stanzas? Discuss the appropriate words and phrases after a careful reading of the poem.
What do you discover when you compare the poem to the song?
The song became known as the hymn or anthem of the partisans and then of the survivors. How do you define a hymn or an anthem? What do you think of the statement that this poem is the anthem of those who lived through the Holocaust versus the anthem of the Survivors?
Compare this poem with World War I poems of Wilfred Owen, whose poems depicted the futility of war, and of Rupert Brooke whose poetry focused on patriotism.
Compare this poem to W H Auden’s poem Refugee Blues. Name the essential differences especially with respect to the timing of the poems and their context.
The poem / song has been translated into many languages. Make a creative video of your recitation of it in the language of your choice.
Zog Nit Keynmol has been adopted by others as a protest song. What was the most famous instance of this? Please write review on it.
Write a letter to Hirsh Glik outlining what his poem means to you in 2017!
Teaching the Holocaust through Poetry
Music in the Holocaust