Jankiel Herszkowicz, a tailor with a gift for lyric writing, chronicled life in the Lodz ghetto in a series of ballads that earned him fame—and needed income—as “Yankele, the street singer.” Herszkowicz's irreverant wit and love of wordplay are evident in his best known song, rumkovski khayim, a broadside aimed at the ghetto's dictatorial chairman, Chaim Rumkowski. (The title puns on Rumkowski's first name, which means “life” in Hebrew.) In the summer of 1944, Herszkowicz was deported first to Auschwitz, then to a labor camp in Braunschweig, Germany, from which he was liberated in May 1945. After the war he returned to Lodz, where he worked at a variety of jobs and actively participated in the cultural affairs of the city's Jewish community. Herszkowicz was deeply anguished by the mass exodus of Jews from Poland following the antisemitic purges that began in 1968. Increasingly isolated and insecure, yet finally unwilling to join his friends in emigration, the 61-year-old Herszkowicz ended his own life on March 25, 1972.
USHMM/Aleksander Herszkowicz Collection