Music of the Holocaust: Highlights from the Collection

Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts

Ghetto Songs

 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Chayela Rosenthal recreating her role as the ghetto street peddler “Yisrolik,” Paris, ca. 1948.
Chayela Rosenthal recreating her role as the ghetto street peddler “Yisrolik,” Paris, ca. 1948.
Naava Piatka/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Leyb Rozental, songwriter, poet, playwright. Vilna, Lithuania, ca 1940.
Leyb Rozental, songwriter, poet, playwright. Vilna, Lithuania, ca 1940.
Naava Piatka/United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Yisrolik

Vilna ghetto, February 1942

Lyrics by: Leyb Rozental

Music by: Misha Veksler

Language: Yiddish

 

Performed by Chayela Rosenthal with Orchestre Ben-Horris, Paris, ca. 1948

Given the proper conditions, theater and music could flourish in the ghettos, where talented individuals, crowded together with little meaningful work to do, might be called on to entertain a captive audience. Established in January 1942, the Vilna ghetto theater mounted productions of Yiddish and European classics as well as original plays and revues based on ghetto themes. The novelty song Yisrolik, about a tough but sentimental child entrepreneur, was created by writer Leyb Rozental (1916–1945) and composer-conductor Misha Veksler (1907–1943) especially for performance in the ghetto theater. It was introduced by Rozental's sister, Chayela (1924–1979), who went on to a successful postwar career as a stage actress in South Africa and on Broadway. She recorded Yisrolik in Paris, ca. 1948.

Chayela took to heart Yisrolik’s admonition “not to speak of sadness” (in the song’s last verse), and never discussed her wartime experiences with her children. The theme of her mother’s silence was treated by Chayela’s daughter, Naava Piatka, in her own musical play, Better Don't Talk.

Recording Source:

Disque Polyglotte 1023 (Paris, ca. 1948)/USHMM recorded sound archive

Related Links:

Vilna (article in the USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia)

Further Reading/Listening:

Solon Beinfeld.The Cultural life of the Vilna ghetto” In Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual 1, ed. Alex Grobman. Los Angeles, Calif.: The Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1983.

Eleanor Mlotek and Malke Gottlieb. We Are Here: Songs of the Holocaust. New York: Workmen’s Circle, 1983.

 

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