In the section of the Yiddish Forward devoted to “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry,” Isaac Katsenelson is featured on the occasion of his 60th yahrzeit. He perished, along with one of his sons, at Auschwitz, where he had been transported after losing his wife and two other sons in the mass murder in the Warsaw Ghetto. What follows is an excerpt from his poem “The Song of the Massacred Jewish People.” The transliteration from the Yiddish is by Goldie Gold, and the English version is by Gus Tyler.
Dos Lid Fun Oysgehargetn Yidishn Folk
S’iz do a gas in Varshe, dos iz di Mila-gas
O rayst aroys di hertser zikh fun brust
Un leygt anshtot di hertser shteyner dort arayn,
O, rayst aroys fun kop di oygn nas
Un leygt aroyf oyf zey sharboynes,
Vi ir volt es nit gezen un nit derfun gevust —
Farshtopt di oyern un hert nit — toyb!
Ikh gey dertseyln fun der Mila-gas.
S’iz do a gas in Varshe — di Mila-gas. Ver veynt?
Un shtil azoy? Nit ikh, ikh veyn nit, neyn!
Di Mila-gas shtaygt iber ale trern, s’veynt keyn yid nit.
Goyim ven zey voltn es gezen,
Zey voltn demolt oysgebrokhn in a moyredikn ale,
In a bitern geveyn.
A goy is ober in dem tog fun Mila-gas, in tog in yenem
In Yidishn in geto nit geven
Yidn nor un Daytshn. Yidn! Yidn! Yidn!
Azoy a sakh un merer nokh — Men hot
Dray hundert fuftsik toyznt yidn fun eyn Varshe
Varshever derharget shoyn —
Di alte oysgeshosn oyfn beys-hakhaim,
Di iberike ale aroysgefirt fun shtot
In di Treblinkes — un di Mila-gas iz ful,
Iz iberfult vi di vagones, kuk un shtoyn!
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The Song of the Massacred Jewish People
There is a street in Warsaw, called the Mila StreetThe very name should tear your heart right from your breast.And in its place a lump of stone should take its seat.And from your head rip out your eyes that once were blessedWith sight and in their place put shards of broken glass,As if you never saw the sights that you will seeWhen I do tell the tale of what one time did pass.So shut your ears so you can’t hear a word from me.In Warsaw there’s a Mila Street. Someone cries?And so quietly? Not I, I never cry!For if a Jew should cry, his tears would blind his eyes.Though gentiles, should they ever such a scene espyThey would erupt in loud and clamorous lamentBut at that time there were no gentiles there in Mila StreetIt was a ghetto where the Jews their lives had spentAnd where they one and all their sorry fate did meet.Only Jews and Germans. But Jews, more Jews, more Jews!There really was no end of Jews whom they did killIn Warsaw by itself three hundred thousand JewsWere slaughtered. Yet they did not have their fill.The old were shot in cemeteries where their bodies fellThe others were transported to a slaughter penWhere every single second was a living hellUntil their death did free them from this deadly den.