Shmerke Kaczerginski was a Jewish poet who died 50 years ago. To commemorate the anniversary, the Yiddish Forward devoted one of its columns last month, “Pearls of Yiddish Poetry” to his life and his works. What follows are fragments of his work cited in the Yiddish Forward. The transliteration is by Goldie Gold. The English versions are by Gus Tyler.
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Shmerke’s poem “Shtiler, Shtiler,” sometimes called “Ponar,” a shtetl near Vilna where thousands of Jews were slaughtered, was written to music created by a 10-year-old boy who had won a music contest in the ghetto.
Shtiler, shtiler, lomir shvaygn
Kvorim vaksn do.
S’hobn zey farglantst di sonim
Grinen zey tsum blo;
S’firn vegn tsu Ponar tsu,
S’firt keyn veg tsurik,
Iz der tate vu farshvundn,
Un mit im dos glik.
Quiet, quiet, let’s be silent
Graves are growing here.
By our foes these graves were planted
They grow and with them grows our fear.
A path does lead unto Ponar
There is no avenue of return
A dear old father disappears
There’s naught to do but yearn and burn.
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This one is probably Kaczerginski’s most popular song and was often sung by the youth in the Vilna Ghetto.
Undzer lid iz ful mit troyer,
Dreyst iz undzer munter-gang,
Khotsh der soyne vakht baym toyer,
Shturemt yugnt mit gezang.
Yung iz yeder, yeder, yeder ver es vil nor
Yorn hobn keyn batayt
Alte kenen, kenen, kenen oykh zayn kinder
Fun a nayer, frayer tsayt.
Yes, our song is full of sorrow
Although the way we march is bold.
Our foes say they control tomorrow
We shout, our future’s still untold.
Young, oh young, is everyone
The years that pass don’t mean a thing.
Yes, each and every single one
A better freer world will bring.