The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City is still making history, just as the Forward expected when it wrote of the Triangle company: “With blood this name will be written in the history of the American workers’ movement and with feeling will this history recall the names of the strikers of this shop — of the crusaders.”
The classic text on the fire was written by Leon Stein, editor of Justice, the publication of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Published in 1962, Stein’s book was the last word on the subject — until this year, when a Washington Post journalist, David Von Drehle, published his “Triangle: The Fire That Changed America” (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003).
What follows is a Yiddish version of a popular song about the fire as published in Chana and Yosl Mlotek’s “Pearls of Yiddish Songs.” It was written by Anshel Schorr (1871-1942); the English version is by Gus Tyler.
Lid Fun Trayengl-Fayer
Es rayst dos harts fun der shrekhlekher plog
S’yidishe folk klogt un veynt, un brekht di hent
Es brekht oys a fayer, oy, in heln tog
Un hunderter arbeter, zey vern farbrent.
Di vos zaynen fun fayer antrinen
Hobn shpringendik zey’r toyt gefinen
Di “morg” iz fil
Men vert shir dil
Vi a mame klogt dort in der shtil.
Oy, vey, kindenyu!
Rayst zikh bay di hor di mamenyu,
— Tsulib dem shtikl broyt
Hot a shrekhlekher toyt
Geroybt mir mayn eyntsik kind.
Toyt ligt mayn meydele,
Takhrikhim shtot a khupe kleydele.
* * *
A damned disaster tears my heart apart
The Jewish people weep and wring their hands
Amid a springtime day, a fire did start
Consuming human beings with its brands.
And those who sought to flee the deadly fire
Leaped from the windows to a painful pyre
The morgue is filled
Yet more are killed
The weeping never will be stilled.
Woe to me, my dearest child
I feel that I am going wild
To earn a piece of bread
You now, dear child, are dead.
They robbed me of my precious daughter
The only child I had they slaughter.
So now she’ll wear a burial shroud
And not a wedding gown so proud.