"Zog Nit Keyn Mol" (Never Say it is the End)
Songs of Jewish Resistance and
One Example, from History, of Necessary Armed Struggle

I like documentaries. I mean the real ones, especially in science and history, those that have no evident or perceivable thesis. I recorded many but usually they rest on the shelves. Simply put time is lacking. Or we do not take the time to... have time. As Henry David Thoreau already wrote in Walden (first published 150 years ago)  "Our life is frittered away by details."

Anyway I came across a VHS containing four TV recordings, the last part (3 hours) of Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, followed by a documentary on pictures taken in the Warsaw ghetto by a German soldier, and two others on related subjects. They are now available on YouTube.

Shoah (meaning "extermination")

In Shoah, Lanzmann has Poles and Germans speak, sometimes without them knowing. They are his witnesses. He shows that the Poles knew what was happening to the Jews. In Chelmno for instance (situated south of Warsaw) in 1941, Jews were assembled in the catholic church before being sent to an old castle in the area for disinfection (really to undress and leave everything behind); then they had to get back swiftly to the trucks where they were gassed by the exhaust fumes. There were Poles working for the Germans in the process. It was hard not to notice because it took 50 trucks to empty the church when it was full. Corpses were burned in the sourrounding forest. At Chelmno, Lanzmann says that 400 000 Jews were assassinated (or as the Nazis were saying: destroyed).

Nazis experienced many methods of mass killing. It reached industrial efficiency with Zyklon-B (a cyanide gas) and crematoriums. It would be too long to recall all of this; my only objective here is to see the reasons. One explanation is that Jews were viewed as being rich, with a lot of gold, jewelry, and also (not the least) pretty women (because, as one Pole says in Lanztmann documentary, they did not have to work in the field, like peasants). Many Christians believed that Jews were being destroyed because they killed Christ and, according to a belief, that they drank the blood of children. The Germans exploited that. And of course, the killers convinced themselves that Jews were the source of all their problems and that they were rendering a service to humanity by doing this. Nazis, like communists and all faithfuls, want our good.

A good reference on the history of the Holocaust is the book written by Martin Gilbert, «The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy». There is an analysis of genocides by the psycho-sociologist James Waller in his book «Becoming Evil -- How Ordinary People Commit Genecide and Mass Killing» (Oxford University Press, 2002).

The point I want to arrive at is that humans, unlike animals, are capable of doing anything, whether good or bad, if they are convinced that it is right, if they think it is for the common good, and especially if they perceive a danger, whether real or false and they act not as individuals, but as idealists submitted to a group submitted to an ideology. Crowds can exercise an irrational power over individuals. This is why I insist so much on this site about the underlying danger of dogmas and ideologies or common beliefs accepted without criticism, even if they are not enforced by laws (when they are, it might then be too late).

Lanzmann, in his final comments, says that the Shoah is "not an aberration of history but a product of modern states." There are many other instances, albeit on a smaller scale, more recently in Rwanda and Sudan and other countries in Africa, also in what was considered a civilized country, i.e. the former Yugoslavia. Not to mention the millions of people who were (the killing fields in Cambodia, what most people know) and are still victims of statist social experiments in communist countries (the number of deaths under communism surpasses that of nazism, a fact usually neglected). Criminals under communism had their crimes hidden through the own secrecy of the regime they established and propaganda, and our own medias who have hidden to us information, although it was suppossedly their mission to inform us. But about six million soviet prisoners of war were killed by the Nazis and 500 000 Gypsies.

And I think that minor injustices in the name of the majority can easily get berserk if we are not vigilant and do not exterminate unjust laws at the outset. Contrary to a common belief, crowds are usually worse than the sum of their individuals and state power has been historically a tool to commit great injustices. Those who obey the state as if it was infaillible behave like all those Nazis or communists who say they are not responsible for their actions, because they obeyed orders (Ist ein Befehl!), because they observed the law. The only major difference between nazism, stalinism, and today's vicious statisms, is the degree of tyranny exercised by the state.

"A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto"

Next documentary, "A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto" was produced in 1991 by Jack Kuper. It tells the story of a German soldier who spent a day there in September 1941 and took photos, although he was forbidden to do so. He kept the pictures until his death on December 3, 1983. They were given to a German newspaper. Heinz Joest (the soldier's name) did not want to divulge them because he feared it would hurt his compatriots...

At he end of this documentary on Heinz Joest, there is a song by a child from the ghetto and I asked Jews from the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. JPFO gave me a good link, which helped me to find all the others (see below).

Here again, a bit of history. Afer the invasion of Poland (thanks to the Nazi-communist nonaggression pact signed a few days earlier, at the end of August 1939), the Nazis were quick to enforce the extermination of Jews although many were able to escape to the East, particularly to Vilna (now Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania) which was in 1939 part of northeastern Poland. They were 3 million in Poland. 115 000 Jews were already in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1940. Jews were forced to build a wall to seal the ghetto on an area two and a half mile long by a mile wide around the old medieval ghetto. Total population reached more than 400 000 at its peak. Among the necessities of life, food was of course greatly rationed by the Germans. Only in one year, in 1941, 41 000 died of starvation.

On June 22, 1941 Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against its ally, the USSR. The SS-Einsatzgruppen, or extermination squads, were trailing the regular army. In 1941 the Einsatzkommandos shot, or killed otherwise, half a million people and, in 1942, one and a quarter million, mostly Jews. According to German data (the Stroop report), between July 22 and October 3, 1942, 310 322 Jews were resettled to extermination camps from the Warsaw Ghetto alone. Resettlement in the East was known as Operation Reinhard (from the first name of Heydrich, who headed with Eichmann the meeting at Wannsee near Berlin to set the terms of the final solution) (1).

Only 56 000 people were still alive in the ghetto in early 1943. On February 16 that year, the butcher Himmler (he was also a butcher by trade in his early years) issued the order to destroy the ghetto. But the 56 000 Jews left refused to be ressettled. They simply refused to cooperate...

But they did not have any firearms, ammunitions and explosives to enforce their choice. The youngest were willing to fight. They managed to get a few firearms, mostly pistols, from the Polish underground. Not cheaply. The Polish resistance was not very keen to provide support. As explosives, they used mostly Molotov cocktails.

What is known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising started on April 19, 1943 and ended on May 16. The repression was headed by SS Brigadeführer Jurgen Stroop (for the complete text of that report, see www.jpfo.org/stroop.htm). There was no other such uprising of people who have been disarmed to make them defenseless although Stroop wrote that Jews were cowards ("Whereas it had been possible during the first days to catch considerable numbers of Jews, who are cowards by nature, it became more and more difficult during the second half of the action to capture the bandits and Jews."). Stroop was hanged in 1951 in Poland. Stroop reported 56 000 Jews destroyed, of which 36 000 were deported to Treblinka (2) and the balance were killed during the uprising, either by fire, explosions or shot.

News from the uprising did raise hope in other ghettos. In Vilna, from a total of 80 000 Jews only 20 000 were left in the Spring of 1943. The others were killed, mostly shot in trenches and buried (sometimes alive) at a place called Ponary (3)(many have heard of Babi Yar near Kiev, another pogrom: a pogrom is defined as an "an organized massacre of helpless people"). The Vilna (or Vilnius) ghetto (sealed as the Warsaw ghetto) was destroyed in September 1943, but some Jews did escape and became partisans. And they wrote songs.

The great majority of Jews, however, did not believe in extermination until it was too late. They believed in the State, although at that time few illusions were left. Germans were masters of deceit to carry Jews to death, using promises of a better life, using Jews to submit other Jews, etc. At Vilna, Nazis even found a method letting the Jews choose those who were going to die: they gave a limited number of coupons to be distributed by Jews among themselves. Those without coupons were sent to Ponary to be shot.

In ghettos, Jews had been assembled and crowded and had lost all their freedoms. They had also been conditioned by centuries of persecution. Despite this, most did not want to revolt although the few who did succeeded better than the Poles themselves a year after the ghetto uprising (while Russian troops were at the outskirt of Warsaw).

Songs of Jewish Resistance:
«Mir Zaynen Do!»
 : "We Are Here!"


Jews for the preservation of firearms ownership gave me this link to the song "Zog Nit Keyn Mol", meaning "Never Say". The song became the anthem of the Jewish partisans, written by Hirsh Glik (or Hersh Glick) from the Vilna ghetto in May 1943. Glik was shot by the Nazis at the age of 24 after escaping from a forced labor camp.

Here is the refrain, a call for fight (in Yiddish, with translation in English):

"Zog nit keyn mol az du gayst dem letzten veg,
Ven himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg;
Vayl kumen vet noch undzer oysgebenkte shuh,
Es vet a poyk tun undzer trot - mir zaynen do!"


"Never say that this is the end of the road.
Though darkened skies may now conceal the blue of day,
Because the hour for which we've hungered is so near,
Beneath our feet the earth shall thunder, "We are here!"


Excerpts of the lyrics are available online and Yiddish songs from israel-music.com.

PartisansAmong the best CDs there is "Yiddish Songs" by Chava Alberstein, "Partisans of Vilna" (picture at the right is a scan of CD cover), and of course the one I already had "Yiddish Folk Songs" by the Orchestra of the Jewish Theatre of Bucharest. Chava Alberstein is a popular singer in Israel; she was born in North Eastern Poland (at the port city of Szczecin) after the war, when her parents came back from Russia (or the USSR at that time).

At the end of the documentary "A Day in the Warsaw Ghetto" a child sings "Yisrolik". It is the song of a boy in the Vilna ghetto who lost his parents. Here is the refrain:

"Cheys Yisrolik, ich bin dos kid fun geto
Cheys Yisrolik, a hefkerdiker yung
Chotsh farlibn gole neto
Der lang ich altst noch a sviftsh un a zung."


"I'm called Yisrolik I'm the child of the ghetto
I'm called Yisrolik a youth no one looks after
Though left stripped bare
I still offer up a whistle and a song."


Chava Alberstein (4) sings beautifully "Zumer Tag" (Summer Day), one of those days when many Jews in Vilna were ordered to march to their death (to be shot by groups of ten at Ponary and fall in the hole, above the others), and "Friling" (Spring), a love song from the same ghetto. "Zumer Tag" is spelled "S'Iz Geven A Zumertog" in the Partisans of Vilna CD, where you will find also "Yid, Du Partizaner" (You, Jewish Partisan).

This heritage of songs is a tribute to the many who suffered and died because of a statist ideology.

Yvon Dionne
September 14, 2004

Notes

1. See "Operation Reinhard: Introduction & Editorial Notes" at Operation Reinhard >>.
2. See "Holocaust A Layman's Guide to Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka" at www2.ca.nizkor.org/faqs/reinhard/index.html . Same site also provides information on Auschwitz, Maidanek, Chelmno. >>
3. Detailed information on the Vilna (or Vilnius) ghetto is available at: www.deathcamps.org/ . Ponary (or Ponar) was a village 10 km from Vilna. >>
4. The many recordings of Chava Alberstein and other Yiddish singers are available at israel-music.com.  >>


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