Yiddish to the Heart Liner Notes

Translations by Jane Enkin and Justin Jaron Lewis


Many people have contributed their time to this recording. We especially thank these people:

Bret Werb, Music Collection Curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, for his scholarship and personal communication

The generous people who share old recordings on YouTube, most of all Bronisliva

Justin Jaron Lewis and Shlomo Jack Jaron Enkin Lewis for transcription and translation of lyrics

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.  


Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien. L’an dernier, le Conseil a investi 153 millions de dollars pour mettre de l’art dans la vie des Canadiennes et des Canadiens de tout le pays.


1 A Mames Harts      A Mama’s Heart

A gift from heaven, the greatest blessing in the world; a mama’s heart.

Children! Your mother gives you her life, her youth, her best years.

And how deep is her pain when her children laugh at her!

“What does she know, the foolish, old-fashioned woman?”

Don’t do it, children. Cherish a mother’s tears.

Because in all the world, you have only one mama!

Tango Yona’s source: As performed by Chaim Towber


2 Markovtshizne

In Poland in the 20s and 30s, tango was the pop music of the day. During the war when Jews were forced into ghettos, they borrowed the melodies they knew so well and set new lyrics to them. This song about hard times in a labour camp quotes both the lyrics and the melody of the down-and-out song Gasn Zinger, Street Singer.

I’m from Markovtshizne, and don’t I know it!

Barefoot, my blood is chilled

My heart aches

“Work! Hard! But make it quick!”

The prison my only home, a rotten nest

Blows and yelling, and food fit for pigs

“Work! Hard! But make it fast!”

We all share one destiny, we must live as brothers

But when one brother is hungry, where’s your conscience then?

Lyrics:  H. Goldshteyn

Lyrics and music based on Gasn Zinger by Peysekhke Burstein

Tango Yona’s source: Song of the Bialystok Ghetto in Songs of Generations: New Pearls of Yiddish Song by Eleanor and Joseph Mlotek


3 Froyen      Women

I had a good dream

Radiant and clear

And my dream was modest

Just a corner, a home, just a roof

Women, terror lies in ambush at every step

And you no longer have comfort and joy

Even from your own child.

Sisters! You bear the greatest burden

Then when you return in fatigue and pain

Still you must be always a mother

Lyrics: Kasriel Broydo

Music: credited to Misha Veksler, or to Volf (Vladimir) Durmashkin.

Tango Yona’s source: We Are Here: Songs of the Holocaust edited by Eleanor Mlotek and Malke Gottlieb


4 A Yidish Yingl      A Nice Jewish Boy

My grandmother said to my mother, “Be good, my child

If you grow up to be a fine lady, everyone will envy me”

My mother, from those words, nebekh, suffered so much

And everywhere she searched quietly for …

A Jewish boy, sweeter than wine

A Jewish boy, with a thousand charms

His eyes are like black coals

They burn through your heart

And I’m just like my Mama; I have good taste

There sits a young man, a beauty

Only you can be my kavalir, my beau

Follow me, my own

Because I love beyond measure

Lyrics and music: Dovid Beigelman

Tango Yona’s source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Henry Baigelman Collection

Interlude: Mayn Yidishe Meydele/My Jewish Girl by Sholom Secunda

Tango Yona’s source: Great Songs of the Yiddish Theatre selected by Norman H. Warembud


5 Kadish – Der Yidisher Soldat      The Kadish Prayer – The Jewish Soldier

We first heard this song in a recent anthology of Jewish recordings made in 1930s Germany on the Semer label.  The Yiddish recording of the song is lovely, but we were especially moved by the fiery German rendition.

It is announced – all the Jewish men are drafted

Yankl kisses his wife and says “Learn every night with our son”

“My son pray for your father, for our God is great”

The rabbi comes one day and says

“Ester, you must go to synagogue for the first kadish prayer tomorrow morning”

Kadish for whom, great God?”

“Ester, be strong, your husband is dead”

She presses her son – his son – to her heart

“My son say kadish for your father, for our God is great”

German lyrics: Kurt Robitschek

Yiddish translation: Unknown

Music: Otto Stransky

Tango Yona’s source: CD collection Beyond Recall: A Record of Jewish Musical Life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938 (Bear Family, Hambergen, 2000)


6 Friling      Spring

We find this a startling work of art, disquieting and exquisite.

Writer, activist and partisan Shmerke Kaczerginski’s wife Barbara Kaufman died in the Vilna ghetto. Soon after, he wrote this song. It was performed in a ghetto revue, and soon, he notes in his anthology Songs from the Ghettos and Camps, the song was sung in other ghettos, camps and among partisans.

“In ordinary times each song would probably have travelled a long road to popularity. But in the ghetto we observed a marvelous phenomenon: individual works transformed into folklore before our eyes.” (Collector’s Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)

I wander the ghetto from street to street

The sky is blue over my home, but what good is that to me?

I stand like a beggar and beg a bit of sunshine

Spring has arrived early this year

What’s blooming is longing for you

I see you now as I did then, laden with flowers

So joyful, walking toward me

Springtime, on your blue wings

Take my heart with you

And give it back my happiness

Lyrics: Shmerke Kaczerginski

Music: Avraham Brudno

Tango Yona’s source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

7 Dos Lid Fun Bialistoker Geto     The Song of the Bialystok Ghetto

The names of some of the creators of the wartime tangos are known, and in some cases it is clear whether the melodies are borrowed or original. We have not found any background information about this song, but thanks to the generosity and fierce attachment of broken, spirited individuals, the song was passed on, documented by collector Shmerke Kaczerginski. “Just as we cherish every stray leaf of a sacred book discovered in the ruins or found atop the ashes of our homes, so must we treasure the voices of our predecessors, whose simple, clear words tell us of their lives and of their destruction.” (Collector’s Remarks, Lider fun di Getos un Lagern)

A wail, a cry in the Jewish quarter

They are making a ghetto in Bialystok, and it’s no joke.

We sit and wonder what will become of us

Beaten and mistreated

With a new yellow patch on our jackets

In the ghetto market it’s a Garden of Eden

You can buy anything you like, the finest delicacies

But where do you get the money?

Lyrics and music: Unknown

Tango Yona’s source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

8 Es Benkt Zikh     Yearning

This was the first tango Jane learned – an eye-opening, heart-opening gift.

Our room is tight, cramped

And the yearning sadness draws us outdoors

The month of May reminds us of freedom

And there is yearning, such longing

For all that is gone

Come out to me, my girl, into the street

My before-your-time wilted little flower

The moon shines for us stingy and pale

But stars look lovingly upon us from the sky

I’m coming out, my love, I’m coming out to you

A spring night enchants us both

So let’s stand by the wall and dream a while

And with the dream, never be parted

Lyrics: Kasriel Broydo

Music: Most likely by Broydo’s music director Yankl Trupianski

Arrangement: Ron Paley adapted by the ensemble

Tango Yona’s source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, Volume Four compiled by Aharon Vinkovetsky, edited by Abba Kovner and Sinai Leichter

9 Mamele     Dear Mama

An old mama watches for her child

It seems like an eternity

You must hope, you brave Jewish people!

O Fate, tell me, where is my child?

Mama, you have no rest, is pain breaking your heart?

Just have courage, the day will come, you will be free!

Lyrics and music: Percy Haid

Tango Yona’s source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Percy Haid and Sonja Haid Greene Collection

Interlude: Dos Elnte Kind/The Lonely Child by Yankl Krimski

Tango Yona’s source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Anthology of Yiddish Folksongs, Volume Four compiled by Aharon Vinkovetsky, edited by Abba Kovner and Sinai Leichter

10 Ikh Hob Mayn Man Farloyrn      I Lost My Husband

This disturbing text was set to the melody of a much-recorded, gentle Polish song, Serce Matki, Mother’s Heart.

The author begins his poem in the voice of a woman, a scream of pain:

I have no more tears, and no one wants to hear

Shot! Oy, my mother, my father also

I lost my husband on the day my child was born

And then the child, too, barely saw the light of day and was gone

The bullets seemed to pass through me as I ran

I can’t escape the sound of my child’s cry

The poet then shifts to language that is Biblical in tone:

O God of vengeance, Where are you now?

Do you see my neshome, my soul, or perhaps are you blind?

I weep and lament

Enough, your crying in the tents. Sadism alone rules the world

Lyrics: Tzvi Garmiza

Music based on the tango Serce Matki/Mother’s Heart by Szymon Kataszek and Zygmunt Karasiński

Tango Yona’s source: Lider fun di Getos un Lagern collected by Shmerke Kaczerginski

11 Shik Mir a Shtral      Send Me a Ray of Sunshine

We have learned many songs from books and old recordings, but sometimes our musical heritage is passed on more directly.  Arkady Gendler z”l recorded this tango in 2001 with the Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley, accompanied by Jeanette Lewicki.  Jane learned the song from this recording, My Hometown Soroke; she also heard her friend Sam Knacker z”l sing the song in Winnipeg, MB. Both of them recalled the song from before the war.  The third verse of our rendition comes from Sam. Jane imagines each verse sung by a different character.

I stand under huge balconies

The sound of a piano echoes

Around me stand millions who suffer

From all sides

You can hear this tango:

Send me a ray of sunshine to light my way…

He said he’d be back

He gave me a bunch of flowers and said “Wait!”

So I stand here, for days and years, holding the flowers

Anyone I see, I run after them, and each sings me this tango:

Send me a ray of sunshine…Drive away the wind that roars against me…

Bustling streets, noise from cabarets

Gold and jewels beyond measure

Champagne, wine, smoke from cigarettes

These enchant me too

I know the policeman can’t stand it

The way I snuggle that park bench all night

With his stick, he wakes me up

And I sing him this tango:

Send me a ray of sunshine… to dry up the tears

These many years, they flow silently

And cannot cease, and cannot cease

Lyrics and music: Unknown

Tango Yona’s source: My Hometown Soroke: Yiddish Songs of the Ukraine sung by Arkady Gendler and personal transmission from Sam Knacker

12 S’Vet Geshen It Will Happen

This is Shmerke Kaczerginski’s response to the story of the Exodus 1947, a ship full of refugees that attempted to dock in British Mandate Palestine.

O storm-wind, bring mother and child

Quickly to the longed-for shore

Enough waiting!

The sea was angry

But when we saw the shore we became younger

And although I was exhausted

I was like a waving flag

Shalom!” we shout

But suddenly warships attack

They are sending us back

But it will happen!

It must happen!

Our holy wish, to return to the land of the Prophets

Will be fulfilled

I already hear the songs

How they bless us

“Brukhim haba’im!”

Lyrics: Shmerke Kaczerginski

Music: Sigmunt Berland

Tango Yona’s source: Sheet music courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and field recording of Shmerke Kaczerginski singing the song on the Yad Vashem website Heartstrings: Music of the Holocaust

13 Shpet BaNakht Late at Night

Even in this playful song, you can hear a sense of yearning.

Girls, do you hear?

Somewhere there’s lovely music playing

The moonlight in the Carpathian mountains, the shooting stars

Do you hear the trees whisper secrets?

Late at night, hearts dream of happiness

By the light of the moon, they have just one kavone, one thought

Where can you find that bit of joy?

Lyrics and music: Miriam Kressyn and Sam Medoff

Tango Yona’s source: As performed by Seymour Rechtzeit