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And now, these songs are no longer forgotten. Actually, they never were,
for a young girl kept them in her memory for a long lifetime.
Sara Sliwka was still
a child, 13 years old, when she was taken away from home by German soldiers
and dragged to a camp. Home underwent terrible changes - at that time it
meant the ghetto. Her few memories from the time before that are bound up
with songs: "Brinnele", "Dus
"Effn Hantchele", "Surele".
Sara Tenenberg and
in Israel in the fifties.
Zwischn goldene Sangen
songs brought her closer to her mother. But not really, just as she was
never really able to say goodbye to her. Or to ask her what it means to
start a family. And she knows only one song that her father sang: "Die
ganze Welt is mehr nischt wie a Maissele...(Ein
Ballade fîn Hînger în Noit)" - the whole world is no more than a
Eine Ballade fin Hinger in Noit
Thinking about her parents today means thinking
Cestochowa, Poland, was Sara´s hometown. Moniek
Tenenberg, a neighborhood friend from there became her husband. She
still remembers his songs from the ghetto. He was the only one she met
on her return, who knew where they had lived – her house was no longer
standing, there was no longer anyone there, this town was no longer her
hundreds of kilometers to Ainring, Bavaria, to a Displaced Persons Camp.
People were crowded into a tiny space, but songs were still sung. Here
she heard such songs as "Neshumele
dî mains". Muniek sang a lot – and he sang wonderfully: "Ahaim,
Wail asoi mîss es sain...
Sara heard some songs only once, but they stayed in her head.
Neshumele dî mains
Wail asoi mîss es sain
She also heard "Jidisher
Tango" only once, sung by Mizzi Spielmann. Like Sara she was a prisoner
in Division 7 of the Groß Rosen concentration camp. This Viennese opera
singer had to sing for the camp commanders and the SS. Once, however, nobody
was watching and Mizzi was able to sing for her fellow prisoners – the only
song she sang in Yiddish.
It is impossible to trace all the twists and turns of
Sara’s life. She heard songs in Paris, in Israel, she sang with her husband,
with friends and always remembered the years of her lost childhood in
Poland. She knows old folksongs, also in Polish and French, communist and
zionist songs of battle, Hebrew songs of hope – hundreds of songs that she
never forgot. Of all her songs, those in Yiddish were the most forlorn,
because they no longer had a home. "Budapescht" for example or the
little "Gassn Singer" which she found in a 10 groszy (approximately a
cent) song book. Those 10 groszys were like a pocket full of money for a
little girl, and at that time a Yiddish hit in Poland was as exciting as a
hit from the Backstreet Boys
is today. And what should she do with these songs after the war? Where
should they be sung? In the kitchen for the children.
In 1961 Sara went to the German Democratic Republic
(East Germany) – not to Germany, but to a new socialist world. Of course she
already knew songs such as:
Is odurech a Juer gants powolinke
Hob sich farlibt in a schain Komsomolinke
Is geboiren a klein Kommunistele
A Firer fîn die Oktobistele...
A year flew by
I fell in love with a beautiful Komsomol
girl, a small communist was born:
a leader of the October revolutionaries.
But she did not join the SED (the communist party).
All hopes aside, the GDR still lay in the middle of Germany, and life here
was anything but easy. Socialism remained a Utopia and the old Yiddish songs
stayed alive in her heart. They made her sad and helped her to get over the
In the GDR there was
no connection to the world centers of Yiddish culture. Israel was seen as an
aggressor and song collections, for example from New York, were exchanged
among friends but could not be found in any libraries. There were a few
recordings by the Leipziger Synagogue choir, mainly religious songs,
symphonically arranged. And the well known singer Lin Jaldati: she
had survived Auschwitz. Occasionally, official politics made use of her good
name. In 1966, she was allowed to release her interpretations of Yiddish
resistance and folk songs on one side of a record, and about 20 years later
an entire record was released. It was rare for a singer to sing a Yiddish
Bettina Wegner did so in
each of her concerts, Perry Friedman sang "Tumbalalaika" and Gerry Wolff "As
der Rebbe esst". There was also some Yiddish literature available,
translated into German and in small editions. This list is, of course, not
complete, and yet, Yiddish culture was in no way encouraged. Thus, Jalda
Rebling, the five musicians from the
group, Margrit Falck and others who later brought Yiddish songs to
the stage, had to really search to find valuable, authentic material.
Hans Laessig, who died recently, was a great collector of Yiddish songs.
We were all aware of our responsibility to keep this broken culture alive.
My parents had heard and treasured Yiddish, but I
rarely met people who spoke or understood it. I have often been asked and I
have often asked myself: why do I do this – arranging, collecting and
performing Yiddish songs, here in Germany of all places? It wasn’t so much
the music that fascinated me as the anti-Nazi stance in my family and the
attitude in songs like "Sug nischt kainmul as dî gaist dem letztn Weg" –
Never say you’re going the last road - with which I identified. As a child I
heard stories from the Nazi times, about the interrogations, the
imprisonments, the illegal resistance and death of my great-grandfather,
Götz Kilian, who died as a consequence of beatings during the "Köpenick
Week of Bloodshed" in 1933. I thought that these were the same stories as
those told about the "Kristallnacht", the pogrom of 1938. Later, I spoke in
interviews about the fact, that my father’s family spent a fortune to buy a
"purified Aryan paper". All at once the journalists’ questions became less
probing. I no longer appeared as the young German who astonishingly
dedicated himself to Yiddish culture. It became more understandable to them
that I do such a thing.
However, years ago my father explained to me his
interest in the Yiddish quite differently: "I’ve always been interested in
the art of minorities, alternative culture, and the fight of the oppressed.
I could have also collected records with music of the pygmies – except that
this culture is more foreign and incomprehensible for us."
I met Sara in1987. It was the first time that the "Yiddish
Culture Days - an Approach" took place in East Berlin. Sara was sitting
in the audience, deeply moved, happy to hear songs in her beloved language
after such a long time. She wanted to help me make my Yiddish more Yiddish
and less German.
I was familiar with the Polish dialect from old
recordings, but a lot of the meanings and expressions I understood for the
first time through Sara. She sang her songs for me onto cassettes. The
melodies were often hard to recognize. Not to mention that the recorders
were noisy and the tapes sometimes got tangled up. Over the course of 10
years, Götz Lindenberg and I gathered experience in how to arrange these
songs. I have sung some of these songs for years and others we only recently
started working on.
It took these 10 years to find out that many of Sara’s
songs really have not been published anywhere. And what is on this CD is not
nearly all of them. Sara could never explain why some harmony or gesture did
not coincide with her memory of the song. She would then say: "You haven’t
sung that well!" And her second husband Heinz would intervene: "Stop
niggling at him."
So, once again I had to listen, search and try again.
On my earlier CDs there are some of the Forgotten Songs in which I "ironed
out the rough edges". And now everything is much closer to the original, and
perhaps we have succeeded in reproducing some of the liveliness, the
everyday life, the feelings of the people who once wrote and composed this
music. It is not a museum. Remembering means remaining alive.
Sara Bialas-Tenenberg has just turned 70 years old. I
am happy that she sings at the beginning and at the end of the CD. If her
life had been easier, perhaps she would have made a record decades ago. For
the little girl invested all her money consisting of 10 groszy in a little
song book. Back then – before Germany attacked Poland. And when there were
no more song books, all the words and melodies remained in her head.
On May 9, 1995 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of
her liberation from the concentration camp. And we also sang: "Sug nischt
kainmul as dî gaist dem letztn Weg".
I am grateful for what
Karsten and his friends have done: keeping my songs alive. I am one of the
few of my generation who grew up with Yiddish and experienced the horror of
the extermination camps. And now, perhaps, the songs will remain when I am
no longer around.
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