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Jüdische Weisheit


Vergessene Jiddische Lieder

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Forgotten Yiddish Songs

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 Äppele", "Effn Hantchele", "Surele".

Get one Song! Surele (ra)

Sarah Tenenberg

Sara Tenenberg and her sons
in Israel in the fifties.

Zwischn goldene Sangen Get one Song!
Jidisher Tango
Get one Song!
Budapescht Get one Song!
Treblinka Get one Song!

These 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 story.

Get the Song! Eine Ballade fin Hinger in Noit

Thinking about her parents today means thinking about Treblinka.

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 hometown.

They walked 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, ahaim", "Zwischn goldene Sangen", Wail asoi mîss es sain... Sara heard some songs only once, but they stayed in her head.

Get one Song! Neshumele dî mains
Get the Song! 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 sadness.

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 song – 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 Aufwind 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".

Karsten Troyke

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.

Sara Bialas-Tenenberg


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