Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II
Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II, 2018
CD, downloads available from Six Degrees Records.
Those of us who were fortunate to be in Boston during the American Jewish Studies conference a few years ago witnessed an evening treat that involved two of the most interesting singers of our time. Jewlia Eisenberg sang songs from the unknown-to-us repertoire of an East German Yiddish singer, and Psoy Korolenko, working with scholar Anna Shternshis, debuted newly discovered Yiddish and Russian Jewish songs from WWII.
The work had been gathered by Moshe Beregovski and his colleagues. Now honored as the famous recorder and chronicler of a treasure of Jewish music of the former Soviet Union, Beregovski never saw the work published, and died thinking that it was lost and destroyed. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, catalogers at the Vernadsky National Library of the Ukraine found the materials and begain to realize what they had found. In the early 2000's, Toronto-based scholar Anna Shternshis, traveling to Kiev, found the documents and realized what was there. In the years following, she and Psoy worked together—in many cases there was no music, so Psoy used contrafacta and his own contextualized compositions to bring the songs to life.
What we have here is an entirely different picture of Jews in WWII—not victims shot in their villages, shipped to ghettos or straight to concentation camps, or even hiding with the partisans. These are the Jews who fought with the Soviet Army, and with their efforts, and their songs, defeated the Germans. In a remarkable recording with Psoy and some of the best of today's musicians, here are the songs brought to life.
Many of the songs are general anti-fascist, anti-German songs. Some touch on the human aspects of war, "Spatsir in vald" (a walk in the forest) is a farewell love song as a young draftee says goodbye to his sweetheart. Likewise, "Taybls briv" (Taybl's letter to her husband at the front) or "Mames Gruv" (My mother's grave), written by a 10-year-old in the Ukraine in 1945, and "Babi Yar".
Others are specific to the Jewish community and the war effort: "Yoshke fun Odes," recording the adventures of Nazi-destroying Yoshke avenging his family, or "Mayn Pulemyot". (My machine gun). "Chuvasher Tekhter" (Daughters of Chuvashia) highlights the role of women in the war (and is one fo the few songs for which the group have the original music). "Misha Tserayst Hitlers Daytchland" (Misha tears apart Hitler's Germany) has been set to a combination of "Katyusha, a cult Soviet wartime song, and "Tum Balalaika, now symbolizing "Jews" in modern Russian culture.
Others, such as "Shleakhmones Hitlern" (Purim gifts for Hitler), "Homens mapole" (Haman's Defeat) or "Kazakhstan," about a place where Jewish refugees were welcomed during the war, cover other themes and highlight a specific Jewish sensibility. (In this case, with new music written by Sergei Erdenko, also highlighting the Roma genocide during the war.)
The recording includes copious, well-written notes, as well as lyrics in Russian and English. It represents a picture of Jewish life on the Soviet side during the war: murdered, as elsewhere, by the Nazis, often suffering, but also fighting back for their lives and their homeland. Listening is a delight, not just because of the music, but because of the content. Our debt to Beregovski and his compatriots is increased, and thanks to Shternshis and Korolenko we are able to benefit richly from his work.
Reviewed by Ari Davidow, 7 July 2018.
Personnel this recording:
Psoy Korolenko: vocals (1, 5, 6, 8, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18)
Sergei Erdenko: violin, vocals (3, 15, 17, 18)
Sophie Milman: vocals (2, 4, 7, 9, 12, 18)
Artur Gorbenko: violin, piano, backing vocals
Mikhail Savichev: guitar, backing vocals
Alexander Sevastian: accordion
Shalom Bard: clarinet
David Buchbinder: trumpet
Isaac Rosenberg: vocals (10, 13, 18)
Sasha Lurje: vocals (18)
- Afn hoykhn barg—on the high mountain (lyrics: Veli Shargorodskii; music: trad./Erdenko) 4:02
- Shpatsir in vald—A walk in the forest (lyrics: Klara Sheynis; music: trad./Erdenko) 2:42
- Yoshke fun Odes—Yoshke from Odessa (lyrics: Berta Flaksman; music: Glinka/Erdenko) 6:21
- Kazakhstan (lyrics: anon; music: Erdenko) 6:31
- Mayn Pulemyot—My machine gun (lyrics: anon; music: Korolenko/trad; arr. Erdenko) 2:53
- Shelakhmones Hitlern—Purim gifts for Hitler (lyrics: anon; music: Berdichever/Erdenko) 1:56
- Taybls briv&Tabl's letter to her husband at the front (lyrics: Taybl Birman; music: Listov; arr. Erdenko) 2:51
- Misha Tserayst Hitlers Daytchland—Misha tears apart Hitler's Germany (lyrics: Taybl Birman; trad./Blanter/Erdenko) 3:10
- Chuvasher tekhter—Daughters of Chuvashia (lyrics: Sonya Roznberg; music: anon//Erdenko) 3:02
- Mames gruv&My mother's grave (lyrics: Valya Roytlender; music: Fefer/Beregovsky/Raylender/Erdenko) 2:25
- Babi Yar (lyrics: Golda Rovinskaya; music: trad./Erdenko) 4:16
- Tulchin (lyrics: Yosef Braverman; music: Schnittke/Savichev) 4:10
- A shturemvint—A storm wind (lyrics: Aba Shteinberg; music: trad/Rosenblatt/Erdenko) 3:57
- Fir zin—Four sons (lyrics: Nokhem Royznvaser; music: Levi/folk; arr. Gorbenko) 2:57
- Kazakhstan reprise (see above) 5:07
- Nitsokhn lid—Victory song (lyrics: Kh. Urintsov; music: Yiddish & Soviet folk; arr. Erdenko) 2:43
- Homens mapole—Haman's defeat (lyrics: Itski Ingberg; music: Korolenko; arr. Korolenko/Erdenko) 1:54
- Tsum nayem yor 1944!—Happy New Year 1944! (lyrics: anon; music: trad; arr. Erdenko) 3:40