The Partisan Song

UncleMishaAs I mentioned in a recent blog post, I will be serving as the featured speaker in a Holocaust Memorial program for the Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson, MS, on Saturday, April 26.

The presentation will combine a discussion of the Violins of Hope with performances by Marta Szlubowska, who is the concertmaster of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. Maestra Szlubowska will be performing classical works as well as a few Yiddish songs that were popular in Jewish communities during the Holocaust.

One of the Yiddish songs Maestra Szlubowska will play is Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say), which is widely recognized as “The Partisan Song.” The melody of Zog Nit Keynmol is derived from a pre-war Soviet march, but its lyrics were composed in 1943 by Hirsh Glick, who had been confined to the Vilna Ghetto. Glick penned the text as a reaction to the news of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when a group of Jewish fighters rebelled against their Nazi captors. Although the Jewish combatants were ultimately too poorly armed to defeat the German forces, their heroic efforts inspired Glick to incite others to continue fighting:

Never say that you have reached the end of the road,
Though leaden skies may blot out the light of day.
The hour that we all long for will indeed come,
When our steps will beat out the message: “We are here!”

Zog Nit Keynmol became something of an anthem for spiritual resistance in ghettos and concentration camps, as well as for Jewish partisans. This may have included Uncle Misha’s Jewish Group, a legendary guerrilla force of Jewish combatants who fought in the dense forests of Poland and Ukraine. From their hideouts in the woods, they launched paramilitary attacks and performed acts of sabotage on the Nazis and their collaborators.

One member of Uncle Misha’s Jewish Group was the thirteen-year-old partisan Mordechai “Motele” Schlein, who had escaped into the woods after his parents and sister were executed by Nazis. In August 1943, Motele infiltrated a German Soldiers Club, where he was hired to provide entertainment during meals. Every night, Motele would hide his violin in the Soldiers Club and take home an empty violin case. He would return the next morning with a few pounds of explosives hidden in that case. When high-ranking SS officers arrived for a visit, Motele blew up the building. Motele’s amazing story is the subject of a chapter in Violins of Hope.

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