How to pass on the memory of the Shoah?

By singing!

« If Homer hadn’t written, would we remember Troy? Who would have heard of Guernica, that little village of nothing, if it hadn’t been for Picasso’s painting? Who would have transmitted what Giacometti transmitted without being aware of it, with that emaciated man walking towards the unknown? The unspeakable can only be told through the narrative. » (Rachel Ertel)

The Shoah (Hebrew: שואה, « disaster ») was the systematic extermination by Nazi Germany of between five and six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews of Europe and about 40% of the Jews of the world, during the Second World War.

Jews, designated by the Nazis as their irreducible enemies and assimilated to an inferior race according to their ideology, were starved to death in the ghettos of occupied Poland and the occupied USSR, murdered by the massive shootings of the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front (the « Shoah by bullets »), by forced labour in the concentration camps, in « gas trucks », in the gas chambers and crematoria of the extermination camps. This part of the Shoah makes it the only industrialized genocide in history.

It is a language, the Yiddish, and a millennia-old culture that almost disappeared after this tragedy. Who would have thought that klezmer music – the music of Jewish weddings in Eastern Europe – would become a vibrant and dynamic world music from the 1990s onwards?

Singing a song in Yiddich is like lighting a candle; it is the most beautiful prayer of remembrance!


Mein shwester Chayei”

I recommend this poem in Yiddish from Binem HELLER (1908-1998) “Mein shwester Chayei set to music by Chava Alberstein that we discovered in the album The Well of the American klezmer group The Klezmatics.

Chava ALBERSTEIN in Israel, and KLEZMATICS in the United States testify through their work to the permanence and modernity of Yiddish song and klezmer music.

This moving poem reminds us:

  • the miserable living conditions of Jews living in Central Europe;
  • their extermination = the Shoah;
  • the difficulty for the survivors to express themselves in a world that has let the unimaginable happen;
  • the Yiddich, the language spoken by most of the Jews who were exterminated during the Shoah.

May Chayei become your little sister. Through your song in Yiddish, it is her memory and that of all the deported children that you will honour.

In 2005 for the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camps, I taught this song to a choir of two colleges in Besançon. Hearing fifty students sing the story of Chayei in Yiddish that evening was very moving. After this song, they lit small candles of remembrance with all the people present, which floated on the water in front of the town hall of Besançon.

To your guitars!


Mayn shvester Chayei mit di grine oygn,
mayn shevster Chayei mit di shvartse tsep,
di shevester Chayei vos hot mikh dertsoygn,
oyf smotshe-gas in hoyz mit krume trep.

My sister Chayei, her eyes were green (with the green eyes)
My sister Chayei, her braids were black (with the black braids)
Sister Chayei, it was she who raised me

In the house on Smotshe Street with tumble down steps.

Di mame iz avek fun shtub baginen,
venoyfn himl hot ersht koym gehelt.
Zi iz avek in krom arayn fardinen,
dos bidne-drobne groshedike gelt.

Mother left the house at dawn
When there was hardly light in the sky.
She went off to the shop, to earn

A wretched penny’s worth of change.

Un Chayei iz geblibn mit di brider,
un zi hot zey gekormet un gehit,
un zi flegt zingen zey di sheyne lider,
far nakht ven klyne kinder vern mid.

And Chayei stayed with the boys,
She fed them and watched over them.
And at night, when little kids get tired,
She’d sing them pretty song.

Mayn shevester Chayei mit di grine oygn,
mayne shevster Chayei mit di longe hor,
dis shevster Chayei vos hot mikh dertsoygn,
iz nokh nisht alt geven keyn tsending yor.

My sister Chayei, her eyes were green (with the green eyes)
My sister Chayei, her hair was long (with the long hair)
Sister Chayei, it was she who raised me

She wasn’t even ten years old.

Zi hot geroymt, gekokht, derlangt dos esn,
zihot getsvogn undz di kleyne kep,

nor shpiln zikh mit undz hot zi fargesn,
di shevster Chayei mit di shvartse tsep.

She cleaned and cooked and served the food,
She washed our little heads

All she forgot was to play with us
Sister Chayei, her braids were black.

Mayn shvester Chayei mit di oygn grine,
a daytsh hot in Treblinke zi farbrent.
un ikh bin in der yidishe medine

der same letster, vos hot zi gekent.

My sister Chayei with her eyes of green
Was burnt by a German in Treblinka.
And I am, in the Jewish state,

The very last one who ever knew her.

Far ir shrayb ikh oyf yidish mayne lider
in teg di shreklekhe fun undzer tsayt.
bay got aleyn iz zi a bas-yekhide

in himl zitst zi bay zayn rekhter zayt.

It’s for her that I write my poems in Yiddish
In these terrible days of our times.

To God Himself she’s an only daughter,
She sits in heaven at His right hand.

Far ir shrayb ikh oyf yidish mayne lider
in teg di shreklekhe fun undzer tsayt.
bay got aleyn iz zi a bas-yekhide

in himl zitst zi bay zayn rekhter zayt.

It’s for her that I write my poems in Yiddish
In these terrible days of our times.

To God Himself she’s an only daughter,
She sits in heaven at His right hand.



S’Dremlen Feygl “Dreaming Birds”

This lullaby comes from the Vilna ghetto. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in the Vilna Ghetto, Lithuania, from 1941 to 1943. Amid horrible circumstances, the Jewish people began to create powerful art; theatre productions, poetry, and music performances.

The words to this lullaby were written by Leah Rudnicki (pronounced Rudnitzky); the music is by Leyb Yampolski. 

Taken from the album: “With a Song In the Heart – Shabbath and Holiday Yiddish Songs” – Preformed by Tova Ben-Zvi.

Download/Listen to S’Dremlen Feygl

S’Dremlen feygl oyf di tsvaygn,

 Birds are drowsing in the branches,

Shlof, mayn tayer kind.

 Sleep, my dear child,

Bay dayn vigl oyf dayn nare

 By your cradle, at your cot, 

Zitst a fremde un zingt: lyu, lyu.

 Sits a stranger and sings: Lyu lyu.



S’iz dayn vigl vu geshtanen

 Your cradle was here,

Oysgeflokhtn fun glik.

 Interlaced with happiness.

Un dayn mame, oy dayn mame,

 And your mother, oh, your mother,

Kumt shoyn keynmol nit tsurik: lyu, lyu.

 Will never return.



Kh’hob gezen dayn tatn loyfn

 I saw your father running

Unter hogl fun shteyn.

 Under a hail of stones,

Iber felder iz gefloygn

 Over the fields there flew

Zayn faryosemter geveyn: lyu, lyu.

 his orphaned cry.

Leonard Cohen’s « Hallelujah » – in Yiddish

Klezmer musician Daniel Kahn performs the moving song, which he translated with a little help from his friends.

Amazing Yiddish Rendition of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’

Yiddish by Daniel Kahn from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,”
with help from Michael Alpert, Mendy Cahan and Josh Waletzky
Geven a nign vi a sod,
Vos Dovid hot geshpilt far Got.
Nor dir volt’s nisht geven aza yeshue.
Me zingt azoy: a fa, a sol,
A misheberekh heybt a kol,
Der duler meylekh vebt a haleluye…
Dayn emune iz gevorn shvakh,
Basheva bodt zikh afn dakh,
Ir kheyn un di levone dayn refue
Zi nemt dayn guf, zi nemt dayn kop,
Zi shnaydt fun dayne hor a tsop
Un tsit fun moyl arop a haleluye…
O tayere, ikh ken dayn stil,
Ikh bin geshlofn af dayn dil,
Kh’hob keynmol nisht gelebt mit aza tsnue
Ikh ze dayn shlos,
ikh ze dayn fon,
A harts iz nisht keyn meylekhs tron,
S’iz a kalte un a kalye haleluye…
Oy vi amol, to zog mir oys
Vos tut zikh dortn in dayn shoys?
To vos zhe darfst zikh shemen vi a bsule?
Nor gedenk vi kh’hob in dir gerut,
Vi di shkhine glut in undzer blut,
Un yeder otem tut a haleluye…
Zol zayn mayn got iz gor nishto
Un libe zol zayn kol-mumro,
A puster troym tsebrokhn un mekhule,
Nisht keyn geveyn in mitn nakht,
Nisht keyn bal-tshuve oyfgevakht,
Nor an elnte kol-koyre haleluye…
An apikoyres rufstu mikh,
Mit shem-havaye lester ikh,
Iz meyle, ikh dervart nisht keyn geule.
Nor s’brent zikh heys in yedn os
Fun alef beys gor bizn sof
Di heylike un kalye haleluye…
Un dos iz alts, s’iz nisht keyn sakh.
Ikh makh dervayle vos ikh makh.
Ikh kum do vi a mentsh,
nisht keyn shiluye.
Khotsh alts farloyrn say vi say
Vel ikh farloybn “Adoynay”
Un shrayen vi l’khayem “haleluye.”


• Mémorial de la Shoah
• Shoah : une bibliographie (mise à jour partielle février 2003) 


Tsofim Yehudim, LeDor VaDor
Jewish Scouts, from generation to generation