Today is August 24, 2019 -

Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

by Hazzan Michael Krausman

On May 2, 2019, people throughout the world will observe Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Part of the profound devastation of our people that was wrought by the Holocaust was the loss of an untold amount of musical and artistic creativity. It is impossible to calculate the sum of Jewish Music that was either lost or destroyed or never even created as a result of the darkest period of Modern History. However, there is a body of work that managed to survive and can still be heard today. Jewish artistry, just like the Jewish spirit can never be totally quenched, even by the most formidable force of unspeakable evil.

It is natural for the Jewish people to turn to music to express the innermost yearnings of their souls. Thoughts and feelings too complex or horrible to be spoken in words have always been given voice though the medium of Jewish music. Below are some of the great composers and lyricists whose musical gift allowed a small drop of the tremendous sea of emotion that is the Holocaust to be released:

Mordechai Gebertig, born in 1877, is perhaps the most popular of all composers of Yiddish song. His music was popular not only in Europe but also in America where singers and actors in the Yiddish theater such as Molly Picon sang many of his greatest hits. Gebertig is best known for the song most often associated with the Holocaust, Es Brent, a lachrymose and haunting lament which cries out: “Our town is burning, and all around do nothing but sit around with folded hands.” Ironically, this song was somewhat prophetic, having been composed before the Holocaust began. Gebertig was murdered by the Nazis in 1942.

Aleksander Kulisiewicz was born in 1918 in Krakow, Poland. His dream of becoming a musician was curtailed when he was deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. While a prisoner at the camp, Kulisiewicz mange to compose, collect and perform numerous Yiddish songs, despite several attempts by the Nazis to murder him.

Shmaryahu Kacerginski, who was born in 1908 was a poet who was active in the Vilna Ghetto. While working as an archivist in a library outside of the ghetto, he was able to establish underground contacts that enabled him to smuggle arms into the ghetto. Kacerginski managed to escape the ghetto and join the partisans in 1943. In 1948, he published a collection of 250 songs and poems that had been composed in the ghetto, including two of his own most famous offerings, the hauntingly macabre lullaby, Shtiller, Shtiller and the Yugent Hymn (youth anthem) which was to become a popular song among Yiddish movements in America.

Hirsh Glick, born in 1920, was imprisoned in the Vilna ghetto before being sent to an Estonian concentration camp. After escaping the camp, Glick joined the partisans and was killed in action. His famous Partizaner Lied (Song of the Partisans) became the anthem of the Jewish partisans and is still sung today at most Holocaust memorials.

The Omaha Community Holocaust Commemoration will take place on the eve of Yom HaShoah, May 1, 2019, at 7:00 pm at Temple Israel. We will have the opportunity to hear the some of this sacred music at the commemorative service. You can also discover more of this valuable legacy of sound at this website: http://holocaustmusic.ort.org.

Take the time to discover the works of some of the inspired musicians and poets of the Shoah. Their words and music will forever remain etched in our collective Jewish consciousness as a lasting memorial to those who did not survive to tell their story. The memories of the Holocaust will never be forgotten; the music of the Holocaust will never be silenced.